Joseph Brodsky’s “Love Song” is a formal contradiction in itself. The speaker begins the poem by declaring that he would “come to the rescue,” but later in the same stanza says that he would arrest the same person he would also presumably rescue. In the next stanza, he states that he would “cut a record” of his subject’s bird-song, and “listen all night long”, but then goes on to say that “if [he] were a sergeant, [the subject]’d be [his] recruit.” The first comparison, as in the previous stanza, suggests the speaker is doing a favor for his subject, while the second metaphor, again as in the first quatrain, gives the speaker official control over his subject. This pattern continues throughout the poem – in the third stanza, the speaker would “learn the language” if the subject were Chinese, and even “burn a lot of incense, [and] wear funny clothes.” The speaker acquiesces to his subject. However, the second part of the stanza again gives the speaker control, having him “storm the Ladies” if the object were a mirror, and apply makeup in the bathroom while looking into the mirror.
At the end of “Love Song” the speaker says that if the subject “loved volcanoes, [he]’d be lava”, again doing the latter a favor by transforming into something that pleases her. The pattern begun in the other stanzas comes to a halt here, though, as the speaker claims that if the subject were his wife, he would “be [the subject’s] lover / because the church is firmly against divorce.”
The first two lines of each stanza seem to be about favors, while the last two seem to be about obligation, up to the third stanza. Sheriffs have an obligation to lock up criminals, sergeants are required to train their recruits, but men are not required to wear makeup. The sense of obligation here is combined with the favor – the speaker will apply makeup in the mirror of a girls’ bathroom in order to fulfill the purpose of his subject, a mirror. The other stanzas of “Love Song” seem to be proclaiming the speaker’s affection for his subject, while the last one is stating his obligation to her. Whether meant ironically in context with the rest of the poem or not, the pattern of obligation in the last two lines of each stanza is continued here, but the pattern of affection is broken.
The aggressive verb choice in the first stanza, including ‘arrest’ and ‘keep’, match that of the third stanza, ‘storm’, and that of the last stanza, ‘erupting.’ The adverbs used in the last stanza are equally forceful: ‘relentlessly’ and ‘firmly.’ There are also more neutral verbs in use in each stanza, though, interchanged with the forceful ones – ‘come’ and ‘wrap’ in the first stanza, ‘cut’, ‘listen,’ and ‘love’ in the second, ‘learn’, ‘burn’ and ‘give’ in the third. In the fourth, the verbs are neutral: two uses of the simple term ‘be.’
The formal end rhyme scheme seems to be every other line within the first quatrain (i.e. ‘rescue’, ‘tea’ and ‘you’, ‘key’). However, in the next verse, only the second and fourth rhymes, ‘trill’ and ‘drill’, rhyme perfectly. The first and third, ‘record’ and ‘recruit’, are reversed half-rhymes. The same holds true for the third stanza, with ‘language’ and ‘Ladies’, as well as the last, with ‘lava’ and ‘lover’. The slight indentation of every other line serves to emphasize the fact that it is a continuation of the line before it, distinctly separate from the lines coming after it. The poem’s rhyme scheme, though, serves to interconnect these seemingly separate two-line declarations. The poem’s title, “Love Song”, suggests that the poem is literally a song about love. The speaker seems to be implying that love is equal parts comprised of the willing favors and obligation, two seemingly opposite concepts. The rhyme scheme, however, unites the concepts within their stanzas, perhaps implying that when dealing with love, the two are undeniably, inextricably connected.