“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 is a Caribbean-born poet and playwright, a winner of a Nobel Prize for Literature. Walcott’s most famous poem is his epic, Omeros, but this poem seemed perfect for a Sunday morning.
This is one of the most gentle poems on the subject of self-reflection I’ve ever encountered, So often, I associate self-reflection with self-criticism. When I take a look in the mirror, literally, or figuratively, I am trained to point out flaws and the voice I use is neither kind, nor compassionate.
I think Wolcott’s poem is made to be read in mid-life, after we’re done hustling for the love of another and when we’ve begun to realize that all our self-improvement projects, while not useless, will never bear the results we once hoped for.
Can we forgive ourselves?
I hope so. I’m working on it. Wolcott gently reminds us that at forty, fifty, sixty, it is time to fall in love with ourselves again. When I read this poem, I see in my mind’s eye, the freckle-faced girl, the budding young woman, the struggling first-time mother, and I can smile at the mistakes they made. I can feed myself on the sacrament of my best moments, and the good intentions that drove all my decisions, the ones that worked out and the ones that didn’t. What better way to “feast on your life”?