Today I’d like to share with you a poem about self-love. Before I start giving you my thoughts, have a read through the poem and decide for yourself what you think this narrator is recovering from.

Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

~ Derek Walcott

Many love poems are either about the excitement of a new relationship or mourning the end of one. I understand why; our relationships with other people are such a vital part of our existence. Break-ups can hurt like hell and feeling ‘seen’ by a dramatic poem about love & loss can be very helpfull.

What I love about this poem, though, is that it doesn’t focus on this at all. Instead, it describes the process of getting to know yourself again after heartbreak and promises hope in loving yourself.

The shape of the poem is very deliberate. The sentences are cut into lines for emphasis. In the first stanza, the lines become longer and longer, symbolizing the growth you will go through as your relationship with yourself improves.

The second stanza concerns self-care. Not bath bombs or facemasks, but feeding yourself though you have no appetite or getting yourself out of bed in the morning when you feel like hiding under the covers. (Alright, I added that last one, but this is what it reminds me of.) Slowly, by going through the motions of living, you will give back your heart to yourself. Time will heal the wound.

Then we come to the part that I wonder at a little. To me, being in a relationship doesn’t mean “ignoring yourself for another”. Unhealthy relationships may remove you from yourself, but healthy ones really shouldn’t. Then again, the relationship in this poem has failed already, so maybe it was unhealthy.

Alternatively, we could read this not as a poem about the end of a relationship with another person, but a darker period in your life where you’ve drifted away from who you really are. Depression or destructive self-criticism can really mess with your self image and coming back from this can be an equally difficult process to heartbreak. It is time to let go of those old thoughts (“the photographs, the desperate notes”) and “love again the stranger who was your self”. Especially the line “peel your own image from the mirror” makes me think of this kind of reinventing yourself.

“Sit. Feast on your life.”

What do you think? What were your thoughts on this poem and what is your reaction to mine? Have you read any similar poems? Let’s chat in the comments!

4 thoughts on “Poem | Love After Love by Derek Walcott

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