Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Love after Love

Derek Walcott's four-stanza poem 'Love After Love' is essentially telling us how to love ourselves after the end of a relationship. In it he speaks directly to the reader, repeatedly using the words 'you', 'your' or 'yourself', and employing the imperative form of the verb.

Walcott recognises that, following a break-up, a love of oneself will not come immediately, but 'The time will come'. He emphasises the joy involved, as he says that it will be with 'elation' that you will 'greet yourself' at your door or as you look at yourself in the mirror. The first stanza ends with the idea that you will smile at yourself.

The second stanza opens with the image of considering yourself as a guest that you invite to sit down and eat. Walcott stresses that you will love 'again the stranger that was yourself', conveying the idea that you used to love yourself before becoming involved in a relationship. That was so long ago, however, that the person you were then seems like a stranger now. The short imperative sentences of line 8, 'Give wine. Give bread', link the process directly to the idea of Holy Communion, but in this case with yourself rather than with God. The instruction follows to 'Give back your heart to yourself', as though you are the one worthy of your love now that you have come to the end of a relationship with another. The second stanza ends with the repetition of the idea that you are a stranger to yourself after so many years of loving someone else.

Walcott uses enjambment to link one stanza to the next, and so the opening of the third stanza begins 'All your life', continuing the idea that you have always loved yourself. Yet you did not recognise this fact; you 'ignored' that love by loving someone else. Walcott uses the phrase 'who knows you by heart' in line 11 to show how well you know yourself, with the use of the word 'heart' underlining the feeling of love. Line 12, the final line of the third stanza, uses the imperative once again to tell you to 'Take down the love-letters from the bookshelf'. This idea leads into the fourth and final stanza that continues with 'The photographs, the desperate notes' which you should also take down. Walcott then suggests that you 'Peel' pictures of yourself from the mirror. Having gathered all of these, the poem ends with the idea that you sit down and 'Feast on your life'. Instead of looking at photographs and reading love letters that remind you of the break-up of your relationship, you look at your own life and appreciate the person that you are.

Walcott's poem is a mere fifteen lines long with stanzas and lines of varying length. The stanzas flow from one into the next, and the idea of loving yourself is developed throughout the poem with references to both religion and the welcoming of guests or feasting. Very brief sentences are interspersed with longer, flowing ones. In some cases the imperative verb on its own constitutes a sentence, such as 'Eat.' 'Sit.'

'Love After Love' introduces an original way of being positive following the end of a relationship. Rather than wallowing in self-pity or dwelling on the person who is no longer part of your life, it demonstrates a way of having a positive attitude to life. The person that you are has value, and you should recognise it and learn to love yourself.

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