This poem by Derek Walcott is one of my favourites. I studied it in High School and it came up on my exam, I got an A. However, it is only now that I am older and have experienced life a little bit that I realise that I never understood what this poem is about.
Not unlike a Victorian child with Influenza, my most recent relationship didn’t make it through the winter. Essentially, in 2017 I went through a break up, not a nice easy one either, a good old fashioned gut wrenching ordeal. The kind songs and films and celebrity gossip columnists thrive off and it has taken over a year for me to really move on from it.
The experience revealed many an uncomfortable truth to me. The majority in relation to my former partner, but some specific to me. The main one was that, as many people do, I had lost parts of myself during the 3 year relationship. I have written before on how keeping a balance when compromising for others is important in relationships, advice that unfortunately I did not heed a few years ago.
I think that the difficulty of break ups is ridiculously played down. The world you are accustomed to is turned inside out and you are suddenly submerged in trying to understand who you are outside of the relationship. It’s a difficult and disorienting feeling for a while, like a child who can’t swim thrashing around in water, you don’t know which way is up and you’re unable to reach a foothold. I often wonder if it is easier to be broken up with or to break up with someone. The former is obviously unexpected in many cases, there is little time to prepare for your impending singledom, thus many people who get dumped feel the cold instantaneously, searching for closure on the relationship, which often they are denied.
If, on the other hand, you are the one who decides to end a relationship, then you don’t need to worry about being unprepared, quite the opposite. You are often so ‘prepared’ that you underestimate how you will actually feel after the deed is done. Plus, you always have to live with wondering over whether you made the right decision. At least when you get dumped it is out of your control and you get to be angry about it all.
Either way, breakups are horrible. It is okay to be upset for a while when they happen, they are upsetting! I think the best way to describe the emotional fallout after a relationship is a mourning period. You are mourning the relationship itself, the partner whom you fell for and for the person you were when the relationship started.
Suddenly, you are back to being a you, not a we and definitely not an us. It is hard.
We don’t know if Walcott’s poem is about the end of a relationship or maybe the death of a loved one, but as the title suggests, it is about loving yourself after you have loved someone else. The speaker urges the reader to hold out, that although it feels like you will never stop feeling disorientated and lost, there is an end to it. You will reunite the two parts of yourself that have been separated by one’s dedication to loving another. Despite the poem being short, there is an incredible poignancy in it’s message.
You will love yourself again.
Having revisited this poem after coming through the other side of a break up, this message is something that I think is really important to remember. Getting over something takes time and patience, you can’t rush the healing process and even though distracting yourself from it is helpful there is no fast track for pain, you just have to go through it. You can never really pinpoint when you stopped being upset over someone either, one day you blink and realise, ‘oh, I haven’t thought about them for ages, weird.’ and it is often as simple as that. You have moved on without realising it was happening.
Suddenly you can concentrate on all the opportunities being single brings with it. In many ways it is great, it is empowering, you don’t have to answer to anyone, you are your own entity again. Most importantly, you can focus solely on yourself, what you need, the things you want to do, places you want to go, goals you are setting yourself. Essentially, we fall back in love with ourselves and give our undivided attention to us and it is amazing.
During the hard part of the process it is easy to forget the point of it all. But it is always for the best, whether you realise it or not at the time. You don’t want to be trapped in a relationship that doesn’t work or with a partner who would rather be with someone else. The ordeal is necessary and the elation you will feel when you come through the other side and get to hang out with yourself again will be more than worth it.
I hope this helps anyone who needs to read it.