Love Letter (Clouds) by Sarah Manguso explores the end of relationships, and how it can often seem like you’ve wasted your time. Manguso draws a connection with the idea of falling through a cloud, visually impaired while inside but clear once you are out. She watches as her life passes her by, waking up one day and feeling much older. The relationship was a huge part of her life, now feeling completely different waking up on the other side of it.
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Summary of Love Letter (Clouds)
Manguso uses metaphysical imagery throughout the poem, creating a sense of grandeur around love. Yet, the poet argues that love is blinding, waking up after she is alone again, and realizing how much she has changed. After their whole relationship together, all they have left is memories. Manguso concludes the poem by asking ‘What did I leave you?’, unsure about the legacy their relationship will carry.
You can read the full Love Letter (Clouds) here.
Form and Structure
Sarah Manguso splits Love Letter (Clouds) into 21 lines, 13 stanzas in total. There is no continual structure within the poem, each stanza ranging between 1-3 lines. This shifting form, also becoming more indented on some lines, could reflect the change in Manguso. A long time has passed in her relationship, with much of her life being spent with this person. The changing structure could, therefore, be a reflection of the dramatic change that occurs between the start and end of her relationship.
The changing structure also helps to add to the metaphysical atmosphere created, the imagery and odd form culminating in a mystical tone.
Key Theme in Love Letter (Clouds)
The central theme of Love Letter (Clouds) is love. The title summarises quite a lot of the poem, discussing ‘love’ through the metaphor of falling through a ‘cloud’. Or, perhaps better stated, lack of love, Manguso explores the moments after a relationship ends. She focuses on the strange shift in perspective, ‘love’ being compared to being inside of a cloud. The lack of vision is attributed to why Manguso seems so confused when she ‘fell through’ the cloud. Now single, she has begun to reassess her life and prioritize.
One technique that Manguso employs frequently throughout the poem is caesura. Caesura, especially following important moments in the poem, creates an incredibly blunt tone. This is used to reflect the heartbreak of falling out of love. The first line is a fantastic example of this, Manguso stressing her shock at the end of love.
Another technique that Manguso uses within then poem is rhetorical questions. The final line exemplifies this technique, Manguso arguably asking herself (or her ex-partner) what she has left to them. Primarily suggesting that memory is all that is left of relationships, what can Manguso do to discover what memories they hold. Memory is an incredibly interesting, yet intangible idea, hence her curiosity.
Love Letter (Clouds) Analysis
I didn’t fall in love. I fell through it:
The opening line of Love Letter (Clouds) sets the tone of the poem. Manguso states that she didn’t ‘fall in love.’ Instead, she ‘fell through it’. The use of caesura across this line comes across as incredibly blunt. This reflects the disillusionment that Manguso feels coming out of her relationship. The subversion of the classic phrase ‘falling in love’ is then extended into the metaphor of falling through a cloud. The relationship itself is presented as a ‘cloud’, inside obscuring vision and hiding the members from time. Yet, once she ‘fell through’, Manguso begins to realize all that has changed about her life since the relationship began.
Came out the other side moments later, hands full of matter, waking up from the dream of a bullet(…)It must be true. If it were not, then when did these strands of silver netting attach to my hair?
In these stanzas of ‘Love Letter (Clouds)’, Manguso presents the surfacing from her relationship as if waking up or coming up for air. The relationship is condensed into a few seconds, like a ‘bullet tearing through the middle of my body’. The physical destruction implied in this description reflects the pain of heartbreak, the relationship causing Manguso to feel upset. Yet, their whole relationship is only ‘moments’, Manguso putting it into the perspective of her whole life.
There is a certain distance created between the poet and her relationship. She takes on a third person style of narration, signaled by the use of italics. The poet states ‘On the day you fell from a cloud’, relegating her own relationship to something other people will talk to her about. Manguso separates herself from those emotions, even using an ellipsis to imply an emotional distance.
Manguso presents the lack of awareness you can have in a relationship, ‘it must be true’, the modality of ‘must’ suggesting her complete belief. Indeed, her hair has now turned grey, their relationship has lasted such a long time. It was not a ‘dream’, but rather an experience that they lived through. That is the problem, that her ex was ‘real and not just a dream’, something that she wasted time with. Manguso takes the opinion that a relationship is something that is a waste if it doesn’t work out.
The problem was finding that you were real and not just a dream of clouds.(…)On the way through, clasp your fists around the universe:
Manguso presents love as something harder than people think, ‘falling happens in time’, not something that happens instantly. She suggests that one knows they are falling in love, ‘I am falling,. I have been falling. I continue to fall’, we just don’t try and stop that feeling. It takes ‘long enough’ for us to realize, but perhaps is too difficult to stop once begun. Like a ball rolling down a hill, the momentum builds up until you have spent a lifetime together.
Memory is depicted as a continuous cycle of developing new memories, ‘falling through a ring’ over and over. This act of falling, linked to love, reflects the experiences that Manguso and her partner had together. The repetition of ‘ring’ and ‘falling’ provide a circularity to the narrative, Manguso revealing how one can spend so much time in the habit of a relationship.
Stanzas 12 and 13
Nothing but ice-gravel.(…)What did I leave you?
Yet, after a relationship is over and you ‘open your hands when you reach the other side’, what is left to you. Only memories, yet if they are solely mental, ‘What did I leave you’, Manguso wondering what impact she had on her ex-lover. Just like ice, memories can fade away, ‘melt’.
Manguso concludes the poem, wondering if all the memories were worth the time spent in the relationship. After all, once they begin to fade, ‘what did I leave you’, what remains of all that time?
Similar Poetry to Love Letter (Clouds)
Audre Lorde writes Movement Song to similarly explore the moments after a relationship ends. While Manguso seems more introspective, Lorde makes active plans to continue on with her life. It seems that Manguso wrote Love Letter (Clouds) closer to the time of her breakup, while Lorde had more time to process and plan to move on.
Another poem that explores the strangeness of breakups is Owen Sheers’ Keyways. In his poem, Sheers explores a scene of seeing an ex-girlfriend in the locksmiths, getting ready to change the locks now they have broken up. Sheers displays a more active conversation with the ex-partner, while Manguso focuses more on herself. Yet, both poems contain a similar feeling of something coming to an end.