Study Guide

Love After Love Themes

  • Identity

    In Ordinary Heroes, author Scott Turow asks, “Who are we but the stories we tell ourselves, about ourselves, and believe?” If you picture a scale with “I’m a star” at one end and “I’m a loser” at the other end, most people’s stories probably cluster somewhere in the middle. In “Love After Love” Walcott explores the theme of identity by telling a story about a meeting between you and yourself. It’s a positive story, with smiles and love and food, but we’re not told what you and yourself end up telling each other. Walcott leaves that up to you, the reader, to imagine.

    Questions About Identity

    1. Does this poem’s definition of identity resonate with you? If not, why not? If so, what kinds of stories do you tell, and believe, about yourself?
    2. Why are “you” so happy to see “yourself” again in this poem? Why is that such a joyful thing?
    3. Is the person “whom you ignored/ for another” (10-11) a real person? Or could it be yet another version of “you” in this poem? What parts of the poem give you your ideas?
    4. What is the identity of the poem’s speaker? How do you know?

    Chew on This

    “Love After Love” is about reconnecting with yourself after a bad break-up. We can really lose ourselves in someone else, and that can be a pretty unhealthy experience (not to mention super-confusing).

    This poem’s message is that “you” are the most important person in your life. Without self-love, you can’t love anyone else. (So go on and give yourself a big hug today.)

  • Time

    Even though we routinely quantify time—measuring out our lives in hours, minutes, and seconds (or, in the case of J. Alfred Prufrock, coffee spoons)—perceptions of time are highly subjective. The next release of Game of Thrones seems to take forever, whereas the day of your math midterm arrives way too soon. Memory, too, is pliable, shaped by our thoughts and emotions. One bad experience, for example, can loom large in memory, distorting your view of the past. The passage of time is an important theme in “Love After Love,” as the speaker invites you to take a walk down memory lane, encouraging you to greet your past self with gratitude and compassion rather than criticism or rejection.

    Questions About Time

    1. What makes the speaker so confident in his predictions? Does he come from the future, or what?
    2. Do you buy the speaker’s predictions of what’s to come? Why or why not?
    3. What does this poem suggest about our relationship with the past? Is it something that we should embrace, or should we be looking ahead? What parts of the poem support your answer?
    4. How does this poem emphasize the importance of stepping out of time in order to take stock of our life?

    Chew on This

    The speaker is able to predict “your” future, because they speak from personal experience—and there’s no greater teacher.

    The poem’s most important lesson is to be in the moment. Ignore the past; don’t sweat the future. Be here now in order to be happiest in life.

  • Love

    “All you need is love,” sing the Beatles. As a stickler for detail, we might add that you also need deep-dish pepperoni pizza and cappuccino-chip ice cream. But as always, the Beatles have a point: every human being yearns for love. Just ask that squirrely guy who invented e-Harmony. If everyone just wants to be loved, you might wonder why so many relationships go awry, why so many people end up looking for love in all the wrong places. Maybe it’s because, at the end of the day, you still have to live with yourself. If you and yourself aren’t getting along, you’re apt to have trouble with other people, too.

    Questions About Love

    1. What is that second love that the title refers to? In other words, what is the love that comes after love? Is it self-love? True love? Love of milkshakes?
    2. Based on your answer, what is the first love that the title refers to? Romantic love? What parts of the poem give you your answers to these questions?
    3. What’s the difference between loving yourself and being totally selfish? How might the speaker answer this question?
    4. Who do you think wrote those love letters, and to whom? How do you know?

    Chew on This

    This poem wants us all to know that there is no love without self-love.

    Actually, it’s the other way around: the only way to truly love yourself (according this poem) is to love another first. To put it another way: self-love is the egg; love of others is the chicken.

  • Transformation

    There’s “more than meets the eye” to this poem. Back in the ‘80s, that was the tag-line for the original Transformers cartoon, and the same can be said here. The “you” staring back in the mirror is not that same old person you see every day. In this case, it’s a long, lost “stranger,” someone whom you’ve not connected with in a long time. Getting back to loving yourself is the ultimate transformation in this poem (even more amazing than Grimlock, who was pretty cool in his day).

    Questions About Transformation

    1. What previous transformations might “you” have gone through, prior to this poem being written? What hints does the poem give us about “your” past?
    2. How is reflection a transformative experience? How might the speaker answer that question?
    3. Is this transformation into self-love really as easy as the speaker suggests? Why or why not?
    4. Are you confident that the “you” in this poem can transform and love “yourself” again? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    Love is the ultimate transformative experience. This poem shows us that love changes us, both for the better and at times for the worse.

    No transformation or growth is possible without hardship. If everything were hunky-dory in “your” life, our speaker would have no advice to give.