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Love like Salt | Summary and Analysis

Analysis of Love like Salt by Lisel Mueller

Love like Salt is a descriptive poem by Lisel Mueller, one of the prolific German-born American poets, translator and academic teacher. First published in Alive Together: New and Selected Poems in 1966, the poem speaks about the way we perceive love in our lives. Using various lifelike examples, the poet states that we often misuse love and make our lives miserable. Although the poem revolves around the phenomenon of love, the speaker’s distinct views of unique feelings make it mesmerizing. Using various lifelike examples, the poet states that we often misuse love and make our lives miserable. Although the poem revolves around the simple phenomenon of love, the speaker’s distinct views of unique feelings make it mesmerizing.

Love Like Salt | Summary and Analysis

Love Like Salt | Analysis, Line 1 – 2

It lies in our hands in crystals

too intricate to decipher

The poet begins the poem by comparing the love she feels to a crystal in her hand which is very intricate and complex to understand. Often, human beings try to simplify the feeling of love in simple language and try to make people understand the complex feeling in easy words. But the speaker says that it is not something that can be understood by every person. The imagery of crystal makes the reader connect the feeling of love with brightness and hope. Though it is not something that can be understood, it is something to admire and cherish from afar.

Love Like Salt | Analysis, Line 3 – 4

It goes into the skillet

without being given a second thought

The speaker says that love goes into a cooking pan or a cooking utensil every single day whenever a person cooks something for someone they love. This depiction is of a mom’s love who cooks every day for her loved ones. It is a common belief that the food tastes better when it is made with ‘love’. It is called a ‘secret ingredient’. The poet beautifully depicts the casual and simple gesture of cooking as something done with love and care.

Love Like Salt | Analysis, Line 5 – 6

It spills on the floor so fine

we step all over it

The poet makes love seem like a physical being through this poem. She says that love is all over the world; it is present in the finest pieces in life and it is present all over but sometimes, people don’t understand that and they step over the love they are unable to see as they do. The lines have both a joyful and a melancholic note because, on one hand, it seems like one has so much love that even when they walk somewhere, they are carrying it with them, but on the other hand, it seems like the person has carelessly tossed the love they had on the ground and is walking over it.

Love Like Salt | Analysis, Line 7 – 8

We carry a pinch behind each eyeball

It breaks out on our foreheads

The poet goes on to say that all humans carry love in their eyes, in the way they look at things and the world around them. It flows through their eyes when they cry and resides behind their eyelids. Love, the poet says, is present in the wrinkles, sweat, etc., that we get one gets on their forehead. The poet paints beautiful imagery here about how all humans carry love inside their eyes and forehead and have different ways of expressing it to people. It is true that no two humans show love the same way and their ways vary from each other vastly.

Love Like Salt | Analysis, Line 9 – 10

We store it inside our bodies

in secret wineskins

The speaker further elaborates on the fact that human beings carry love in their bodies and hold it dear to themselves in secret places in their skin. Humans usually hide their love and do not show the love they have for each other often. The poet, through this poem, explores the idea of showing and expressing the love that one has for the other, as much as possible. 

Love Like Salt | Analysis, Line 11 – 12

At supper, we pass it around the table

talking of holidays and the sea.

The poem ends on a hopeful and positive note showing that while people may not necessarily show and express the love they have for one another, they pass it around the dinner table each night and make little gestures of love towards each other which show the love they have. The poem tells the reader all the ways they can show their love for one another without expressing it. The poet’s advice is that people should show affection for each other by doing little acts of kindness such as arranging a lovely supper to talk about the unforgettable moments of life.



Love Like Salt | About the Author – Lisel Mueller 

Poet and translator Lisel Mueller was born in Hamburg, Germany, in 1924. The daughter of teachers, she and her family were forced to flee the Nazi regime when Mueller was 15. They immigrated to the US and settled in the Midwest. Mueller attended the University of Evansville, where her father was a professor, and she performed her graduate study at Indiana University. Her collections of poetry include The Private Life, which was the 1975 Lamont Poetry Selection; Second Language (1986); The Need to Hold Still (1980), which received the National Book Award; Learning to Play by Ear (1990); and Alive Together: New & Selected Poems (1996), which won the Pulitzer Prize. Her other awards and honors include the Carl Sandburg Award, the Helen Bullis Award, the Ruth Lilly Prize, and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. She also published translations, including Circe’s Mountain by Marie Luise Kaschnitz (1990).

Mueller’s work has also been praised for its attentiveness to quiet moments of domestic drama, and its ability to speak to the experiences of family and semi-rural life. Mueller lived in Lake Forest, Illinois for many years before her death in 2020.




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