If we truly want to create a world where love, caring and compassion comes first, we have to start at the source — ourselves. It is only through self-love that we can begin to give ourselves to others in any beneficial way. And Valentines Day is as good as any other to remind us of this simple but often neglected truth. Here are three poems about self-love that I hope will make you shine with love for who you are.
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.
Born on the island of Saint Lucia, a former British colony in the West Indies, poet and playwright Derek Walcott was trained as a painter but turned to writing as a young man. His work resonates with Western canon and Island influences, shifting between Caribbean patois and English, and often addressing his English and West Indian ancestry. Known for his technical control, erudition, and large canvases, Walcott was, according to poet and critic Sean O’Brien, “one of the handful of poets currently at work in English who are capable of making a convincing attempt to write an epic … His work is conceived on an oceanic scale and one of its fundamental concerns is to give an account of the simultaneous unity and division created by the ocean and by human dealings with it.” In 1992, Walcott won the Nobel Prize in Literature. The Nobel committee described his work as “a poetic oeuvre of great luminosity, sustained by a historical vision, the outcome of a multicultural commitment.” ‘Love after Love’ is Walcott’s magnificent ode to reconciliation with ourselves after heartbreak.
LOVE by Czeslaw Milosz
Love means to learn to look
The way one looks at distant things
For you are only one thing among many.
And whoever sees that way
heals his heart,
Without knowing it, from various ills.
A bird and a tree say to him: Friend.
Then he wants to use himself and things
So that they stand in the glow of ripeness.
It doesn’t matter whether he knows
what he serves:
Who serves best doesn’t always
Czelaw Milosz (1911-2004) ranks among the most respected poets of the 20th century. Born in 1911 in Szetejnie, Lithuania, of partly Polish and partly Lithuanian parentage, he spent much of the Second World War in Warsaw, where he was active in the struggle against the Nazis. He left Poland in 1951 to live in France, and in 1960, he emigrated to the US where he became a tenured professor of Slavic languages and literatures at the University of California at Berkeley. In 1980, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Milosz’s poetry defined tragedy and beauty of his age with an unrivalled beauty, elegance and precision. Whether describing his early youth in Poland, the anguish of war-torn Warsaw or his personal search for religious meaning, his poems brilliantly evokes the wonder, amazement and the sensuous detail of living, and the particular individuality of every life.
IN THE MORNING by Steve Kowit
In the morning,
holding her mirror,
the young woman
the tip of
licks it and
and admires her
Steve Kowit (1938-2015) was an American poet whose received multiple awards for his poetry. He is also essayist, educator, and human-rights advocate. His book, “In the Palm of Your Hand” has been used in high schools, colleges, universities and writing workshops across the US since its publication in 1995. The following poem is a gorgeous example of brevity and simplicity that is also deeply contemplative.