The Most Important Love Poem Ever, by Derek Walcott

Derek Wallcot, Poet and Playwright
Derek Walcott, Poet and Playwright

Or perhaps you thought it was sacrilege when Whitney Houston sang, “The Greatest Love of All?” I admit, back in my church days I thought the sentiment of self-love was, well, selfish. It seemed anti-love to me. But even then there was something to my mother’s admonishment. Maybe your mother said it too? “How can you love anyone else if you cannot first love yourself?” I thought it was modern psycho-babble, self-worshiping liberalism.

A Myth-Interpretation

But even the Bible, as one of my mother’s old books reminded me, contains the command to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The book–I think it might have been When I Say No I Feel Guilty, by Manuel J. Smith, but maybe not, she had many books like this–it insisted, and I am quoting from memory as best I can, “The command was not to love others better than yourself, or instead of yourself, or to love others and hate yourself, but to love others as yourself.” The assumption of the verse is that we already love and care for ourselves, as we should, being god’s creation.

I wonder now if it was the church of guilt that taught us to hate ourselves, a misinterpretation, a twisting of Jesus words, “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.” Of course, we shouldn’t be so immersed in our own self-importance that we neglect or hurt others, but that’s not what basic self-love is about. It’s about caring, self-respect, nurturing ourselves so that we can be a nourishment to others as well. It’s a balance of those things. Love others as we love ourselves. It’s not an either-or situation, is it? Funny how in relationships we lose sight of this.

The Poem at Hand:

But look at me, I’ve wandered off into interpretation and commentary again. Let’s get back to the poem. My friend John, over at Poetically Versed read this little gem recently, and I’ve been wanting to record it since then, way back in the middle of August. John has some great ideas on how we can learn more about poems, and ourselves, by reading them out loud, and then listening to the readings of others. Like John I was used to some of the longer works of Derek Walcott, including his epic poem Omeros, a novel-sized work I have been slowly reading for some time, another one of those volumes handed down from my mentor George before he died.

Like George’s hero Seamus Heaney who recently passed, Walcott is a winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature (1992), as well as the T.S. Elliot Prize (2011). He’s a poet and a playwright who hails originally from Saint Lucia in the West Indies, and these day teaches in Boston when he is not at his home in Trinidad. You can read more about his life and work at the Poetry Foundation and A simple google search will bring many of his shorter and longer works to your attention.

For John’s reading and some details about his project of reading poems out loud togetherย click here. Perhaps you’ll be inspired to read this one yourself and share it. My reading and the text of the poem follow below. If you are on a mobile device that won’t play the file just click on the download option on the right to download it and listen.

Thank you, Mr. Walcott for this important reminder of love lost and rediscovered.

Love After Love

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.

โ€• Derek Walcott, Collected Poems, 1948-1984

28 Comments Add yours

  1. John says:

    I enjoyed the post, church and all… and, really nice reading, David … though, a small criticism … you missed a line. ๐Ÿ™‚


    1. Oh great. In the recording or in the text? :-/


    2. John says:

      I’m the recording


    3. John, did you make that typo to make me feel better, or are you in a Zen place, feeling at one with the recording? Giggling… Back to bed for me… ๐Ÿ™‚


    4. Ah, I see what you mean. Line four. Damn. Well, it is important, but the text is there to read, so that is good. I’ll add a note to the main thing, but I think I shall leave this recording as is and call it an accidentally abridged version.


    5. John says:

      Reader’s Digest sold abridged versions of things for years, and no one complained. ๐Ÿ™‚ And, I’m not complaining … just thought it worth mentioning.


    6. haha, funny you called it that. Look at the Note I just added ๐Ÿ™‚ Thank you, John! I was so proud how that reading came off. I wonder why I looked over that line.


  2. Anonymous says:

    The Love Poem I like is Yeat’s When You Are Old and Grey…k


    1. Agreed. One of my favorites. I only say best in the sense that it is important to also remember to love ourselves, and not lose ourselves to another. For when they are lost, what then do we have?


  3. Vincent in Ireland says:

    I learn to self love a wee bit more as a grow older…. much like my relationship with David, with my friends, family, it is important -as another friend reflected to me recently when it comes to relationships -…to choose to do so again and again.


    1. Well said, big brother. Perhaps I am catching up to you. ๐Ÿ˜‰


  4. Well said, David. Lovely poem with which to begin the day.


    1. Thank you, Sue! Have a great one.


  5. slpmartin says:

    Really quite enjoyed your conversation before the reading of the poem…it indeed added a perspective to the poem….thanks!


    1. Thanks! I wasn’t even going to write it until today, but last night I just started typing, and there you have it.


  6. PB Rippey says:

    An exquisite poem–spare and powerful and true. Keep on with “Omeros”! Such a rich work. Oh dear. I sound pedantic. Anyway, thanks for posting.


    1. It’s really good stuff, and one of the few book length poems that can keep my attention. Thanks, Teach! ๐Ÿ˜‰


  7. OMG – that gave me wonderful chills. Thank you so much for sharing it!


    1. Aw, what a fantastic compliment! Thank you


    2. David, I just love this poem so much, would you mind if I shared it on my blog? I would include a link to your site so that any of the (very few ๐Ÿ˜‰ readers who do follow me might find your original post about it. I just can’t seem to stop thinking about this poem. I’ve read it numerous times now and each time I’m just struck by it’s beauty.


    3. Ah, Michelle, that is so sweet of you. Of course, you are welcome to. Now keep in mind, my recording is missing the line about the mirror. It works okay without it, but it is an important, and even slightly humorous line. ๐Ÿ™‚ I agree, the poem meant a lot to me too, and it was part of that little series of poems that really came to me when I needed them. August was such a difficult month. xo


    4. Thanks, David. Hopefully September will be kinder. โค


    5. In some ways it already has. Thanks! ๐Ÿ™‚


  8. Jamie Dedes says:

    One of my fave poems and you did a lovely job reading it. I also love David Whyte’s reading …


    1. Thank you, he reads this very well and shows understanding and compassion,


  9. John says:

    Reblogged this on Poetically Versed and commented:
    I meant to do this last week, but, the synapses in my brain have been firing a bit slowly lately. So apologies …. but, here is a reading done by one of my favorite followers (and my Poetry Guru), reading a poem I posted about two weeks ago. Take a listen to David’s reading, and see what you think! Then, go ahead… how about making your own reading and sharing it with us!


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