16 pages 32 minutes read

Derek Walcott

Love After Love

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1976

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Summary and Study Guide


Originally published in Walcott’s 1986 Collected Poems, 1948-1984 collection, “Love After Love” introduces the philosophical concepts that underpin Walcott’s writing style. “Love After Love” depicts a return to self-love and the importance of giving attention to and care for the self after romantic loss. Walcott was deeply religious, and his writing is steeped in both his Caribbean background and his Christian beliefs. In a 1986 interview with Edward Hirsch for The Paris Review, Walcott said of his writing, “I have never separated the writing of poetry from prayer. I have grown up believing it is a vocation, a religious vocation” (See: Further Reading & Resources).

For Walcott, ritual is vital to poetry, and “Love After Love” illustrates with a simplicity of word and philosophical depth of meaning a ritualistic “return to self.” The poem ends with a call to look at art—letters, photographs, and written notes—as mirrors to the inner self.

Poet Biography

Born in Castries, Saint Lucia, in January 1930, Derek Walcott came from a family of English, Dutch, and African heritage. His parents, Alix and Warwick Walcott, were both lovers of art. His mother worked as a teacher and was known to love poetry, and his father was a painter and civil servant who died when Derek was only a year old. Derek, his twin brother Roderick, and their sister Pamela were raised primarily by their mother and attended Methodist schools in Saint Lucia. Saint Lucia was predominantly Catholic due to a long history of French colonial rule, but the Walcotts were a part of the Methodist minority on the island.

Walcott’s cultural background and religious upbringing greatly influenced his personal and artistic beliefs. Walcott trained as both a painter and a writer, often citing Modernists Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot as some of his first poetic influences. Walcott was first published as a poet when he was only 14 years old, though his first published poem was attacked as heretical in the same publication by a Catholic priest. Walcott attended St. Mary’s College in Saint Lucia and the University College of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica.

Walcott moved to Trinidad after graduating college, and in 1959 he founded the Trinidad Theatre Workshop. His first collection of poems to gain traction was his 1962 In a Green Night: Poems 1948-1960, which considered the Caribbean through a post-colonial lens. In 1970, his play Dream on Monkey Mountain was produced off-Broadway and won the Obie Award. In 1971, Walcott also received an OBE (Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) for his artistic accomplishments.

Walcott worked as a teacher at Boston University and began the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre group there in the 1980s. Omeros, Walcott’s well-known epic poem, was published in 1990, and he went on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992. In 2016, Walcott became one of the very first knights of the Order of Saint Lucia.

Walcott was married three times, and over the course of his three marriages, he had one son, Peter, and two daughters, Elizabeth and Anna. In 1981 and 1996, two separate students accused Walcott of sexual harassment. The allegations led to at least one court settlement and media speculation. In the 1990s, Walcott began a companionship with Sigrid Nama, who was with him until his death. Walcott died on March 17, 2017, in Saint Lucia.

Poem Text

Walcott, Derek. “Love After Love.” 1986. All Poetry.


“Love After Love” consists of 15 lines arranged in four stanzas of varying lengths. It is written in second person; the speaker addresses the general “you,” referring to the reader. The speaker begins the poem in some vague future time when “you will greet yourself arriving / at your own door, in your own mirror” (Lines 3-4). The speaker goes on to say that “you” will see yourself in the mirror, and the two versions “will smile at the other's welcome” (Line 5). In Line 2, the speaker clarifies that this is a happy circumstance for “you,” who will do this “with elation” (Line 2). Essentially, there will come a time in the future when the reader will be happy to see themselves in the mirror.

In the second stanza, the speaker explains, “You will love again the stranger who was your self. / Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart” (Lines 7-8). Here, the speaker expands upon the scene by describing the moment in time as one in which the “you” will cease being a stranger to themselves; the “you” will once again love “itself,” or “the stranger who has loved you” (Line 9). The second stanza establishes a cyclical attainment of self-love. The speaker implies that the reader or the general “you” has been so focused on gaining the love of others, that they have forgotten to love themselves. On the journey to achieve romantic love or gain admiration from someone else, “you” have become a stranger to yourself, but now it is time to once again get to know and learn to love yourself.

The third stanza reminds the reader that they have, most of their life, forgotten to love themselves: “all your life, whom you ignored / for another” (Lines 10-11). However, the speaker asserts that only you “know yourself by heart” (Line 11). The final stanza ends with a call to self-actualization and love:

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 (Lines 12-15).

Walcott calls upon the reader to use their life’s art, the pieces of “your” life to reconstruct who “you” are. Walcott ultimately asks the reader to love themselves.