The Poem

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 510

“Love Poem” is a twenty-four-line poem in six stanzas of four lines each; the second and fourth lines of each stanza rhyme. Although the oddly generic title is an accurate description of the poem, its very generality also provides the reader with a subtle clue that this may not be a traditional example of love poetry.

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Indeed, in the poem’s first three words, the speaker directly addresses his beloved as “My clumsiest dear.” The woman he loves, as the reader quickly learns, breaks nearly everything that encounters her “quick touch.” Her hands wreak disasters—they “shipwreck vases”—and chip glasses. They are like proverbial bulls in a china shop, he says, and they catch in fine cloth like the burrs of weeds. The poem’s first four stanzas follow an alternating pattern in which stanzas 1 and 3 depict the woman’s clumsiness and stanzas 2 and 4 describe the qualities that make the speaker love her in spite of it.

In stanza 2, the tone suddenly becomes gentler as he states that her clumsiness disappears where “ill-at-ease” people with troubles are concerned. She can make a refugee, standing uncomfortably in the doorway, feel at home. She “deftly” steadies the drunkard for whom the very floor seems to be moving. Stanza 3 returns to her awkwardness in the physical world, humorously explaining that she has no depth perception—a dangerous situation when traffic is involved. She is “the taxi driver’s terror.” Having no idea how close anything is, she shrinks from distant approaching headlights but tries to dash across the street in front of streetcars that are practically upon her.

Yet in “traffic of wit,” the poet says in stanza 4, she is an expert. When it comes to words and, more important, to “people and love,” she can move with complete comfort and control. In the stanza’s final line, he quietly states that this quality makes him love her, makes him devoted to her. Stanza 5 returns to the humorous tone, but now her clumsiness and his love for her come together in the same lines. Never mind the spilt coffee and lipstick stains on his clothes, he says; love creates a heaven that is unbreakable. Moreover, the bourbon that she spills will even provide the “glory” to buoy up their souls to that heaven.

In the final stanza, the breaking of glasses seems almost celebratory, like glasses purposely broken after a toast or during a marriage ceremony. The sound is music to the poet’s ears because he realizes that the clumsiness is an inseparable part of the unique person whom he loves. The poem’s final two lines provide the same sort of summation that the last two lines of a sonnet, that most traditional form of love poetry, often do: “For should your hands drop white and empty/ All the toys of the world would break.” The poet drops the humorous tone that has recurred throughout the poem, admitting the seriousness of his love for the woman and confessing that without her, clumsiness and all, life would be silent and joyless.

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 389

One of the most notable features of “Love Poem” is its balance between humor and tenderness. John Frederick Nims uses the technique of hyperbole (extreme exaggeration) skillfully to help create that balance. Hyperbolic overstatement was once a common technique of traditional love poetry; the poet would declaim his lover’s (or would-be lover’s) overwhelming beauty and state that without her he would surely waste away and die. Nims, however, turns the use of hyperbole within the context of...

(The entire section contains 899 words.)

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