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
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