‘Love Cycle’ by Chinua Achebe portrays the sun’s effect on Earth (and vice versa) as a hardly romantic relationship. The poem describes the couple: the sun an angry male and the earth a tolerant female. Achebe uses personification and symbolism throughout the poem to evoke vivid imagery.
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‘Love Cycle’ opens by describing the actions of the sun at dawn. At this time, the poem compares the interaction between the sun and Earth to the aftermath of dispassionate sex between a couple. It goes on to describe the harshness of the sun as dawn gives way to noon. Here, Love Cycle relates the earth’s endurance of the sun’s scorching rays to the forbearance of a woman dissatisfied by her partner.
Towards the end, however, it speculates why she (Earth) remains in a relationship with him (the sun), and therefore why this natural phenomenon reoccurs. Love Cycle concludes by implicitly mentioning moonlight, a gentle reflection of the sun’s rays. The subdued nature of the sun at night gives Earth free reign over her partner. Love Cycle points to this moment as the reason she stays.
You can read the full poem here.
At dawn slowly
the sun withdraws his
long misty arms of
embrace. Happy lovers
‘Love Cycle’ opens with the persona describing the attitude of the sun at dawn. One can imagine the sun’s withdrawal from embrace to mean its light isn’t fixated on anything. This translates to how widespread and scattered the sun’s rays are at this time. Unlike at noon, the rays aren’t locked on any surface; they aren’t harsh as well. Hence, their representation as “long misty arms”. The adjective “long” reveals the far reach of the sun.
whose exertions leave
This stanza introduces the object of the sun’s influence: Earth. The persona portrays the interaction between the two entities as a relationship between a couple. As shown in the first three lines of the stanza, however, the nature of their relationship is dispassionate. The aforementioned lines mention the aftereffects of sex between the represented couple: it’s lukewarm. This reveals the irony in the last line of stanza one. In that line, the persona calls the sun and Earth “happy lovers”, but this stanza begs to differ.
From a different perspective, the first three lines also underscore the theme of nature by representing the attitude of Earth at dawn. In this case, “love’s combustion” refers to the heat of sun, which is absent at this time. The stanza highlights the presence of dew—and therefore, humidity—showing the freshness of Earth in the morning.
to whispers of
of heaven and take it
In this stanza, dawn gives way to noon. Again, the persona portrays the sun as a man with a temper. Like his temper, the speaker predicts the “soft-eyed light”—representing the sun’s rays at dawn—will grow hot with time. The man “ploughing through the vast acres of heaven…” is a metaphor for the sun’s journey from the east, where it rises, to the west, where it sets. The speaker tells us that within that time, the sun will become harsh.
out of her in burning
she waits patiently
Employing the established metaphor, this stanza reveals Earth’s reaction to the sun’s harshness. Her attitude is one of patience and tolerance. “Burning darts of anger” refers to the scorching rays fixated on Earth, as the speaker predicted. The earth absorbs the harsh light the same way the metaphorical woman tolerates her partner’s temper while swallowing her own. This stanza highlights themes of tolerance and patience.
for evening when thoughts
As it concerns nature, the concluding stanza of ‘Love Cycle’ is speculative. It reasons why Earth tolerates the sun’s harshness, using the established metaphor. From the metaphorical perspective, the woman stays in a clearly unhealthy relationship because at night, her partner’s gentleness returns. The tone of the stanza indicates that the man becomes mellow because he wants her to make love to him. At this point, the theme of power plays comes in. The woman takes comfort in these moments where she has full reign over her partner.
The metaphorical perspective provides a speculative reason Earth tolerates the harshness of the sun during the day. At night, sunlight becomes significantly gentle through the reflective surface of the moon. The persona guesses Earth tolerates the sun for these moments of freedom and relief. Of course, it’s only speculation backed by the speaker’s power of imagination. As indicated by the title of the poem and the natural phenomenon explored, the events in ‘Love Cycle’ are recurring. In a sense, the poem never ends.
‘Love Cycle’ comprises of five stanzas written in free verse. Each stanza heavily employs enjambment, creating fragmented lines occasionally punctuated to indicate a pause. Stanzas often end with incomplete sentences, which are completed in the next stanza. Love Cycle concludes with a full stop.
The central theme explored in ‘Love Cycle’ is nature. The themes of unhealthy relationships, anger, endurance, and power plays all emanate from the poet’s exploration of the central theme.
- Metaphor: Metaphor is a dominant device in ‘Love Cycle’. The cyclic phenomena of sunrise, sunset, and Earth’s reaction to it is indirectly compared with a dissatisfying love affair. In the poem, the speaker refers to the sun’s rays using three different phrases. “Long misty arms” in stanza 1 and “soft-eyed light” in stanza 3 represent the gentle nature of the sun’s rays. “Burning darts of anger” in stanza 4 refers to the scorching rays present at noon. Metaphor also appears in stanza 2. Depending on perspective, “love’s combustion” represents sex or the heat of the sun. In stanza 3, the poem compares “heaven”, an aerial space, to land, by giving it a unit of measurement.
- Personification: Personification wouldn’t have been possible without metaphor in ‘Love Cycle’. Referring to the sun and Earth as a human couple already bestows human characteristics on them. Throughout the poem, these entities exhibit attributes and actions common to man. For example, in stanza 2, the Earth wakes up; between stanzas 3 and 4, the sun vents his anger on Earth.
- Irony: Considering the state of the represented relationship in ‘Love Cycle’, the title of the poem is ironic. This irony resurfaces between stanzas 1 and 2. The persona calls the sun and Earth “happy lovers”, right before describing their dispassionate affair.
- Synaethesia: This poetic device associates attributes of the five senses with each other. It is evident in stanza 3, where the sense of sound is associated with sight: “…whispers of soft-eyed light…”.
- Enjambment: Enjambment runs throughout ‘Love Cycle’, resulting in the fragmented structure of the poem.
‘Love Cycle’ was first published as part of the collection, “From Beware Soul Brother and Other Poems”, in 1971. In that same year, it was republished in the United States as part of the poetry collection, “Christmas in Biafra and other Poems”.
The speaker is an unnamed but keen observer of nature; he may be the poet himself. In ‘Love Cycle’, he presents himself as a sharp and speculative narrator of the natural phenomenon explored.
The tone is neutral. The speaker is indifferent to the plight of Earth and the actions of the sun. He is only narrating to readers about these events.
Romantic poems focus on and appreciate the power of nature, while relating it to human life. ‘Love Cycle’ explores the interaction between two natural entities, comparing it with the ongoings in a human relationship. In this regard, ‘Love Cycle’ is a romantic poem.
While eros poetry paints a vivid carnal picture of its subject’s body and/or its persona’s lustful desires, ‘Love Cycle’ doesn’t do that. The poem only mentions desire and its aftermath as a metaphorical tool for its main theme: nature. In this regard, ‘Love Cycle’ is not eros poetry.
Born 16 November 1930, Chinua Achebe was a renowned Nigerian novelist, poet, and essayist. He is majorly known for his debut novel, Things Fall Apart (1958), which is the face of modern African literature. A recipient of several national and international awards, Chinua Achebe published short stories, poetry collections, and essays during his lifetime. He greatly admired Christopher Okigbo, an African poet who influenced Achebe’s craft.
From 1990 to 2009, Achebe taught at Bard College; after which, he taught at Brown University for four years. Among others—and besides his debut novel—his notable works include Arrow of God (1964), A Man of the People (1966), and There Was A Country (2012). As he reveals in this discussion, Achebe believes in penning down the unfiltered truth—good or bad. He heavily exercises the aforementioned practice in his last book, There Was A Country.
Achebe lived 82 years and died 21 March 2013.
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