Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Love’s Language by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

‘Love’s Language’ by Ella Wheeler Wilcox describes how Love speaks through the emotions, actions and inactions of soon to be, or already established, lovers

Love’s Language’ by Ella Wheeler Wilcox is a five stanza poem that is separated into a set of lines that increase in length from six to eleven. Wilcox has also chosen not to imbue this piece with a specific pattern of rhyme. Instead, the rhyme scheme varies in length from stanza to stanza. For example, the first six lines rhyme aabbca, and the next seven rhyme: aabbcca.

Two elements of ‘Love’s Language’ that do remain the same are the first and last lines of each stanza. Wilcox repeats a refrain at the beginning and end. The lines take the form of a question and answer. She asks, ”How does Love speak?” And the following lines provide the answer with the conclusion, “Thus doth Love speak,” or more simply: “This is how Love speaks.” 

In addition to the consistent repetition of the first and last lines, Wilcox also makes use of anaphora in the reuse of the words that start lines. This technique can be seen most prominently in the fourth stanza with the use of “In” five times. The same starting word appears in the fifth stanza three times.

Love's Language by Ella Wheeler Wilcox


Summary of Love’s Language 

‘Love’s Language’ by Ella Wheeler Wilcox describes how Love speaks through the emotions, actions, and inactions of soon to be, or already established, lovers. 

The poem begins with the speaker describing some of the physical signs that tell when someone is in love. It can be anything from a “quivering” eyelid to a “flush” on the cheek. The physical symptoms increase as one moves through the stanzas. Soon the heart is being barraged by emotions that come as quickly as the dawn. Then one starts to see their lover, or would-be lover, everywhere they look.


Analysis of Love’s Language 

Stanza One 

How does Love speak?

In the faint flush upon the telltale cheek,

And in the pallor that succeeds it; by

The quivering lid of an averted eye–

The smile that proves the parent to a sigh

Thus doth Love speak.

The first stanza of ‘Love’s Language’ begins just like the following four do, with the question “How does Love speak?” The question is posed less with the intention of getting an answer from the reader than with encouraging them to consider the question. It is within the following lines that the speaker describes scenarios in which she sees love speaking 

The first of these is in the “faint flush upon the telltale cheek.” If one looks closely, they should be able to make out a lightest of “flush[es]” or reddening of someone’s cheek when they are in love. It is “telltale” in that it “tells” the viewer about what emotions are occurring. Wilcox adds onto this example the “pallor,” or whitening, that follows along behind. This could be due to the person’s embarrassment, fear, or worry over their emotional situation. 

A viewer should also lookout for the “quivering” or shaking “lid” of one’s eye as it is “averted.” Then finally the smile that “proves the parent” or comes right before “a sigh.” These are just a few of the physical reactions one might detect in another, or even in themselves, if they are in love. It is important to remember that Wilcox is personifying “Love” as a force through the lines. This is its language, the only way it knows how to communicate.


Stanza Two 

How does Love speak?

By the uneven heart-throbs, and the freak

Of bounding pulses that stand still and ache,

While new emotions, like strange barges, make

Along vein-channels their disturbing course;

Still as the dawn, and with the dawn’s swift force–

Thus doth Love speak.

The second stanza contains seven lines and begins and ends with the same two refrain lines. The speaker continues from the first line on to describe other physical symptoms of love that she is interpreting as its speech. First, there is the “uneven” pounding of the heart. Its “pulses” suddenly jump and then grow quiet as if the heart is unable to handle what the person in love is feeling. It is made to grow accustomed to the new emotions that bring “ache.” 

The speaker expands on the impact of the “new emotions” by describing how they  “barrage” or bombard the heart. They seem to be unstoppable and most importantly, unpredictable. They travel along the “veins” of the body to the heart on a specific course. In the last three lines, the speaker says that they resemble “Still” of “dawn” and then suddenly its “swift force” as the sun rises without warning. 


Stanza Three 

How does Love speak?

In the avoidance of that which we seek–

The sudden silence and reserve when near–

The eye that glistens with an unshed tear–

The joy that seems the counterpart of fear,

As the alarmed heart leaps in the breast,

And knows, and names, and greets its godlike guest–

Thus doth Love speak.

In the third stanza, Wilcox makes use of repetition with the three lines starting with “The.” These lines fall together and help to create an impactful list of physical symptoms. She crafted ‘Love’s Language’ in this way in order for the bodily reactions to build off one another, making the emotion more and more powerful. First, there is the “sudden silence” that comes from nowhere. It is followed by a “glistening” eye and a tear that is never shed. she comes to “The joy that seems the counterpart of fear.” 

The two go hand in hand, making the other more effective. For all the joy in love, there are equal parts fear. It is described as being an “alarmed heart” that “leaps in the breast” in an instant. Wilcox does not give too many specifics in these lines as they are meant to apply to any number of situations. She is speaking broadly on love and its impact, not on one specific relationship. 


Stanza Four 

How does Love speak?

In the proud spirit suddenly grown meek–

The haughty heart grown humble; in the tender

And unnamed light that floods the world with splendor;

In the resemblance which the fond eyes trace

In all fair things to one beloved face;

In the shy touch of hands that thrill and tremble;

In looks and lips that can no more dissemble–

Thus doth Love speak.

The fourth stanza contains another list-like set of lines that expands on Love’s already extensive language. The speaker describes how one’s spirit is impacted by love. The emotion touches aspects of one’s body that are much deeper than a flush on the cheeks. If one is “haughty” then their heart may grow “humble.” These lines are a great example of alliteration using the “h” sound.  One is changed because a new light appears. It is “unnamed” but it “floods the world” and makes everything seem splendid. 

In the following lines, she describes how everywhere one looks they will see the “resemblance” of their “beloved[’s] face.” One’s mind which might normally have been distracted by earthly, selfish concerns is now focused on one very particular person. The final lines return to the physical reactions of one who is in love. Love’s words can be seen through how “shy” the touch of “trembling” hands is and in the “looks and lips” that are no longer able to hide what they feel.


Stanza Five 

How does Love speak?

In the wild words that uttered seem so weak

They shrink ashamed in silence; in the fire

Glance strikes with glance, swift flashing high and higher,

Like lightnings that precede the mighty storm;

In the deep, soulful stillness; in the warm,

Impassioned tide that sweeps through throbbing veins,

Between the shores of keen delights and pains;

In the embrace where madness melts in bliss,

And in the convulsive rapture of a kiss–

Thus doth Love speak.

The final stanza is the longest of ‘Love’s Language’, with eleven lines. It still includes the refrain at the beginning and end of the stanza but this time is filled with metaphors comparing love to nature. First, the speaker states that the words used to describe love are “so weak.” They are not up to the task of depicting something that is like lightning and fire. The glances that are shared between lovers, or would-be lovers, happen like the lightning before a “mighty storm.” 

Love speaks through the “tide” of emotions that “sweeps through throbbing,” or overtaxed, “veins.” It exists somewhere between delight and pain and seems to encourage madness and bliss in equal measure. All of these emotions come down to one simple “kiss” and the “rapture” it evokes. 

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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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