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Poetry Friday

In clear, resonate language, Li-Young Lee celebrates longing in his poem “I Loved You Before I Was Born.” In its repetition and earnestness, this poem reminds me of e. e. cumming’s poem “i carry your heart with me (i carry it in.” Unlike cumming’s poem though, Lee’s emphasizes the bitter-sweetness of longing and places it on a cosmic scale of time and being. Lee’s poem is playful and sincere. The lines yearn to connect to the reader, just as the speaker embodies longing for the other. In an attempt to explain his love, the speaker acknowledges that “It doesn’t make sense, I know.” However, there is a poetic logic in Lee’s words, one that, like the speaker’s longing, is more full for its contradictions.

Erin Griffin Collum


“I Loved You Before I Was Born,” by Li-Young Lee

I loved you before I was born.
It doesn’t make sense, I know.

I saw your eyes before I had eyes to see.
And I’ve lived longing
for your every look ever since.
That longing entered time as this body.
And the longing grew as this body waxed.
And the longing grows as this body wanes.
That longing will outlive this body.

I loved you before I was born.
It makes no sense, I know.

Long before eternity, I caught a glimpse
of your neck and shoulders, your ankles and toes.
And I’ve been lonely for you from that instant.
That loneliness appeared on earth as this body.
And my share of time has been nothing
but your name outrunning my ever saying it clearly.
Your face fleeing my ever
kissing it firmly once on the mouth.

In longing, I am most myself, rapt,
my lamp mortal, my light hidden and singing.

I give you my blank heart.
Please write on it
what you wish.


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