‘Love Poem for a Wife’ an eight stanza poem that is separated into uneven sets of lines. The lines do not follow a specific rhyme scheme, nor are they of similar lengths. In fact, the line lengths vary greatly, stretching from four words up to eleven.
After reading a bit of ‘Love Poem for a Wife’ it becomes clear that Ramanujan chose to write in a stream of consciousness style. This is evident through the way that the lines flow into one another. The images are mixed and confused. It is oftentimes hard to tell where one scene starts and another begins. The speaker clutters his own thoughts with things he has experienced and with things he’d like to. His relationship is not a simple one, and this is reflected in the syntax.
The poem begins with the speaker describing a fight he had with his wife. It was so long that it felt like it lasted days. The argument brought to mind images from their different pasts. He looks back into his wife’s past and sees her life as an adolescent in Aden, Yemen. The speaker also sees their present, in India, and all the colors and patterns of Kerala.
In the second half of the poem, he wakes from a dream in which he saw his face merge with his wife’s. They became the same person, an androgynous god. When he gets up, he is happy to have had this experience but sad that they are once again physically separate people. In the end, his wife remains sleeping and he gazes at her in the morning light.
You can read the full poem here.
One of the most important techniques is enjambment. This occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. It forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One is forced to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. A perfect example of the way in which lines are cut off is between lines four and five of the first stanza. A reader has to get down to line five to find out what “We would never know”. Another example is between lines four and five in the fifth stanza.
Another technique used by Ramanujan in ‘Love Poem for a Wife’ is alliteration. It occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. There is an example of this happening in the first stanza with the words “child’s” and “changing.” It is extended, with the use of “chameleon” in the same line. Another example appears at the end of stanza two with “wearing white”.
Metaphor and simile are both used in the text as the speaker compares his wife to a variety of different things, such as “a pouting difficult child”. Another moment in the fifth stanza sees the speaker use a simile to compare his own face, and hers, to his “dragnet past”.
Analysis of Love Poem for a Wife
After a night of rage that lasted days
quarrels in a forest, waterfalls, exchanges, marriage,
a pouting difficult child’s changing in the chameleon
emerald wilderness of Kerala small cousin to tall
In the first lines of ‘Love Poem for a Wife’ the speaker begins by describing a fight he had with his wife. It was long, even though it only last night, it felt like it lasted days. The argument brought to mind images from their past, and their future. As well as those places they “would never know”. The speaker describes forest and waterfalls, as well as exchanges and marriages.
The way in which these images bounce around to relate to how he speaks about and sees his wife’s face. It is Syriac, meaning she comes from Syria. When he thinks of his wife, he thinks of the way her face changes like chameleons. The speaker references the “emerald wildernesses of Kerala”. This is a state on India’s Malabar coast. It is known for its beautiful natural spaces and animals.
mythic men, rubber plant and peppervine
grandmother wearing white day and night in a village
From the reference to his wife’s face, the speaker goes into three stanzas of images that speak to his surroundings. They were brought to his mind when he thought about his wife. He imagines rubber plants and “peppervine” frocks with print patterns. These patterns come from local dotted butterflies. They are worn by “grandmother…day and night in a village.”
full of the colour schemes of kraits and gartersnakes
and the evacuees the borrowed earth
In the third stanza of ‘Love Poem for a Wife’ he speaks again of color schemes. The colors come from “kraits” and “garter snakes,” both found in India. There is another location referenced by the speaker in the second line of the third stanza. He speaks about “Aden” the capital of Yemen. This is a place of great contrast. The speaker tells of how his wife’s adolescence was spent in the city. But, she and her family members were unable to remain there.
under the borrowed trees, taught dry and wet
on copper dustcones, the crater townships in the volcanoes of Aden
The contrasts continue, with the dry and wet and hot and cold. This is related to the monsoon season and the siroccos. A kind of wind that blows from North Africa across the Mediterranean.
It is interesting to consider how the speaker brings up these images. He is assuming that the reader is going to be able to relate to them. Therefore, one might want to consider the audience he had in mind. It could be one which is already familiar with the local customs, colours and plants of this region of India and the ups and downs and weather patterns in Aden.
I dreamed one day that face my own yet hers
turned on the realism of the ceiling light
The speaker changes directions slightly in the fifth stanza when he turns to speak about a specific dream he had. He recalls how in the dream his face became her own, and her face became his. The separation was “nowhere to be found”.
He compares the way in which his own history disappeared to a “dragnet,” a kind of net which is dragged through a river in order to catch fish. After having the dream he woke up and groped around. He was brought back into reality when he turned on the ceiling light.
found half a mirror in the mountain cabin
and very syriac on the bed
The speaker continues to narrate what the aftermath of the specific dream was like in the sixth stanza of ‘Love Poem for a Wife’. He looked around until he found “half a mirror“. The mirror had “fallen behind a dresser” in the mountain cabin. He used it to look at his face, but he is also able to see her behind him. She was there, on her side of the bed, with her “very Syriac” face.
behind: happy for once at such loss of face,
whole in the ambivalence of being
to be himself again, the past still there
a drying net on the mountain
In the seventh stanza, he expresses happiness with the fact that she lost her face. He is remembering his dream and the fact that in the dream they were half-woman, half-man. They were both within a “common body”. The speaker compares this morphing of their selves to an androgynous god. He knows that soon the dream is going to pass and he will be back to being himself. He will be the “drying net on the mountain”.
in the morning, in the waking
by my love’s only insatiable envy
In the eighth stanza of ‘Love Poem for a Wife’, morning comes. He wakes up first and looks again at his wife’s face. She is still fast asleep “blessed as by butterfly” and snake. The images spoken about in the first four stanzas come back to him. These are the elements of her past, and she has been blessed by them. In the last line, he admits to a feeling of envy he has of anyone else who might have a claim over his wife.