On December 31, 2017, I tweeted a poem by Ada Limón called “The Conditional.” The tweet read: Here’s one of my favorite poems to end the year. On January 1, 2018, I tweeted a poem by Derek Walcott called “Love After Love.” The tweet read: Here’s one of my favorite poems to start the new year. I returned to these poems on the last day of each month and the first day of each month in 2018. Like so many other poems I love, the language of these poems immediately gripped me and settled into my chest. A good poem, to me, is sort of like a hug and sort of like waking up.
So why did I choose these two poems to define my year? Mostly because of the aforementioned beautiful language, but I found as the year moved along that I discovered new meaning with each read and could draw new connections from them to my own life.
“The Conditional” by Ada Limón is about living in the moment and being thankful for what you have. At least, that’s how I read it. 2017 was a weird year for me. I graduated high school, said goodbye to old friends, moved into my freshman dorm, and made new friends. That’s a very abridged version of my year, but the point is that I went through a lot of changes. Some were great, some were unexpected, and some were awful. I also wasn’t at all happy with what was happening in America or the world at large in 2017. “The Conditional” points to those concerns, especially environmental concerns. It speaks to something so many of us felt in 2017—fear. However on December 31, 2017, I thought that this poem summed up how I felt or at least how I wanted to feel. That despite all of this hardship, and in some cases just perceived hardship, I would still take this life with the people I love over any other life.
“Love After Love” by Derek Walcott is different. While “The Conditional” offered me perspective on the world I was living in at the time, “Love After Love” offered me a perspective on how I looked at myself. This poem is all about self-love. I think this poem is trying to teach readers that the greatest love affair you should have in your lifetime is the one you have with yourself. I shared this poem on Twitter because even though I have sometimes struggled with this in the past (and surely will struggle with again in the future) I think everyone, not just myself, could love themselves more. The best part of the poem is perhaps the line “you will love again the stranger who was your self” (line 7). It’s this “love again” part that sticks with me. As in there was a time when you loved yourself, and there will be a time when you do again. In this way, there is an infinite amount of times I can come back to myself after any type of heartbreak and so can you.
I could continue to share the year’s worth of lessons I learned from these two poems and offer a full literary analysis of them, but I think you understand the point of my story. This is what I took from these two poems: be thankful for where you are despite fear or unhappiness and love yourself. Love yourself fiercely. I invite you to read these two poems for yourself and see if you take any new meaning from them. I have included them in this post for that reason. I wish everyone the best in 2019 and happy reading!