Within the twenty-one lines of this contemporary poem, the poet provides readers with fifteen different definitions of love. These range from “love is a fan club with only two fans” to a reference to love being both a “prison” and “free.”
Explore Love is…
‘Love is…’ by Adrian Henri is a thoughtful and relatable poem in which the speaker defines love.
In the first lines of this poem, the speaker begins the first of fifteen different definitions of love. They alternate between three metaphors regarding love and one repetition of the refrain “Love is…” Throughout the poem, the speaker provides readers with many different ways to look at the complex emotions that occur in loving, romantic relationships. They focus on small moments, such as “forlorn” or abandoned clothing, and common everyday experiences.
You can read the full poem here.
Love is walking holding paintstained hands
The first lines of this poem present readers with the structure that Henri uses throughout the text. The poet utilizes a two-word line, consisting of “love is,” and then provides readers with three long lines, each of which begins with “love is” and utilizes perfect ending rhymes. The first example suggests that love is “feeling cold in the back vans.” This phrase, along with several others that the poet provides, alludes to a sexual relationship between two people.
Here, readers may envision moments of intimacy snatched in the back of a van. The next line is more amusing with the poet suggesting that love as a fan club with “to fans.” The two members of the fan club love one another in a way that other people, no matter their life experience, can understand.
These lines, and those which follow, present love and an intimate, amusing, and relatable way. Although most readers are not going to be able to relate to every line of Adrian Henri’s poem, it’s more than likely that most readers will find something familiar within his text.
Love is fish and chips on winter nights
In the next set of lines, the poet utilizes the same structure, using light and dark, warm and cold, images in order to present the next set of metaphors. The poet compares love to “fish and chips on winter nights in line six.
Here, the phrase may provide readers with some information about the poet’s background and country of origin. Adrian Henri is a British poet whose life experiences are tinted by where he’s from and how he grew up. Another specifically British reference falls later in the poem when the poet mentions “Top of the Pops.”
Other references to moments of sexual intimacy follow as the speaker mentions not turning out the light when a couple is in bed together and “blankets full of strange delights.” Without providing too many details, readers can envision the quiet and peaceful scenes of love that Adrian Henri is referencing.
Love is when you’re feeling Top of the Pops
Love is what happens when the music stops
In the next set of three metaphors, following another iteration of the refrain “love is,” the speaker describes love as “presents at Christmas shops and the feeling that the television show “Top of the Pops” might give you. While many of these phrases and metaphors feel as though they can be easily interpreted on a surface level, others are deeper and can, if readers are willing, mean more than they initially imply. For example, the speaker says that “Love is what happens when the music stops.”
Here, readers can interpret a couple’s ability, or inability, to get through harder times based on their love and respect for one another. While the music is playing, or everything is light, cheerful, and passionate, love is easy to maintain. But, when the times get dark and the music stops, that is when the strength of love is truly proven.
Love is white panties lying all forlorn
In the next few lines, the pol utilize is several more descriptions of love that include sexual innuendos. Within these lines, readers can clearly interpret the poet’s references to sex and related images. They mention “white panties lying all forlorn,” or lonely and discarded as a couple climbed into bed together.
They also mention a “pink night dress” that “is still slightly warm.” These, like the “panties,” have been taken off and discarded. But, the dress still maintains some of the bodily warmth of the person who had been wearing it. This is another thoughtful and intimate description of the various images associated with love and passion.
The final line of the section describes “when you have to leave at dawn.” Here, the speakers imply that something about this relationship requires one member to slip away when the sun starts to come up, as though they don’t want to be discovered. Love inspires people to go to great measures in order to spend time together. Such is the case here.
Love is you and love is me
Love is prison and love is free
In the last few lines of “Love is…’ the speaker says that “Love is you and love is me.” This is the first time that the speaker truly seems to be acknowledging their own relationship and their interpretation of their personal experiences with love. Previously, the lines felt more universal in their depiction of love, as though the speaker was describing the situation more broadly.
They go on, adding that love is at once a “prison” and “free.” Love does have its ups and downs, and a way of confining two people together. But, it also provides one with emotional freedom and happiness that is not possible in any other relationship.
The poem concludes with one final metaphor comparing love to “what’s there when you are away from me.” The feeling of longing and grief that one might experience when their loved one is separated from them is self-love.
The poem concludes with one final repetition of the refrain. This suggests that the poem does not include every definition or experience of love. It could go on, providing readers with innumerable metaphors depicting the emotion. It might also inspire readers to consider their own definition of what love is.
Structure and Form
‘Love is…’ by Adrian Henri is a twenty-one-line poem that is contained within a single stanza of text. The poet uses a very clear structure throughout, repeating the words “Love is” at the beginning of each line. Additionally, the poet uses examples of perfect rhyme throughout. They repeat sets of three perfect rhymes, like “vans,” “fans,” and “hands” and then they utilize a short, two-word line.
Other sets of end rhymes include “shops,” “Pops,” and “stops” and “forlorn,” “warm,” and “dawn.” The latter provides the reader with the only example of a half-rhyme in the text. It stands out among Henri’s use of only perfect lines up until this point.
Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Anaphora: occurs when the poet repeats the same word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines. For example, every line of this poem begins with the words “Love is.”
- Metaphor: a comparison between two unlike things that does’t use “like” or “as.” The metaphors used throughout this poem suggest that love “is” something not that it is “like” something. For example, “Love is the presents in Christmas shops” and “Love is when you don’t put out the light.”
- Alliteration: occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “panties” and “pink” in lines fourteen and fifteen.
- Imagery: can be seen when the poet uses particularly interesting descriptions. For example, “Love is pink nightdresses still slightly warm.”
This poem has a very clear purpose— to define love, at least in one speaker’s experience. Throughout the twenty-one lines of this poem, the poet provides readers with many different definitions and metaphors attempting to define the experience of intimate love between two people.
The theme of this poem is love. Specifically, romantic love that exists between the two members of a couple. Throughout, the speaker takes a broadly positive approach to the experiences of love but, at times, does allude to some of the troubles that a couple might encounter.
The message is that love is many things to many different people and is not simply defined. The speaker suggests that love is fifteen different things throughout this twenty-one-line poem. Plus, the poem ends with an allusion to the fact that there are many more ways than one might define the experience.
It is unclear who the speaker is meant to be within this poem. They are few details regarding who is delivering the lines or to whom they are speaking. It is possible that the poet is speaking from their own experience, but without clear evidence to suggest this is the case, it is better to assume they’re speaking from the perspective of an invented persona.
Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some related poems. For example:
- ‘Love After Love’ by Derek Walcott – contains advice to someone who is distressed after the end of a love affair.
- ‘Love Is Not A Word’ by Riyas Qurana – a poem that personifies love and dives into the notion of love and what is needed to maintain it in relationships.
- ‘Love of My Flesh, Living Death’ by Lorna Dee Cervantes – is a symbolic poem about a speaker’s mind and her love.