Essay on “A Love Medicine” Poem


Writing a poem involves not only a lot of time and effort, because all authors try to make their works perfect, but it also involves peering into the deepness of poet’s soul, unfolding his/her the most intimate emotions about relevant events in the society, about relationship with other people, consciousness of self and the world around. All poets are unique makers of literary masterpieces, which not only reveal poets’ perception of different subjects, but create a new image of reality for the readers, who get involved into the setting introduced by the poets, who live and feel everything together with the main characters, and after finishing reading, the readers either agree with the authors’ thoughts or disagree with them, but in any case poems provoke a lot of thoughts and feelings.

One of the poets and story-tellers of the 20th century that attracted the attention of a great number of readers by her struggle to provide Native Americans with the same status as other U.S. citizens is Louise Erdirch, the author of several major works including “Love Medicine” (1984), “Jacklight” (1984), “Tracks” (1988) and others. Though Louise Erdrich is both a poet and a novelist, she considers herself to be more of a story-teller than of a poet, however, she does have several books of poems, which include the above mentioned “Jacklight”, “Baptism of Desire” (1989) and “Original Fire: Selected and New Poems” (2003). A lot of her major works are devoted to the life of Native Americans, which she explores and shares her findings with the readers.

The major goal of the current study is to speak about and analyze only one poem by Louise Erdrich known as “A Love Medicine”. The paper will focus on the attitude of the author expressed in the poem, on the problems and tension that can be seen while reading the poem and on the moral of the poem.

Explicating “A Love Medicine” by Louise Erdrich

Before coming closer to the analysis of the poem, it is necessary to mention a couple of words about the author’s biography, which plays a great role for understanding why the poet or a writer devoted his/her works to this or that topic.

Karen Louise Erdrich was born in 1954, June 7, in town Little Falls, Minnesota, “and grew up in Wahpeton, the small town in North Dakota’s Red River Valley where her parents taught in a school run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs” [2]. Erdrich grew up in the family of storytellers, thus, from the very early childhood she was involved in the world of words and stories. Indeed, Erdrich was encouraged by her parents to start writing, that’s why “Erdrich began writing stories when she was a small child” [2]. Besides devoting her life to writing, Erdrich devoted a great part of her life to learning the life of Indians. She received her master’s degree at Johns Hopkins University and got married in 1981. Erdrich’s first book of poetry called “Jacklight” appeared in 1984, followed by her second book “Baptism of Desire”, published in 1989. Her novels written in prose have received even more recognition than her poetry. For example, her book “Love Medicine” made her a famous person almost overnight. This is her first novel; however, it is one of her most influential works, dealing with the most burning issues of Native Americans.

The poem “A Love Medicine” by Louise Erdrich came out in 1984 as a part of her first book of poetry “Jacklight”. All of the poems represented in the book can be divided thematically into several groups: love poems, poems of sisterhood and family, myth poems and poems about Indian heritage. Erdrich’s poem “A Love Medicine” can be referred to the author’s poems about family and sisterhood. Louise Erdrich devoted this poem to her sister. The major theme in “A Love Medicine” is the theme of water, which represents the constant flow of human lives, during which people undergo constant changes and face difficulties, which they have to overcome in order to continue to live. Thus, water in the poem is the symbol, but not its main idea. Louise Erdrich masterly depicts the image of water in her poem, with the help of which she states that nothing is stable in people’s lives. Everything is moving and constantly changing like the water that is constantly flowing. Probably because of such nature of water, people created a saying that it is impossible to step twice in the same river.

In her poem Erdrich uses the adjective “insistent” to describe the nature of water, which “slaps at the dike works” [1]. No matter what people want or prefer, life will continue its pace, like the water which will continue to flow. And even if someone is tired of constant changes and struggles of every day life like “a field that is gagging on rain” [1], it won’t stop, and only loving and caring family can comfort an exhausted soul, which seeks for some peace. That’s why in the end of the poem the author states: “Sister, there is nothing I would not do” [1]. Louise Erdrich addresses her sister and says that she is ready to do everything for her, giving her a lot of her love and support.

The poem “A Love Medicine” starts with the description of the setting of the poem. It is night, and the city is illuminated by many streetlamps and neon signboards, which are called “blue neon bug traps” [1] by the author. Theresa, the main heroine of the poem, goes, as it is possible to suppose, to see her boyfriend, that’s why she wears a halter and bright jewellery around her neck. Erdrich compares Theresa with a dragonfly, which is rather suitable. The body of this insect is of very bright colours, it is slim and rather attractive. A young and attractive girl can be freely compared with a dragonfly, especially, if the girl does not like to stay at home in the evenings. Also, the author mentions that Theresa’s life is more complicated, more changeable as compared with her own life. For this reason, she states: “This dragonfly, my sister, she belongs more than I to this night of rising water” [1]. Realising that the main heroine’s life is rather complicated, the narrator is willing to help and offer “love medicine” to Theresa. Louise Erdrich shows the power of river by saying that “The Red River swells to take the bridge” [1], however, the main heroine does not notice it. She is carefree. After meeting with her boyfriend Theresa leaves him and continues her way into the night. It is clear that her boyfriend is discontent that she’s leaving, so he decides to look for her. He finds her and forces her to come back, making her unhappy by adding another wrinkle on her face: “…and his boot plants its grin among the arches of her face” [1]. The readers can feel the dark and gloomy atmosphere of the night, where “the trees lean down aching and empty” [1] and “the river slaps at the dike works, insistent” [1]. Louise Erdrich says that her main heroine’s soul is everywhere, or maybe it is just her who can see it in the park, in the field and in the ditch. Of course it is not literate, but symbolic.

Generally speaking the author uses a lot of metaphors in her poem. Instead of saying a neon signboard, she says “neon bug traps” [1], which indeed attract a lot of insects. Erdrich compares her sister with a dragonfly, and grants the trees qualities of human beings, using personification. Indeed, the use of nature is very important in the poems by Louise Erdrich, who very often provides non-human objects with the attributes of people. In “A Love Medicine” Louise Erdrich also personifies field “that is gagging on rain”, moon, water and of course rain. The use of metaphors, personification and other literary techniques is of high importance as they contribute greatly to the understanding of the poem. Without metaphors the image, described in the poem, would not be complete.

Also, there are some ambiguities, which can be found in the poem. First of all, it is the use of word “halter” to describe in what the main character was dressed. This word means not only a type of clothes, but also a noose, which was used to hang a person during ancient times, or a rope that is used to lead the animal. Thus, it is possible to state that by using this word that author wanted to show that the main character was not free, that there was some kind of burden that did not allow her to be free. Also, the word “rut” has several meanings, one of which is a certain period of life of animals, during which males search for females and fight with each other. Thus, it is possible to suppose that the man, Theresa’s boyfriend, was looking for the woman with the sole goal to have intimate relationship.

In my opinion, the author narrates with sadness and is worrying very much about what goes on in the life of her main character. However, despite of all of worries and sorrow at the end of the poem she concludes that she would do whatever it takes to help. This is her moral of the poem. People, and especially relatives, should help each other by means of love.


Having spoken about the poem “A Love Medicine” by Louise Erdrich it is necessary to make a conclusion. This poem is rather thought provoking, because the author does not speak directly, but instead uses various literary techniques to depict the events in the poem. However, general idea of the poem is clear. Life changes brining new problems and troubles, and there is nothing people can do about it, however, there is a family for every person, which would help to resolve all problems and to find ways out of all difficulties. Erdrish compares the life with the flow of water, which can either drip or pour, and people should be strong in any of these situations. And only the medicine of love can heal a soul that is aching.

Erdrich, Louise. “Jacklight. New York: Henry Holt, 1984.
Stookey, L.L. “Louise Erdrich: A Critical Companion”. Greenwood Press, 1999.