Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 470

Although the poem puts a twist on the traditional love poem, there are precedents for a poem in which a poet takes pains to describe imperfect aspects of a lover. In Sonnet 130, William Shakespeare runs through a whole catalog of traditional praises while humorously stating that none of them...

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Although the poem puts a twist on the traditional love poem, there are precedents for a poem in which a poet takes pains to describe imperfect aspects of a lover. In Sonnet 130, William Shakespeare runs through a whole catalog of traditional praises while humorously stating that none of them applies to his love. Her eyes are “nothing like the sun,” her hair is like “black wires,” and her breath “reeks.” Her cheeks are not rosy; she does not move like a goddess. Yet in the last two lines, he states that she is as wonderful as any to whom those comparisons are applied.

Similarly, eighteenth century English poet and dramatist William Whitehead wrote in “The ‘Je Ne Sais Quoi’” that his lover (whom he gives the traditional name Celia) has neither a graceful face, shape, nor air. He, too, expresses his love for the woman he describes: He loves the “provoking charm/ Of Celia altogether.” (The French phrase Je ne sais quoi, meaning “I know not what,” refers to an unexplainable quality.)

At the center of “Love Poem” is the idea that no person is perfect and that love accepts and overcomes that fact. Whatever faults the person one loves may have are made up for by the qualities in him or her that one loves and respects. One has no doubt that the poet addresses a real person here rather than the unrealistic, idealized image found in some love poetry. He praises her talent for helping others and her quick mind even as he gently takes her to task for her “quick touch.” Reversing the cliché that “love is blind,” the poet states that sometimes love can see, accept, and thereby grow stronger. Also implied is the necessity of separating the important from the trivial: Wit and love for people are important; clumsiness is not.

Moreover, as Whitehead’s poem does in referring to Celia “altogether,” “Love Poem” recognizes that all aspects of a person are inextricably intertwined. It therefore does not begrudgingly accept the clumsiness, but finally, praises it joyfully. The last two stanzas express this paradoxically. First, it is the very bourbon that she spills that lifts them to “love’s unbreakable heaven.” Second, if she should die (therefore, one would think, making breakable objects safe), all toys everywhere would break at that moment. Ironically, those realizations bring the poet to the sort of devotion toward his beloved that would be perfectly at home in an Elizabethan sonnet. In stanzas 4 and 5, Nims uses the royal “we” to refer to himself, indicating that her love makes him feel like a king. He worships her at her knees, he says—thereby transforming her into a goddess. When he vows to “study wry music” for her sake, she even becomes his muse, inspiring him with the sound of breaking glasses.

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