16 pages 32 minutes read

Derek Walcott

Love After Love

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1976

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The Stranger: The Two Selves

In “Love After Love,” Walcott deeply considers the concept of the “self.” While the poem's title implies a standard love poem might follow, the poem deviates from everyday love poems to explore love of self over love of others. Walcott first asks the question, “What is the self?” Or, more directly, he calls for the reader to ask the questions: “Who are you?” and “Do you still know yourself?” It would be easy enough to consider these questions rhetorically and therefore strictly lyrically; however, Walcott’s attention to this theme digs deeper. He doesn’t just pose the question of self-knowledge, he makes “the self” its own separate entity, some person who has become “the stranger who has loved you / all your life” (Lines 9-10). Here, Walcott implies that readers can be strangers to themselves, that the needs of daily life (including romantic love and yearning for admiration from others) can distort the understanding of self to the point of strangeness and disassociation.

The poem's heart offers a way to break this cycle of disassociation: It is only through reunification with the stranger that is the self that the reader can again attain love. Love, the speaker argues, must come from within, and it cannot be discovered with ease without knowing oneself intimately and coming to love this inner self.