Love After Love

by Derek Walcott

Original Language English

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.

-- from Saved by a Poem: The Transformative Power of Words, by Kim Rosen

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

A member of the Poetry Chaikhana community recently reminded me of this poem and suggested I should share it again. The contemplative moment of self-awareness within the poem feels right for this Winter Solstice, Christmas, Hanukkah...

I am a latecomer to Derek Walcott's poetry. I first discovered his writing just a few years ago. In fact, this was the first poem of his that I read. I found it in Saved by a Poem (a book I highly recommend -- a profound exploration of the many ways poetry can be a healing and transformative presence in our lives).

There is always more wonderful poetry to discover and explore but, once found, I never want to rush through it, so I eagerly take slow steps...

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving

This is a magical moment, when we finally encounter ourselves... when we actually see through to something essential, when we see through to something that is what we really are.

Most of the time I think we carry a reflexive fear of that meeting, so we tense up and expend a great deal of effort to avoid it. But Derek Walcott rightly says it is a moment of elation, one that inspires a deep smile and a profound sense of homecoming.

and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.

Is there more to say? Perhaps also a reminder to celebrate the journey that has brought us here...

Sit. Feast on your life.


Thinking of Christmas, I have always felt a particular love for manger scenes, ceramic, porcelain, or carved wooden figurines of the Christ Child laid in a bed of straw, Mary knelt over her new child, Joseph with his lamp, the Three Magi holding their gifts, a shepherd with a few sheep, an ox and an ass at rest. Often the scene has a hut-like manger as background, the roof covered with moss -- with the announcing angel and the Christmas star shining above. That iconic scene has always felt magical and alive to me, rich with unspoken meaning.

And it is. We can read the gospel stories of the birth of Christ as simply describing events, or we can read it more deeply as being imbued with spiritual meaning.

In the Nativity, we discover the pure spark of light that is the Christ child -- also represented by the star -- surrounded by the emptiness of the night. The Nativity is an image of light in the darkness. A small child, vulnerable, humble, poor, a tiny point of existence, surrounded by the immensity of the night... but with the promise that the light will increase until it floods the world with its light. (It is no accident that Christmas is set near the Winter Solstice, when the world is plunged in darkness and awaits the rebirth of the sun.)

Looking at Mary and Joseph, one way to understand Mary in the Nativity story is that she represents the heart or the soul, while Joseph represents the intellect. From this perspective, the gospel story of the virgin birth takes on ever deeper dimensions.

In the mystical tradition, the soul must first stop attempting to take false lovers through every outer experience, and yearn so deeply for the true Beloved within that she (the soul) becomes restored to her natural "untouched" state (Mary's virginity). That is, the soul must become purified, inward focused, unattached, "untouched" by the experiences of the outer world. Mary's virginity is a virginity of awareness.

When this happens deeply enough, the divine touch comes, and a new life (the Christ child in Christian tradition) is formed within the soul. The overwhelming sense of joy and spiritual bliss that is felt becomes a new presence in the body and mind.

But the father of this new life is not Joseph. The heart does not conceive by the intellect, but through direct communion with the Eternal. At this stage, the intellect has a choice: Retreat into cold denial, proclaiming, 'I do not know that child' and reject the heart and the life it carries; or it can recognize that something deeply sacred is taking place, something not of its own making, and then take responsibility and provide for the growth and maturation of that inner illumination.

In this way, the Christian gospel drama is played out in you and me and in all devout mystics. This isn't something experienced only by Christians; here, we are simply using Christian language to describe a universal mystical experience...

In the traditional iconography, we see the infant Christ on a bed of straw in a manger surrounded by animals. In the gospel tale, two animals are mentioned specifically: an ox and an ass. Why those two animals? Esoteric Christian teachings sometimes explain it this way: the ox (an ancient symbol of Venus), represents sensuality and passion; the ass can be seen as embodying either the ego or reason. What are they doing in this image of divine birth? Notice that they are not suppressed; the ox and ass are not chained or slaughtered. No, they rest, they are at peace, tamed by the presence of spiritual light. More than that, they are actually protecting the infant, giving him their strength. As one 20th century Christian teacher phrased it, "They are warming the Christ child with their breath." Viewed this way, the nativity gives us an image not of suppression, but of integration of the energies of life in support of the awakening soul.

There is, of course, much more to explore. The cave or manger of the birth. The three Magian wise men from the east. But I hope I have suggested some good ideas to contemplate and inspire a bit more spiritual connection this Christmas.

Wishing each and every one of you a beautiful Christmas, Hanukkah, and Solstice. May this time when the light renews itself amidst the darkness also bring a renewal of the light and life within you and everyone your life touches.

Recommended Books: Derek Walcott

Sea Grapes The Poetry of Derek Wolcott 1948 - 2013 Omeros White Egrets: Poems Collected Poems 1948 - 1984
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Love After Love