Britta's Letters from her life divided between city-life in German's capital Berlin and life in a Bavarian village

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."    


  1. My dearest, esteemed Britta--my eyes are swimming with tears and my heart is bursting at your elegantly-expressed wisdom. Thank you so much for this.

    I have been juice cleansing and eating all of these vegetables to clean house in the last month and this morning I felt hungry for something hot and filling. This post is just reaching deep into the crevices of my heart.

    Much love.

    1. Dear Suze,
      thank you for that lovely and so elevating comment - blush, blush.
      I can understand your hunger for 'something hot and filling' - I love fruit and vegetables, but sometimes something savoury is great too and must be.
      I am so happy about the progress in publishing your book!

  2. It is wise, as well as good, to have lived enough to have moved past the need for moral support and approbation, to look at the residue of one's life and know this is what I made of it and what I have I should enjoy. The image of the empty mirror is perfectly haunting.

    1. Dear Joanne,
      your words are very wise. Of course it is nice to get moral support and approbation, (and I still want to much of that), but to learn that the world isn't shattered easily by a fault of mine is liberating - and that one isn't so important as one always thought is a step into the direction of the Empty Mirror. (Janwillem, a Dutch author, who wrote stunning and a-typical detective novels, lived the last years of his life in Maine - he was a very intelligent&wise man.)

  3. "Gib Wein. Gib Brot" --- eine Gemeinschaft, ein Sakrament. Das sind Zeremonien, führen wir in der Hoffnung, selbstlose Liebe. Ein schönes Gedicht! [I took 2 years of German in high school and got poor grades, still don't know where the verbs go!]

    1. Lieber Geo.,
      wie schön, dass ich dir einmal in meiner Sprache antworten kann!
      You are very well in German - to write like that after 2 years: wow. (High school notes seem to express nothing). You are so skilfull in your own language too: I see that in your own poems.
      Yes - Holy Communion, - but that is the fascination of a good poem: it is open to so many interpretations. As a woman - brainwashed by very romantic love ideals - I might be more afflicted by putting my own self second place (though many persons would laugh out loud at that because everyone calls me very strong-willed); but I think the way most women always reflect: 'how does it bear on another person what I do' is stronger than in most men - whom I envy that part. I am not meaning that men are more callous, definitely not - but most of them have more self-esteem.

  4. Britta...what a wonderful poem! Your thoughts mirror mine in its meaning. Since retiring, I think I have learned a bit about "feasting" on my life. As each day unfolds, I discover more "life truths." Aging isn't a bad thing...if I just wasn't surprised each morning by what body part is out of sorts! Many thanks for sharing!

    1. Dear Susan,
      I often think that you and I are sympatico (is this the right word?) in many ways. As to aging: everything has at least two sides - the joy to become more independent and grateful is hopefully greater than the (few) wrinkles :-) .

  5. The poem is beautiful with many layers and much depth to it. It seems to be a poem that can apply to every reader at some level.

    1. Dear Rosemary,
      that is so fascinating that everybody transports another meaning to a good poem - we all look through our own experiences, and thus put emphasis on different parts. I think also that this is why sometimes a single line in a poem can bring a sudden insight, enlightenment - reaching another layer of the heart, not only the intellect.

  6. We may live on opposite sides of the world, but we see that poem through the same eyes. You, however, expressed that interpretation beautifully. Thank you. It's a truly lovely poem.

    1. Dear Susan,
      thank you! I always think that it would be so lovely if we could meet. But virtual meetings are a step in the right direction!

  7. For this post, I had to read all the comments too, as I knew they'd be insightful, and I am not disappointed.
    This poem certainly caught me and from the first line spoke directly to me - what a gift the poet has. I am going to look at it from my particular time of life - a time that has been long in coming, when after looking after others I am indulging in self-care, remembering the things I like - the things that feed me - and fully enjoying the indulgence. It's not that I have suffered from an ignorance or total neglect of self - just that neglect that comes from long years of finding a way to be through motherhood, career and all the other demands.
    Printing this out to stick on my mirror.

    1. Dear Honoria,
      you express so deeply what I feel about this special poem. A good text addresses people in very different situations in life - and I share your view fully seeing it from a position that is - for me - surprising: no bad conscience to think of oneself, more independence and yet being able to love fully. I wrote this poem into my diary - but the mirror is a convincing place too!

  8. Dear Britta,

    Thank you so much for this inspiring post.I love this poem!! Reading your wonderful interpretation, I realized that fortunately, I worry less what others think as I get older. When I was much younger, I often worried about the opinions of others. I don't know if I can have an empty mirror myself sometime in the future, but now I find myself enjoying more doing what I really like. I might be more liberated than before. I have never read "The Empty Mirror" by Janwillem van de Wetering. I'd love to read the book!!
    Britta, to be honest with you, I don't like looking at my wrinkles in the mirror........

  9. Dear Sapphire,
    it is very liberating to become less dependant on the opinions of others. In some areas I managed that quite well - and to find out, what one really likes and likes to do helps enormously - (a year ago I made a list - it was quite surprising!).
    The most vulnerable part - still not having overcome that - is appearance. I know that for my age I can be very content with my looks, but when I see in the merciless March sun a few wrinkles (especially on the neck and on the arms...though I do a lot of exercise and weighttraining, and brushing etc), I don't like that. Then again I think: I wonder when will come the day when life becomes really relaxing: no very tight jeans and tee-shirts, comfortable chic shoes instead of heels - life might become a lot easier... :-)