Study Guide

Love After Love Quotes

  • Identity

    […] with elation
    You will greet yourself arriving
    At your own door, in your own mirror (2-4)

    If the speaker in “Love After Love” weren’t so persuasive, we would probably respond to this outlandish suggestion with a snort of skeptical amusement! Seriously—on your own, would you ever have thought to reflect on your identity by visualizing a visit with yourself? And even if you had, would you imagine the occasion as cause for “elation”? Yet, somehow, that speaker’s calm, confident voice hypnotizes us into playing the part that has been written for us, taking this whole surreal encounter on faith.

    and each will smile at the other’s welcome (5)

    So here’s the feel-good payoff for our willingness to go along with the speaker’s far-fetched scenario: we smile back at ourselves. In spite of yourself, doesn’t that moment just warm the cockles of your skeptical, self-critical little heart?

    […] the stranger who was your self. (7)

    Ah, we get it now: the mirror is a time machine! Realizing how confused we were about the person stepping out of the mirror, the speaker has helpfully identified that person as “the stranger who was your self.” So instead of splitting our current self in two (ouch!), we’re just dividing our self into past self and present self. As a way to reflect on identity, this strategy is a little easier to take… or is it?

  • Time

    The time will come (1)

    Like that introductory phrase of so many beloved fairy tales (“Once upon a time…”), the opening line of “Love After Love” sets the story of the poem in a misty, indefinite time. But in this case, it’s the future rather than the past.

    [...] the stranger who was your self. (7)

    This “stranger” tells us that all was not well in the land of long (or not-too-long) ago. The “you” of the poem has had to overcome some past difficulty, in which they didn’t really know themselves, in order to move ahead to the future with a sense of hope.

    […] Give back your heart
    to itself (8-9)

    Another thing that went wrong in the past? You gave your heart away. What were you thinking? That belongs to you, or… er, your heart. You belong to you; your heart belongs to your heart. Keep it straight, or else you’re in for a bad time. Luckily for you, that bad time seems to be in the past.

    […] the stranger who has loved you
    all your life, (9-10)

    Even during the dark ages, when the chips were down, the past was not as bad as it might seem. The “stranger” here was you, and you actually did love you—even though the implication here is that you didn’t realize or embrace that fact in the past. This non-stop source of self-love, though, should be of comfort to you in the future. Good times are on their way.

    Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

    The photographs, the desperate notes, (12-13)

    You want to move on with your life? You want to clear those cloudy skies? Well, you’ve got some cleaning to do, bub. All those mementoes are tying you to the past, to a dark time that’s best forgotten. The only way to embrace the future is to wipe the slate (and those bookshelves) clean.

    Sit. Feast on your life. (15)

    “Be here now.” It may sound like a hippy-dippy bumper sticker (you can probably find one on the bumper of a Volkswagen van), but that is a crucial message of this poem. You must allow yourself to be in the moment in order to truly reflect and appreciate yourself, your world, and everything in it. Take a load off, kick up your heels, and dig in.

  • Love

    “Love After Love” (title)

    Ouch—this title gives us an ice-cream headache. It’s deliberately ambiguous, we think. What is the difference between the first “love” and the second “love,” apart from when they take place? Or is there even a difference? We tend to talk about love in many ways: good, bad, complicated, simple. But is there really a difference when it comes right down to it?

    You will love again the stranger who was your self. (7)

    Stand aside, Shmoopers. This one we can handle. It’s pretty clear that our speaker is talking about self-love here. Not loving yourself—either because you’re too busy loving someone else, or because you can’t find anything to love in yourself—makes you a “stranger” to yourself. And that’s not good.

    […] Give back your heart
    to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

    all your life, (8-10)

    The good news, according to our speaker, is that you have a #1 fan right there with you at all times: it’s you. Sure, you may lose track of yourself (by being too self-critical, or by putting all of your energy into a relationship with someone else). At the end of the day, though, we all have the capacity for self-love.

    … whom you ignored
    for another (10-11)

    Who is this “another” the speaker mentions? We just don’t get any other info. Our best guess? It’s a by-now-ex-girl- or boyfriend. Haven’t we all been in, or witnessed, a relationship where one person totally abandons themselves and focuses on someone else? That’s never a healthy thing to do. Luckily, this poem is here to pick “you” up and dust you off after making that mistake.

    […] who knows you by heart, (11)

    Who knows you better than you, right? You practically hang out with yourself 24-7, which is why you know yourself “by heart.” If anyone can find something about you to love, then, it’s got to be you.

    Take down the love letters (12)

    Does anything say “bad break-up” more than holding on to a bunch of old love letters? We know it’s harsh (and hard), but you have got to get those things to the recycling bin right this very minute. (Hey, just because your love life takes a hit doesn’t mean you can pollute the environment.) The only way to move on, to start to love yourself, is to rid yourself of the reminders of past loves gone wrong.

  • Transformation

    You will love again the stranger who was your self. (7)

    Get ready, “you.” The speaker’s predicting big things. Specifically, the prediction here is that you will experience a transformation that will allow you to finally love yourself again.

    Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
    To itself (8-9)

    Transubstantiation is the Catholic idea that, when you ingest the bread and wine of communion, it literally transforms into the blood and body of Christ. Now, this poem is not specifically Catholic, but it does take a spiritual angle when it comes to the transformative experience of self-love. Check out “Shout-Outs” for more.

    […] whom you ignored
    for another, (10-11)

    To truly change, you must leave something behind. In this case, you’ve got to ditch that zero (an ex-lover, say) for a new hero (you).

    peel your own image from the mirror. (14)

    This is an odd turn of phrase, but it cuts to the very heart of the poem’s plea for transformation. In order to fully change, you must reject the old “you”—ignored and unloved—and love the new you. It all starts with “peel[ing]” that old you off the mirror, chucking that old way of thinking in the trash.

    Sit. Feast on your life. (15)

    Mmm, feast… We’ve already talked about the religious elements to this food-associated transformation (see our “Shout-Outs” section for more). Another point to make here is that this change requires stillness. You must be able to truly reflect on your life in order to change it. The good news? All the reflection is like a tasty meal. So look back and dig in.