Lorna Dee Cervantes’ ‘Love of My Flesh, Living Death’ is a symbolic poem about a speaker’s mind and her love. Once she was plain at heart. Somehow her mind has been transformed by a number of circumstances. In this poem, Cervantes talks about the speaker’s feelings for her partner. She compares him to a bird. It can also be a reference to the speaker’s own mind.
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‘Love of My Flesh, Living Death’ by Lorna Dee Cervantes describes how a speaker fears the future of her relationship.
This poem begins with a personal statement. Cervantes’ speaker describes how her mind has changed. It is like a bird that has strewn its feathers in order to grow new feathers. In the next stanza, she talks about her partner. He is outspoken, non-conforming, and brave. That’s why she fears that something bad may occur with her beloved. It is the fear of losing her loved one that is the main theme of this poem. In the last two stanzas, she talks about her love for a symbolic “bird” that is an implicit reference to her partner.
You can read the full poem here.
Once I wasn’t always so plain.
at my feet, garlands of gulls.
The title of the poem ‘Love of My Flesh, Living Death’ is interesting to note before diving deeper into the text. It hints at a speaker’s carnal love for her beloved which is troubled by the inevitability of death. Indeed, the thought of death troubles her soul. Then she can longer be with her partner.
In the first stanza, the speaker clearly says that she is not plain. Hence, readers can find it difficult to interpret her thoughts. She admits that once she was plain at heart. Somehow the circumstances made her change her way of thinking. The next line makes it clear why she changed herself.
She compares her mind to a bird that has strewn feathers to grow new ones. It was like a sacrificial act on the speaker’s behalf. Cervantes compares her mental transformation to crucifixion. Jesus ascended to heaven after suffering on the cross. Likewise, the speaker’s mind renewed.
Now she can feel the vastness of the ocean inside her heart. She is adorned with the metaphorical “garlands of gulls”. It is a reference to the carefree spirit of the birds.
Sirens and gulls. They couldn’t tame you.
at your breast, your nights, your seas.
In the next quatrain, the speaker talks about her love. The first line alludes to a mythical creature, Siren. It allures seamen and makes them lose their way. Like the Sirens and gulls, her lover cannot be tamed. He is well aware of this fact.
In the following line, the speaker refers to society by the pronoun “they”. Those who are against their affair know that their criticism cannot stop the lovers.
According to the speaker, they are as calm and composed as doves. But the situation has taught them to react like falcons. The “nights” and cruel “seas” of life made their hearts strong to face the difficulties of love.
In the last line, the poet uses asyndeton. Here, the ideas are juxtaposed and the line does not contain conjunction. Besides, the repetition of the word “your” before each idea creates an internal rhyming.
My fear is simple, heart-faced
of my see—beautiful bird—It’s you.
In the last two tercets of ‘Love of My Flesh, Living Death,’ the speaker starts talking about her fear of losing her partner. This simple fear of the inevitability of death is heavy on her mind. It originates from her heart.
In the next line, “flare of etchings” references the speaker’s internal feelings. The “lineage in letters” means the letters that the lovers wrote to each other. Whenever the speaker reads these letters, they bring up the image of her beloved.
By using the repetition of the phrase “It’s you”, Cervantes hints at the speaker’s love for her partner. Her lover sang her heart out in his letters. While reading the letters, the speaker blushes and remembers his face.
This piece consists of four stanzas. The first two stanzas contain four lines each. While the following stanzas contain three lines each. It means the poem is composed of a combination of quatrains and tercets. Besides, it is a free-verse lyric. Cervantes uses a first-person speaker’s point of view. She talks about her love and her fear of losing her partner. There is no regular rhyme scheme or meter. Cervantes concludes the sense of each section by using end-stopped lines.
Cervantes makes use of the following literary devices in her poem ‘Love of My Flesh, Living Death’.
- Enjambment: It occurs in a number of instances. For example, Cervantes enjambs lines 3-4 for internally connecting the lines.
- Metaphor: In the first stanza, “a cross of dune” and “garlands of gulls” are metaphors.
- Allusion: The poem alludes to the Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca. It seems the poet talks about her love for Lorca in this poem.
- Repetition: There is a repetition of the phrase “It’s you” in the last two stanzas.
- Alliteration: It occurs in “garlands of gulls”, “lineage/ in letters”, “sudden stare”, “beautiful bird”, etc.
The poem ‘Love of My Flesh, Living Death’ appears in Lorna Dee Cervantes’ poetry collection From the Cables of Genocide: Poems on Love and Hunger. It was published in 1991. Cervantes is a well-known Chicano poet and activist. She is regarded as one of the important figures of Chicano poetry. In this poem, Cervantes addresses the famous Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca. As the title of the poetry collection says, it contains poems of love. The term “Genocide” is a hint at the killing of men during the Spanish Civil War. In ‘Love of My Flesh, Living Death,’ the speaker is probably the lover of Lorca who expresses her anxiety concerning her lover’s death.
Lorna Dee Cervantes’ ‘Love of My Flesh, Living Death’ is about a speaker’s love for her partner. The inevitability of her lover’s death makes her thoughtful.
The poem was published in 1991 in Lorna Dee Cervantes’ poetry collection Cables of Genocide: Poems on Love and Hunger.
The speaker of this piece is probably the lover of Garcia Lorca who broods over her lover’s death.
This piece taps on the themes of love, the inevitability of death, change, and anxiety.
Here is a list of a few poems that similarly tap on the themes present in Lorna Dee Cervantes’ poem ‘Love of My Flesh, Living Death’.
- ‘I Worried’ by Mary Oliver — This poem explores the themes of anxiety, overthinking, and worrying about everything, even though it worsens the situation. Read more Mary Oliver poems.
- ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ by T.S. Eliot — It’s one of the best-known poems of T.S. Eliot. This piece centers on the feelings of isolation, inadequacy, and incapability. Explore more T.S. Eliot poems.
- ‘Love After Love’ by Derek Walcott — This piece is about the sadness of a speaker originating from a bad relationship. Read more Derek Walcott poems.
- ‘And Because Love Battles’ by Pablo Neruda — This piece is about the social battle that two lovers fight for their unification. Explore more Pablo Neruda poems.