Such Simple Love

Thomas McGrath


Thomas McGrath

Thomas McGrath was an American poet born in 1916.

He influenced the development of contemporary poetry.

Such Simple Love by Thomas McGrath explores human companionship, mutual love for the human race. McGrath examines a slumbering world, suggesting that he would do anything to allow them all a good night’s sleep. He recognizes human suffering across many different people. McGrath wants to help these people, in any little way that he can. McGrath also suggests that love without being ‘correct’ or ‘true’ is not worth having at all. Indeed, although he wants to help them, he does nothing about it – not really changing anything

Such Simple Love by Thomas McGrath


Summary of Such Simple Love

Such Simple Love’ by Thomas McGrath suggests that love without intention is not worth living. Alongside this, he argues that everyone deserves comfort and happiness.

From these two statements, it can be assumed that McGrath believes everyone should find love and joy. It is better to actually take action, rather than just thinking about doing something.

The poet moves through the slumbering building in his mind, taking stock of all the people sleeping. He understands their individual pains, hoping to help alleviate them. McGrath knows that he would go to the ends of the earth in order to let them all sleep peacefully. The final stanza states that he should go to sleep himself, these ‘fancies’ not actually doing anything. He realizes that he can fantasize about helping people all he wants, the fact is he doesn’t do anything and doesn’t change the lives of these people.

You can read the full poem here.


Form and Structure

Thomas McGrath splits Such Simple Love into three stanzas. Each of the three stanzas measures 5 lines. There is a rhyme across the second, fourth, and fifth lines of each stanza. The regularity of the stanza structure and rhyme creates a sense of comfort. Considering that the purpose of the poem is to console, the chosen structure is appropriate.

Moreover, the consistency of structure reflects the sleepy scene. McGrath is trying not to disturb people, hence the predictable meter and flow of the poem. McGrath uses his structure to both add to, and reflect, the content of the poem.


Themes in Such Simple Love

One theme that McGrath explores within Such Simple Love is human compassion. McGrath demonstrates his love for other humans, wanting them to be safe and happy. He visualizes how he would travel a great distance to strangle a cat that is keeping people awake. Compassionate, certainly, but perhaps not for the cat.

Another theme that McGrath touches upon within his poem is false promises or activism. The visualization of him doing this act of cat murdering seems great, however, he also suggests that he’s not actually going to do it. This idea of saying you have the intent of doing something and actually doing it are very different. One modern relation that could be drawn with McGrath is the ‘Thoughts and Prayers’ social media reaction to events. Instead of sending money or actually garnering support and aid, many people just simply write ‘thoughts and prayers’. The intent of wanting to help and actually helping are very different things.


Literary Devices

One technique that McGrath employs when writing Such Simple Love is enjambment. Across many of the lines, McGrath uses enjambment to create a sense of flow across the poem. This continued meter is almost hypnotic, uninterrupted for long periods of time. This dreamlike flow can reflect the content of the poem, McGrath not wanting to wake people with unexpected movements.

Another technique that McGrath uses is end stop. On lines which follow enjambment, McGrath uses an end stop to finish a line. In doing this, the meter of the poem does not get out of control, coming to a slight pause frequently. This technique slows the meter of the poem, adding into the dreamy undulations of fast and slow. Structural elements of Such Simple Love are very important, McGrath using them throughout.


Such Simple Love Analysis

Stanza One

All night long I hear the sleepers toss
Knowing them all

The poem begins by introducing the setting, ‘night’, embracing the scene. By drawing upon the connotations of night, McGrath alludes to the sleepy nature of the scene. The setting is still and deliberate, much like the poem’s structure. The fact it is ‘All night long’ suggests that McGrath is awake during these hours, listening to the world go by. This is an intimate scene, McGrath reflecting on his experiences of the nighttime world.

The syntax of the first line places the verb ‘toss’ as the emphasized word of line one. In doing this, McGrath is grounding his poem on a note of restlessness. This directly contrasts with the development of the ‘night’ scene, a strange moment of insecurity. The ‘sleepers’ are unable to get to sleep, ‘toss[ing]’ in the night. McGrath goes through many types of people, ‘madman’, ‘lover’, ‘worker’, ‘sick child’, all unable to sleep. The sleeplessness is unifying, each having a completely different story but in the same current state. Each is bound by an uncomfortable verb reaction, ‘whimper’, ‘whisper’, ‘call’ displaying the inability to sleep. McGrath recognizes all these, the common human experience unifying all.


Stanza Two

I’d walk a mile, maybe, hearing some cat
Each poor demand.

McGrath suggests that to help all the above characters sleep he would ‘walk a mile’. He would find the source of their unrest, the ‘cat/Crying’, and ‘throttle it’. The contrast between this violent moment and the soft scene is startling. McGrath is displaying the lengths he would go to help the others get to sleep. This is a very compassionate moment but stems from a deeply disturbing image.

This contrast is part of what then upsets the meter of the poem. Following this, the poem becomes more fractured, caesuras being used frequently. Indeed, in the lines following McGrath disrupts the poem with two caesura and two end stops, moving away from the enjambment lines. This could suggest that he is somewhat disturbed by his own tenacity to kill. Although it is for the ‘good’ of humans, it is still murdering a cat.


Stanza Three

Well, I’d have been better off sleeping myself.
No one is warm.

The final stanza focuses on the secondary theme of Such Simple Love, false promises. Although McGrath has said he would murder a cat to help everyone sleep, he knows he wouldn’t ever actually get out of bed. This false support is a core idea that McGrath wants to expose. These ‘cheap blanket’ suggestions and promises ‘do no one any harm’ but also don’t keep anyone ‘warm’. This metaphor of a ‘cheap blanket’ closes the poem. False support will comfort people mentally but will do nothing to change their circumstances. McGrath realizes his folly in the first two stanzas, this closing moment chastising the poet. There is no point to ‘love’, companionship, or otherwise, ‘without direction’.


Similar Poetry

Carol Ann Duffy enacts a similar tone and content within her poem A Dreaming Week. That poem focuses on the end of a relationship, the dreamlike state being identical to this poem. The structure that Duffy uses also bears much in common with Such Simple Love.

Another poem that evokes Such Simple Love’s dreamy thoughtfulness is Star-Gazer by Louis MacNeice. MacNeice writes of his childhood, the flowing structure reflecting the beautiful embrace of memory. The entering into the mind is similarly explored in both Star Gazer and Such Simple Love.

Jack Limebear Poetry Expert
Jack is undertaking a degree in World Literature and joined the Poem Analysis team in 2019. Poetry is the intersection of his greatest passions, languages and literature, with his focus on translation bridging the gap.

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