Poems of Transformation: Love After Love, by Derek Walcott

Sacred Union Alex GreyLove 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

 

Derek Walcott, Nobel Prize winner for literature in 1992, usually writes long poems. But this poem, “Love After Love,” is different. It speaks of feasting and celebration. And of the joy of two selves, long parted, reuniting. Evoking in the reader his or her own particular experiences of separation and belonging.

There is something profoundly affirming and validating that may be recognised in its lines; we may puzzle who is this person whom we are to greet again? This stranger from whom we have been parted for so long?

As individuals born into the modern world, we aspire to create the life we want for ourselves. We strive to “make something of ourselves” in the world. Yet ancient psychological traditions would say that the pattern of who we truly are lies dormant within us from the beginning, ready to unfold, just as the oak tree is already there in the acorn. Suggesting that one’s task in life is to discern the pattern, listen for it, and make room for it to emerge, instead of trying to “make ourselves happen.”

It may take some time, perhaps most of a lifetime, before we realise that a quiet, strange voice is whispering beneath our outward efforting and labours. Speaking from a different current, which may want to go one way even while we push to go another.

Until that time, the conscious self assumes the role of sole champion of our destiny and purpose. However as we soften with experience, the conscious self comes to embrace that other one whom you also are.

Walcott’s poem touches a deep current of human experience, of exile and homecoming. It is as if you have known all your life that home is as near to you as your jugular vein, yet still distant somehow. Coming home, then, is a joyous communion with your self, a celebration and festival of your life. The time for which, the poet says, is now.

 

Artwork by Alex Grey

 

Poems of Transformation: The Journey, by Mary Oliver

The JourneyThe Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.

–Mary Oliver

The Journey is a poem of transformation. It speaks of the moment when you dare. When you dare to listen to your own truth and set sail into a new life.

It is a poem in which you might catch a reflection of your own story. It invites you to find yourself and your own experience at its centre–the experience of a kind of knowing. A knowing that may lie dormant perhaps for many years, then one day suddenly bursts into life. A knowing that reveals the true journey of your life.

Perhaps this all sounds a bit too dramatic—but this poem can speak to anyone, wherever you are on your journey. Yet it is not quite enough merely to know. You have to take that first step in the dark, you have to begin though you are uncertain and filled with doubt. The mystic-poet Rumi said,

Start walking, start walking towards Shams,
Your legs will get heavy and tired.
Then comes the moment of feeling the wings you’ve grown lifting.

It can take a lifetime to prepare for the moment when this kind of knowing comes. A lifetime of being softened, broken down, and cooked in grief or mourning, while not essential, tends to pave the way into a new life for many. A new life requires a death of some kind, a letting go. What you let go of is a way of being in the world that you have outgrown.

And yet there are no guarantees. You cannot know where the road will take you. Nevertheless embarking upon the ‘road less travelled’ is an essential human experience. On some deep level every human heart yearns to follow its archetypal path.

“The Journey” speaks to the birth of a new self, a deeper identity that was in you all along. This new self does not flee from the world, but walks deeply into it. You cannot know where its voice will lead you. But you alone can respond to its call.