Study Guide

This Hour and What Is Dead Love

By Li-Young Lee

Love

His love for me feels like spilled water
running back to its vessel. (7-8)

Despite the huge distance between the living and the dead, our speaker still feels his brother's love. And that love exists in a way that is very present, and immediate. But it's also a bit confusing. Using a visual image to describe a physical or emotional feeling, well, that sounds a lot like synesthesia, or a blending of the senses. Perhaps our speaker is so overwhelmed with emotion that he can only use visual imagery to describe it. He can't quite say just what he feels.

Someone tell him he should sleep now. (11, 22)

On the one hand, this is a very gentle, loving way to try and lay these thoughts of his brother to rest. He's not saying, "Quit your walking around over my head!" The way he says it shows us his real love for his brother. But on the other hand, this line also tells us that our speaker is sick and tired of his constant awareness of his brother's love (and the grief that comes with it). The dude just wants a break. He wants some peace. We can't help but wonder, though, whether if his brother did give him some peace, our speaker wouldn't be a little bit sad, even lonely.

He mends ten holes in the knees
of five pairs of boy's pants. (14-15)

This act of mending is a quiet, domestic image of a father's love for his children. Even though it's not explicitly connected to love, it carries with it a clear picture of providing and caring for his children, which sounds a lot like love to Shmoop.

His love for me is like his sewing:
various colors and too much thread,
the stitching uneven. […] (16-18)

Love isn't perfect, and that's something our speaker knows well. Through this image, he acknowledges that his father, in the way he loved his children, had his faults. Maybe the man could be overbearing ("too much thread") and inconsistent ("the stitching uneven").

[…] But the needle pierces
clean through with each stroke of his hand. (18-19)

His father's love might be imperfect, but it sure is powerful. Could it even be all the more powerful for its imperfections? A perfect love would be a general ideal. This imperfect love, on the other hand, is specific to his father. It's the same as how we come to love the little faults and oddities of the people we love. That mole or lisp or tendency to quote Kung Fu movies becomes part of what defines a person as <em>that</em> person, and no one else. It's what makes them special.

His love for me feels like fire,
feels like doves, feels like river-water. (27-28)

God's love, as our speaker tells it, feels like it comes at you from three directions at once. All three of these images imply movement and action. The fire is burning, the doves are flying, the water is running. Again we see that love can be complicated, even contradictory (it can feel like fire as well as water).

I've had enough of his love
that feels like burning and flight and running away. (32-33)

This is the moment when our speaker finally comes out and admits what he's been hinting at with that refrain "Somebody tell him he should sleep." He finally announces his frustration at being so bound up in and defined by his relationship to others. He proclaims himself as an individual by using that first "I." And how does he distinguish himself? By pulling away from love, which, as we've seen, is a powerful connecting force. It is through this stepping back from love (which brings with it all that loss and death) that our speaker hopes to get some relief. But do you really think he will?

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