Britta's Letters from (and sometimes about) Berlin
Showing posts with label The Empty Mirror. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Empty Mirror. Show all posts

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

'Love after Love' by Derek Walcott

Britta Huegel

Dear You, 
today I send you a beautiful poem by Derek Walcott. Normally I would put it on "Britta's Happiness of the Day" (, where I usually combine a photo with a poem (or rarely a quote) and then put in my two cents.
But you, Dear You, seldom find the time to look up that page - though it might bring more insights then my "little dabs here", as Miss Mapp would 'humbly' say.
This poem means much to me:

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 

Because I love this poem, I comment here in a much longer form than on 'Happiness of the Day". 
(There are many ways this poem is interpretated - sometimes as religious, sometimes as trying to reconcile the black and white parts in Walcott himself after the colonial era, sometimes as 'Find loving yourself after an unhappy relationship." . 
I will not speak about these possible interpretations, nor about the formal construction of the four stanzas, the enjambement which links the stanzas to each other or the lines of varying length.)  

Here I want to show you what I see in it. 
For me it is a beautiful description of what might happen when you get older. 
When we were little children, we accepted (or mirrored) our self in a direct and unadularated way. We were one with ourself. Then we were educated, learned how to please others, and with puberty we tried oh so hard to love "the prince" or "princess" - looking for the ideal person, the saviour. 
When deeply in love we (often) ignored our self - till we became strangers to ourselves. We became thin. 
"Give wine. Give bread, Give back your heart" - Derek writes. 
When we get older, we (hopefully) find ourselves as worthy as others. We don't need another person to explain our life, shelter us. That does not mean that Love isn't a wonderful thing - it is! - but you will no longer love at the price of the loss of self. 
At first you might be unhappy to get older - maybe losing the "romantic love",missing it with its drama and ups-and-downs. That way of growing-up doesn't seem that enticing - but: "The time will come/ when, with elation, you will greet yourself arriving." 
And you might even get more. When I read the line: "peel your own image from the mirror", I instantly think of the book "The Empty Mirror" by Janwillem van de Wetering - he lived for a while in a Japanese Zen cloister.  The motto of his book is:

"The empty mirror", he said. 
"If you could really understand that, 
then you'd have no business here!" 

To me, this means: total wisdom - the letting go of the Ego. 
But till we are that wise, let's follow Derek Walcott's beautiful advice: 

"Sit. Feast on your life."