‘Late Love’ by Jackie Kay is a reflective poem that explores the fleeting nature of romantic relationships. The poem contrasts the radiant and confident demeanor of those in love with the dull and lustreless existence of those not in love.
It captures the transformative power of love, the anticipation of romantic moments, and the nostalgic longing for past experiences. Through striking imagery and introspective musings, the poem delves into the transient nature of love, highlighting its significance and ephemeral essence in the lives of individuals.
Explore Late Love
‘Late Love’ by Jackie Kay explores the stark contrast between people who are in love and those who are not. It portrays the exuberance and self-assuredness of individuals who are experiencing love, contrasting them with those who are not in such a state.
The poem begins by highlighting how people in love carry themselves with confidence, growing taller and exuding a sense of satisfaction. They appear polished, with glossy hair and shining skin, completely absorbed in their present emotions and oblivious to their past selves. The description of these lovers as “filmic” suggests that they seem like characters in a movie, larger than life.
The poem emphasizes the significance and elevated status of those who are in love, portraying them as being above the ordinary and mundane aspects of life. Every ringing church bell becomes a fresh sign of their love, heightening their sense of importance. In contrast, the poem presents the non-lovers as dull and lacking luster in their appearance, wearing shabby clothes and having lackluster skin. They seem clueless and disheveled, trudging through rain-soaked streets.
The non-lovers reminisce about fleeting moments of intimacy they have experienced, such as a kiss in a dark alley or a touch in a changing room. They eagerly await the ringing of the phone, longing for a connection or affirmation. The past, represented by a rush of velvet and a secret hush, feels distant and fades away as the day progresses.
Structure and Form
The poem ‘Late Love’ by Jackie Kay is structured as a quatrain, consisting of five stanzas. The first four stanzas contain four lines each, while the final stanza is a single line. This arrangement creates a sense of balance and symmetry in the poem, as each quatrain presents a distinct idea or observation.
In terms of rhyme, the poem does not strictly adhere to a specific rhyme scheme. However, there are instances of internal rhyme and half rhyme scattered throughout the lines. For example, in the first stanza, there is a subtle internal rhyme between the words “grow” and “glossy,” creating a pleasing sound effect. The absence of a consistent rhyme scheme allows the poet’s focus to remain on the content and emotions conveyed.
The concise structure of the poem, with each stanza consisting of only four lines, serves to emphasize the brevity and short-lived nature of the observations made. The short lines reflect the quick and transient nature of love and its impact on individuals. Additionally, the single-lined final stanza stands apart from the rest, emphasizing a sense of finality or closure.
The form of the poem and its lack of a strict rhyme scheme reflects the themes explored in the content. The absence of a rigid structure mirrors the unpredictable and complex nature of love itself. The poem’s structure allows for a free-flowing expression of contrasting emotions and observations, capturing the transient moments and feelings associated with love.
In the poem ‘Late Love’ by Jackie Kay, several themes are addressed, providing insights into the nature of love and its effects on individuals.
One prominent theme is the stark contrast between people in love and those who are not. The poem highlights the elevated status and self-assuredness of individuals experiencing love, emphasizing their physical appearance and confidence. For example, the lines “how tall they grow, pleased with themselves, their hair, glossy, their skin shining” depict the heightened state of those in love. In contrast, the non-lovers are portrayed as dull, clueless, and lacking luster.
The poem proceeds to explore the transformative power of love as a theme. The poem emphasizes how being in love can elevate individuals above the ordinary and mundane aspects of life. Those in love become immersed in their emotions, feeling important and above the “dreary mundane.” The lines “secret, above the order of things” capture this sense of elevation and transcendence.
The poem also touches on the fleeting and transient nature of love. The non-lovers reminisce about brief moments of intimacy, such as a kiss in a dark alley or a touch in a changing room. These memories evoke a sense of longing and anticipation. The lines “remembering one kiss in a dark alley, a touch in a changing-room” encapsulate the transient nature of love and the desire to hold onto those fleeting moments.
Additionally, the poem hints at the passage of time and the inevitable fading of love. The mention of the “late day” suggests that the intensity of love diminishes as time goes by. The past, represented by the “rush of velvet” and “secret hush,” becomes distant and begins to fade away.
Poetic Techniques and Figurative Language
In ‘Late Love,’ Jackie Kay employs various poetic techniques and figurative language to convey her message about love and its impact on individuals.
- Imagery: One technique employed is the use of striking imagery to paint a picture of the contrasting states of lovers and non-lovers. For instance, Kay describes the lovers as “strutting about” and portrays them with “glossy hair” and “shining skin,” creating a visual image of their confidence and radiance. In contrast, the non-lovers are depicted as “trudging up and down streets in the rain,” evoking a sense of weariness and desolation.
- Figurative language: This is utilized to enhance the poem’s meaning. The phrase “filmic they are” presents a simile, comparing lovers to characters in a film and highlighting their heightened state of being. This figurative language suggests that lovers exist in a heightened reality, disconnected from the mundane.
- Personification: Kay employs personification when she describes the lovers’ sense of importance as being “secret, above the order of things.” By attributing human characteristics to the abstract concept of importance, she emphasizes the elevated status that love confers upon individuals.
- Metaphor: The poem also utilizes metaphor to express the fleeting nature of love. The past is described as a “rush of velvet” and a “secret hush.” These metaphors evoke a sense of something fading away, highlighting the transient nature of love and memories.
- Contrast and Juxtaposition: The poem further incorporates contrast and juxtaposition as a poetic technique. The stark contrast between the descriptions of lovers and non-lovers serves to emphasize the dichotomy between the two states. The juxtaposition of their appearances, emotions, and experiences creates a powerful contrast, further enhancing the impact of the poem.
How they strut about, people in love,
how tall they grow, pleased with themselves,
their hair, glossy, their skin shining.
They don’t remember who they have been.
In the first stanza of ‘Late Love,’ Jackie Kay conveys a powerful message about the transformative nature of love and its effect on individuals’ perceptions of themselves and their past.
The stanza begins with a vivid depiction of people in love as they “strut about,” suggesting a confident and self-assured demeanor. This portrayal creates a visual image of lovers, walking with a sense of purpose and pride. The active verb “strut” emphasizes their elevated state and draws attention to their changed behavior due to love.
Kay continues to describe the physical manifestation of love by noting how lovers “grow tall” and become “pleased with themselves.” This imagery suggests that love elevates individuals, giving them newfound confidence and a sense of self-worth. The use of the verb “grow” implies a tangible transformation, as if their love has a physical impact on their stature and demeanor.
The poet then focuses on their physical appearance, describing their “glossy hair” and “shining skin.” These details evoke a sense of radiance and beauty, further emphasizing the outward manifestation of their inner emotional state. The choice of adjectives such as “glossy” and “shining” suggests a heightened level of attractiveness and vitality.
The final line of the stanza, “They don’t remember who they have been,” serves as a powerful contrast to the previous descriptions. It suggests that love has such a profound effect on individuals that it alters their perception of their past selves.
The lovers are so consumed by their present emotions and experiences that they no longer connect with their previous identities or remember who they were before love entered their lives. This notion reinforces the transformative power of love and how it can reshape an individual’s sense of self.
How filmic they are just for this time.
Every church bell ringing, a fresh sign.
In the second stanza of the poem, Jackie Kay conveys a message about the extraordinary and transformative nature of love, highlighting the sense of importance and elevation that love brings to individuals’ lives.
The stanza begins by describing the lovers as being “filmic,” suggesting that they take on a cinematic quality as if they are characters in a movie. This comparison emphasizes the intensity and heightened reality of their love as if their experiences are being captured on film. The word “filmic” also implies a temporary quality, suggesting that this heightened state is confined to a specific period or moment.
Kay continues by emphasizing the significance of love, stating that lovers have become “important.” This importance is depicted as something secret and beyond the ordinary “order of things.” The use of the word “secret” suggests that the lovers have access to a hidden world or understanding that is inaccessible to those who are not in love. This secrecy adds to their elevated status and implies a sense of exclusivity.
The phrase “above the order of things” further emphasizes the lovers’ elevated position, suggesting that they have transcended the mundane aspects of everyday life. They exist outside the dreary and monotonous routines that characterize the lives of those not in love. This contrast between the lovers and the ordinary world highlights the transformative power of love in bringing a sense of excitement and significance.
The stanza concludes with the image of every church bell ringing as a fresh sign. Church bells traditionally symbolize significant events or announcements. Here, the ringing of church bells serves as a metaphorical representation of the lovers’ experiences. Each bell ringing becomes a fresh sign of their love, marking and affirming the extraordinary nature of their connection.
How dull the lot that are not in love.
up and down streets in the rain,
In the third stanza of ‘Late Love,’ Jackie Kay conveys a message about the stark contrast between individuals who are in love and those who are not, emphasizing the dreariness and lackluster nature of the latter group.
The stanza begins by presenting a negative portrayal of those who are not in love, describing them as a “dull lot.” This phrase suggests a lack of vibrancy, excitement, and fulfillment in their lives. It creates a stark juxtaposition with the previous descriptions of the lovers, highlighting the stark contrast between their experiences.
Kay further emphasizes this contrast by describing the appearance of the non-lovers. Their clothes are depicted as “shabby,” indicating a lack of care or attention to their appearance. Their skin is described as “lustreless,” lacking the radiance and shine associated with vitality. These descriptions contribute to the overall sense of dreariness and mediocrity that surrounds the non-lovers.
The stanza continues by characterizing the non-lovers as clueless and their hair as a mess. This suggests a lack of direction or purpose in their lives and a sense of dishevelment. The use of the word “clueless” implies a lack of understanding or awareness of the profound emotions and experiences associated with love. Their unkempt hair serves as a visual representation of their disarrayed state.
The final line of the stanza depicts the non-lovers trudging up and down streets in the rain. This image further reinforces the sense of monotony and desolation that surrounds them. The rain serves as a metaphorical representation of their emotional state, highlighting the contrast between the passionate and transformative experiences of love and the mundane and ordinary existence of those who are not in love.
remembering one kiss in a dark alley,
The past with its rush of velvet, its secret hush
In the fourth stanza, Jackie Kay conveys a message about the nostalgic longing and fleeting nature of love, highlighting the memories and anticipation associated with past romantic encounters.
The stanza begins by introducing the idea of remembering past experiences of love. It depicts the act of reminiscing as the narrator recalls “one kiss in a dark alley” and “a touch in a changing-room.” These specific moments of intimacy evoke a sense of longing and sentimentality, suggesting that they hold significant meaning to the narrator.
The line “if lucky, a lovely wait for the phone to ring” further emphasizes the anticipation and hope that accompanies love. It suggests that waiting for a call from a loved one is a cherished and joyful experience. The use of the endearing term “maybe, baby” adds a tender and affectionate tone to the stanza, evoking a sense of tenderness and emotional connection.
The stanza then shifts to describe the past as having a “rush of velvet” and a “secret hush.” These phrases employ figurative language to convey a sense of richness and intimacy associated with the memories of love. The “rush of velvet” suggests a luxurious and passionate experience, while the “secret hush” implies a quiet and intimate atmosphere.
The use of the word “past” in this context indicates that these memories are no longer present or accessible in the same way. They are fleeting and exist as remnants of a bygone time. This idea aligns with the overall theme of the poem, highlighting the nature of love and the passage of time.
already miles away, dimming now, in the late day.
The single-lined last stanza of “Late Love” by Jackie Kay conveys a poignant message about the fleeting and fading nature of love and its memories.
The stanza begins with the phrase “already miles away,” suggesting a significant distance or separation from the experiences of love. This distance implies that the intense emotions and connections associated with love have moved beyond the immediate present and are now distant and fading.
The line continues with the phrase “dimming now, in the late day.” This evokes a sense of twilight or dusk, symbolizing the approaching end or decline of the day. The word “dimming” conveys a fading or diminishing quality, indicating that the memories of love are losing their vibrancy and intensity.
The use of the term “late day” serves as a metaphorical representation of the passing of time. It implies that the peak or zenith of love has already passed and is now giving way to the later stages. The phrase also carries a sense of melancholy as the day nears its end, mirroring the waning of the emotional experiences associated with love.
The poem is titled ‘Late Love’ because it explores the experiences, emotions, and reflections associated with love that has reached a later stage, suggesting a sense of maturity, nostalgia, and the passage of time.
The poem triggers a range of feelings, including longing, nostalgia, melancholy, and a bittersweet sense of the transient nature of love and the passing of time.
The tone in ‘Late Love’ is reflective and contemplative, as the speaker meditates on the nature of love, the contrast between lovers and non-lovers, and the fleeting moments and memories associated with love. There is a sense of introspection and a touch of wistfulness in the speaker’s voice.
The mood of ‘Late Love‘ is a blend of nostalgia, melancholy, and a quiet sense of yearning. The poem evokes a reflective and slightly somber atmosphere as it explores the transient nature of love and the passage of time, leaving the reader with a contemplative and introspective state of mind.
If you enjoyed this poem by Jackie Kay, you might like to explore the following other poems by different poets:
- ‘A Night Thought’ by William Wordsworth describes a speaker’s displeasure at those among the human race who do not appreciate what fortune has given them.
- ‘A Birthday’ by Christina Rossetti talks about the delight of the narrator, who is shown to be very excited and jubilant for the birthday of her life.
- ‘Yes, Holy Be Thy Resting Place’ is one of Emily Brontë’s poems that visits the softly sentimental side of her poetic talent.