The speaker in ‘Love Poem’ describes a short scenario that utilizes both distinct imagery and irony—resulting in a humorous but impactful illustration of how to profess one’s love to their beloved. This a perfect example of the way Orr can leave such lingering impressions with just a few concise images, a swift narrative voice, and wit.
Explore Love Poem
'Love Poem' by Gregory Orr follows a short narrative told by a speaker who imagines a peculiar series of scenes in order to express their feelings for someone.
At just six lines, the poem is barely the length of a sestet — but it’s also just as effective as the final lines found at the end of Italian sonnets. The speaker appears to be narrating a series of events occurring in the present, describing an unusual scene as if it had just occurred in front of him. In it, a “black biplane crashes” into the restaurant he’s having lunch in, and a pilot climbs out bearing his “grandmother’s jade ring.” But then the speaker slyly corrects themselves, realizing it’s not a ring but rather “two robin’s eggs” and the telephone number of the person he is speaking to.
Structure, Form, and Rhyme Scheme
‘Love Poem’ is composed of six lines in a single stanza. There is no rhyme scheme as it’s written to reflect a casual conversation between two strangers at lunch. Orr makes use of enjambment and alliteration to create a subtle euphony to the flow of the poem’s sentences, which still retain their conversational cadence and tone. There’s the consonance of “black biplane” and “He hands,” along with plenty of assonance in phrases like “pilot climbs” and “number: yours.”
Although it’s not subject to any traditional form, Orr clearly organizes the poem’s images around the first four and the last two lines. The speaker’s description of the events unfolding is the focus of the first part of the poem — building anticipation over how this impossibly spectacular scene will resolve itself. Each new addition to the story only ups the ante as the reader goes from witnessing a plane crashing into the building to a pilot miraculously climbing out to deliver a presumable heirloom. But those four lines serve only to fuel the irony of its final ones: which reveals the entire story to simply be an elaborate way to ask for someone’s number.
Orr primarily relies on the imagery within the poem to drive its narrative. Over the course of the poem, the speaker describes four distinct scenes and reports them to an unknown audience as they happen. Each image is designed to inspire a very specific emotion within the reader and the speaker’s audience: from the shock and awe of the plane careening into the building and the heroic image of a pilot emerging unharmed to the emotional delivery of the ring.
The diction used is not only kinetically illustrative but also surgically succinct. Every adjective adds a meticulous vibrancy to the poem. There’s the “black” color of the biplane and the “leather” of the pilot’s hood. Even referring to the eggs as belonging to a robin — meaning they’re a bright light blue — is a subtle way Orr makes each image unique and stand out.
There are also a few instances of symbolism hidden within the poem as well. There’s the plane crash which could represent the feeling of love striking the speaker, as well as the hefty sentimentality of the ring belonging to an old relative (signifying the possibility of a proposal of engagement). There’s also the image of the robin eggs — a popular bird upon which humans have projected a variety of symbols for renewal, wealth, and family. A less metaphorical reading could simply suggest the time of year and day of the poem’s events: robins tend to lay their eggs in the spring between the early morning and noon. But given the subject matter of the poem, it’s also possible the eggs represent a desire on the speaker’s part to start a family.
Another important device Orr uses is irony, which he employs in the final two lines when the speaker corrects themselves. Wherever the reader thinks the speaker is leading them at the beginning of the poem is definitely not where they end up at its end. As the entire yarn being spun turns out to just be a highly dramatic way of telling someone you want their number and not your typical love poem.
A black biplane crashes through the window
of the luncheonette. The pilot climbs down,
He hands me my grandmother’s jade ring.
The very first line of ‘Love Poem‘ grabs you firmly with its dramatic imagery: a plane crashing through the building the speaker is dining in. From there, they hold your attention with careful descriptions of the unfolding scene: a pilot descends from the machine “removing his leather hood” and — proceeding to fulfill the reason for their dynamic entrance — hands the speaker their “grandmother’s jade ring.”
The diction used by the speaker is highly specific and compact, focusing mainly on the colors of the poem’s primary subjects. But what’s not described is just as interesting as what is. For instance, the speaker is silent on the destruction caused by the crashing plane, or if it’s wreckage, the pilot has to climb down from. In doing so, Orr allows the reader to fill in the blanks with their own assumptions so as to add their own fantastically imaginative idiosyncracies to the speaker’s ones. Similarly, the speaker needs only refer to the ring as “jade” to spur images of a brilliantly gleaming green jewel.
As the title suggests, the object and purpose of this poem are to declare one’s love for another. But the entire action-packed scene described (or rather daydreamed) by the speaker feels like a suspiciously familiar cliche. A play on the common trope of the soldier returning home to deliver a memento to his widowed buddy’s wife. Thanks to the poem’s title and images contained in the first four lines, there is a heightened expectation that some grand romantic gesture is about to occur.
a telephone number: yours.
The couplet that ends the poem resolves the entire scenario described by the speaker, albeit in a rather unexpected manner. In a twist, the speaker actually amends the description of what they’re handed by the pilot — changing it to “two robin’s eggs” and a phone number.
The irony of this ending lies in anticipation of a grand romantic gesture that’s set up by the first four lines. But instead, you discover the whole purpose of the pilot’s dramatic arrival was to deliver some bird eggs and a series of ten digits. It’s hardly the profession of love that the title and spectacle at the beginning might’ve suggested would occur as a finale. The speaker is not even proposing or revealing their feelings to the person their words are directed at.
There are two different ways to read this ending. The first is that the speaker is describing a highly imaginative, naive, and hopelessly romantic means of asking for someone’s number. Furthermore, this ‘Love Poem’ is being penned about someone the speaker has only just met, casting even more doubt on the maturity and validity of their feelings towards them.
The second interpretation is that the speaker is describing in the present tense a memory of how asking for this person’s number felt. An experience as exhilarating and sudden as a plane crash or as meaningful and lasting as the symbol of a relative’s ring.
Like all good poetry, ‘Love Poem’ is open to multiple interpretations, though for the most part, it is a whimsical illustration of the way love can strike suddenly and with little reason.
Orr possibly wrote this poem to reveal just how complicated an emotion love is. Clearly, Orr is toying with the paradoxically hyperbolic yet potent ways an emotion like love can distort reality for people.
The speaker in ‘Love Poem’ is clearly caught up in the rush of falling in love with the person whose number he desires. How sensible or sincere they are is debatable — but that’s not the focus of the poem. Instead, it focuses on a collection of images analogous to that feeling.
One of the interesting aspects of the ironic twist at the end of ‘Love Poem’ is that it reveals the speaker’s audience is the reader. “You” could just be the unnamed object of their effect, but given how much irony is in the poem, it’s also possible this was just a way for Orr to turn the perspective of the poem outward to draw the reader themselves into the poem.
Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some related poems. For example:
- ‘The Love Poem’ by Carol Ann Duffy – another modern take on love poems that borrows from other famous romantic verses.
- ‘I’m “wife” – I’ve finished that’ by Emily Dickinson – a poem that uses metaphor to compare the experiences of a single woman and that of a wive’s.
- ‘Her Voice’ by Oscar Wilde – a poem in which the speaker must listen to the heartbreaking end of a relationship.