‘To You’ by Kenneth Koch is a love poem, with Koch depicting his love through various similes that span from accomplishments to beautiful spaces of nature. He cycles through many images, engaging with nature, humanity, emotion, locations, and sunlight. It is a love poem that builds naturally towards an end, each image being more and more beautiful – perhaps representing Koch’s own love growing.
Beginning ‘To You’ with finding a ‘walnut/that will solve a murder case’, Koch moves through simile after simile to depict his love for ‘you’. This poem is written to someone, Koch presenting his love through the dedicated poem. Koch discusses human emotions and how freeing love can be. He moves through similes of ‘big blue sea’, ‘kid searches for a goat’, ‘Africa of green and white fields’, ‘a ship which sails’, and finally ‘dawn’. Each image is unique and beautiful in its own way, with one thing I particularly love about this poem is how varied and creative Koch’s sources become. It is a beautiful poem, coming to an end within the image of ‘sunlight’, a classic image of happiness and growth.
‘To You’ by Kenneth Koch is written over 21 lines. There is no division of stanza, with the poem reading as one long stanza. The poem can be classified as free verse poetry, as it has no specific metrical structure or rhyme scheme. The poem flows, changes, evolves, as it progresses. Koch could be using the free structure of the poem to reflect his love, always changing into different forms, but always remaining pure and true.
You can read the full poem here.
Koch uses the second person pronoun ‘you’ frequently within his poem, ‘To You’ quite literally being to a particular person. This is a love poem, with Koch directing his love towards someone through the employment of the second person pronoun. Right from the title, Koch uses the direct address to connect with his lover, making the poem feel incredibly personal to read, furthering the sense of romantic connection.
Another technique that Koch uses within the poem stems from the first. While the poem is indeed written ‘To You’, it also couples Koch and his lover using the plural pronoun of ‘we’, drawing the lovers together through the umbrella term. By presenting certain verbs through the ‘we’ plural conjugation, Koch is insinuating that he is with his lover, binding a connection by presenting their unity through verb form. This can be observed heavily within lines 6 & 7.
Another major technique that Koch employs within the poem is the use of simile. Each of the demonstrations of love that Koch depicts begins with ‘as’ or ‘like’, beginning the simile formula. In doing this, Koch allows his ‘love’ to be quantified in terms of other images and events, connecting with the individual interest or beauty of each of these ideas. This allows Koch to demonstrate his love through an interesting and nuanced method.
Analysis of To You
I love you as a sheriff searches for a walnut
Roof in her heart. For this we live a thousand years;
The poem begins with an affirmation of Koch’s love for ‘you’, directly stating ‘I love you’ as the opening three words of the poem. This instantly alerts the reader to the purpose of the poem, this being a love poem directed specifically at one person. Following this, the fourth word of the first line begins the simile format that I have explained above, ‘as’ starting the simile of ‘a sheriff…her heart
The first simile that Koch conjures details the ‘search for a walnut’, the object’s importance leading to the ‘solv[ing] [of] a murder case unsolved for years’. Koch’s love something so important that it is being compared to an item that is the key to bring about justice. Koch uses this initial simile to demonstrate that his love is peculiar, perhaps slow-burning, and only recently developing. Yet, within ‘left it in the snow’, Koch could be suggesting that he has felt this love for quite some time, but it has only just been discovered by the other party
The use of enjambment across these lines allow for each line to flow quickly on to the next. It seems as if the metrical flow of the poem is reflecting Koch’s excitement at being in love, his joy being represented through the free-flowing structure.
For this we love, and we live because we love, we are not
I think I am bicycling across an Africa of green and white fields
Within these lines, Koch uses the ‘we’ pronoun to connect his lover and himself. They do things together, the fundamentals of human life being depicted in the plural format of ‘we live’, ‘we love’, ‘we are’. They are together, with Koch enjoying being with his lover,
Although together, there is no sense of being constrained or confined by their relationship. Indeed, Koch suggests the opposite, stating that they are not ‘inside a bottle’, the freedom of love allowing the couple to exist outside of any constraints. They are free to come and go as they please, escaping from forms of being trapped ‘inside’ and instead of enjoying a metaphorical ‘a thousand years’ together.
Always, to be near you, even in my heart
Receives me in the questions which you always pose.
Koch uses the semantics of nature to quantify his love in terms of eternal forms of beauty. The ‘big blue sea’ has a sense of majesty, that being connected to their love. Koch uses the same technique to depict their love as ‘a wind that blows’. Indeed, whenever they are together, Koch is filled with natural energy, represented through his engagement with the semantics of nature. The focus on ‘my heart’ draws upon archetypical notions of love imagery, the ‘heart’ often being a symbol of love. By using caesura with ‘Always, to be near you,’ Koch emphasizes the sense of being near, the metrical pause placing emphasis on ‘you’ and furthering the idea that he is enjoying spending his time with his lover.
The use of exclamations throughout the poem, ‘goodness!’ and ‘thoughts!’, further the sense of joy Koch feels. The tone of the poem is excited and happy, with the sudden exclamations reflecting Koch’s own building excitement at the thought of being with his lover.
The final image of the poem draws upon ‘the sun’, the image of ‘dawn’ filing the poem with beautiful light. The use of ‘dawn’ could also suggest that their relationship is just beginning, the potential for new and exciting growth within the beginning of the day reflecting Koch’s joy at being in love. Koch loves this state of euphoric love, the poem’s resounding image being one of connection and hope, a new ‘dawn’ closing the poem.