Just received this beautiful poem, Love after Love, written by Derek Walcott. To me it’s about coming back to yourself, discovering and loving your self. It can be a sweet, quiet awakening, when you recognize it, open your heart to it, to who you are.
I remember when it happened to me, living alone in a room I was renting in a house in North Vancouver. I finally let go of all the distracting reasons to search for happiness outside myself, in wanting to love another person or be loved by them, or some thing to do I thought would make me happy. I just stopped and discovered the loving stranger that was there, and accepted myself instead, as if for the first time. Took more than half my life for it to finally happen, but was quietly surprised and pleased when it did. Derek Walcott describes this process of self-recognition and acceptance so well, so powerfully.
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.
After a little research I discovered Derek Walcott to be an amazing man, an artist, poet, professor and playwright. Acknowledged as the greatest living poet in the English language, he won the Nobel prize for Literature in 1992. He taught at Boston University for 20 years. Turns out he also taught in Canada. In 2009, Walcott began a three-year distinguished scholar-in-residence position at the University of Alberta. In 2010, he became Professor of Poetry at the University of Essex.
Born in Saint Lucia, Derek Walcott was influenced by his mixed racial and cultural heritage. He married a Trinidadian, raised a family there, and built the Trinidad Theatre Workshop. For someone who was in search of his own identity, both as a person and an artist, this poem represents a coming back to one’s essential self. It resonates deeply with the thousands who have read it. It was first published in Sea Grapes, and later in Derek Walcott, Collected Poems, 1948-1984, and The Poetry of Derek Walcott 1948-2013.
Here are a few videos worth watching: a BBC documentary, Derek Walcott; an interesting Canadian TV interview, Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott on his life and work; and a poetry reading: Derek Walcott: The Perpetual Ideal is Astonishment | 92Y Readings. Here is a more recent poetry reading at the 92nd Street Y: Derek Walcott with Glyn Maxwell and Caryl Phillips. He reads Love after Love at 26:25.
Listen to this excellent July 13, 2014 BBC Radio 4 interview where Nobel Laureate poet Derek Walcott talks about his life and work at home on St Lucia: Derek Walcott: A Fortunate Traveller (28 mins).
A Blessing of Solitude by John O’Donohue, from Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom, profoundly complements this theme by Derek Walcott.
Here is an excerpt of Derek Walcott reciting his poem, Love After Love, in a new documentary film about him, POETRY IS AN ISLAND, by Ida Does. You can also see an interview with Derek Walcott by DBSTV St.Lucia in May 2014 in St.Lucia where he comments on the film.
For more information on the film visit www.walcottfilm.com and check facebook.com/PoetryIsAnIsland for the DVD release date. Read a detailed description of this film about Derek Walcott at the new Poetry is an Island merchandise site.
Update: On March 17, 2017, Nobel laureate, poet, playwright, and painter Derek Walcott died at age 87. Here are a few of the many articles that appeared in the world press: The Guardian, The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times.
I was surprised to see these comments from Derek Walcott in the Paris Review, Issue 101, Winter 1986: Derek Walcott, The Art of Poetry, No. 37. Since Walcott seems to equate poetry and prayer in this discussion, interviewer Edward Hirsch askes him how he writes. He describes it as withdrawing into a world of silence, and creating from there, as if in a trance, being blessed by “a kind of fleeting grace” if something happens.
“But I do know that if one thinks a poem is coming on—in spite of the noise of the typewriter, or the traffic outside the window, or whatever—you do make a retreat, a withdrawal into some kind of silence that cuts out everything around you. … I’m not a monk, but if something does happen I say thanks because I feel that it is really a piece of luck, a kind of fleeting grace that has happened to one. Between the beginning and the ending and the actual composition that goes on, there is a kind of trance that you hope to enter where every aspect of your intellect is functioning simultaneously for the progress of the composition. But there is no way you can induce that trance.