This poem has always meant a great deal to me. Everyone will have their own interpretation, but for me it speaks of false self and real self; relinquishing the former and finally, joyfully, discovering the latter.
Its author, Derek Walcott, was born in Saint Lucia in the West Indies in 1930. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1992, and at the age of 85, is Professor of Poetry at the University of Essex.
The poet Robert Graves said once that Walcott “handles English with a closer understanding of its inner magic than most, if not any, of his contemporaries.”
Saint Lucia has a complex colonial history, which Walcott explores in his poetry. Themes of damage and renewal, enslavement and freedom, and the fragmentation of identity run through much of his work. You can find them here: the “split self” mirror image, that self as stranger, the self held at a distance in letters, notes, photos and reflections, and finally the invitation to come home to oneself; to transform a fragmented journey into a feast of self-acceptance.
Love After Love, by Derek Walcott
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.