Love poems are very powerful in stirring up emotions in our hearts. And when the love poem is about the distance between two lovers, it creates a far deeper impact on us. ‘Absence’ by Claude McKay is a poem that does exactly that.
‘Absence’ is a poem that deals with themes such as love, heartbreak, anticipation, pain, etc. The way McKay writes the poem makes it feel that it was written for his lover.
The poet uses brilliant metaphors and imagery to create the image of sweet and warm emotion of love in our minds, but then changes it all completely to introduce the core theme of the poem.
Absence by Claude McKay
Your words dropped into my heart like pebbles into a pool, Rippling around my breast and leaving it melting cool. Your kisses fell sharp on my flesh like dawn-dews from the limb Of a fruit-filled lemon tree when the day is young and dim. Like soft rain-christened sunshine, as fragile as rare gold lace, Your breath, sweet-scented and warm, has kindled my tranquil face. But a silence vasty-deep, oh deeper than all these ties Now, through the menacing miles, brooding between us lies. And more than the songs I sing, I await your written word, To stir my fluent blood as never your presence stirred.
Meaning of ‘Absence’
McKay is talking about the effects of his lover on him. He says that his lover has the power to bring such drastic and instant chances in him that it completely baffles him.
From the words to the kisses, everything calms him down. It soothes him. What’s really worth noticing and enjoying is the way he describes his lover’s actions.
Your words dropped into my heart like pebbles into a pool,
Rippling around my breast and leaving it melting cool.
Your kisses fell sharp on my flesh like dawn-dews from the limb
Of a fruit-filled lemon tree when the day is young and dim.
Imagery is a strong factor in giving this poem such power. From the gentle sound of pebbles falling into a pool to imagining the dew drops falling from a lemon tree in the early hours of the morning.
The readers feel a sense of comfort and happiness because we can understand what the poet felt. He does not use outlandish and abstract metaphors or imagery to make us feel what he feels.
Like soft rain-christened sunshine, as fragile as rare gold lace,
Your breath, sweet-scented and warm, has kindled my tranquil face.
The praises continue in the next stanza of the poem. Now we get to understand another effect of the poet’s lover. Not only can his lover calm him down, but can also invigorate him.
But that was all the good and happy bits in the poem. Since the poem is titled ‘Absence,’ it starts talking about the absence of the poet’s lover.
But a silence vasty-deep, oh deeper than all these ties
Now, through the menacing miles, brooding between us lies.
We get to know that the lovers have been separated by miles of distance and each of them is far-far away from each other.
Since the poet has established the kind of love he shared with his lover, knowing the distance between the two makes the readers feel both sympathy and empathy for him.
And more than the songs I sing, I await your written word,
To stir my fluent blood as never your presence stirred.
The last stanza is about the poet admitting how much he wants to read the letters sent by his lover. He wants to read it more than hearing the songs he writes.
He says that a letter from her would stir him more than her presence ever could. This line indicates that the love between the two has grown more passionate.
Theme and Essence of the Poem
‘Absence’ is about the absence of the person you love. The theme of the poem is separation, heartbreak, longing, and the undying presence of love.
The poet has conveyed in a subtle way that love has grown more in the absence of his lover and he says that just a letter from her would make him feel more excited than meeting her.
This line does not mean that reading her letters was better than meeting his lover. But it says that now there is the distance between the two, letters are the only way of ‘meeting’ his lover.
The poem is a brilliant tale of separation and how difficult it could be for lovers to stay apart who are so used to each other.
We all have experienced this feeling to some extent and that’s why we can understand the pain of the speaker.