The poem opens at a very specific point in a relationship: directly after the soldier's return home. The reference to "passionate nights" and "intimate days" reads like a traditional love poem, suggesting that both parties are enjoying spending time together after a long period of time apart.
This is undercut, however, by the use of the word "after" in the first line, which tells the reader that this romantic "first phase" is now over. The repetition of the term in the second line definitely situates the poem after this seeming honeymoon period, suggesting that the couple's loving reunion may be short lived and that some form of disruption lies ahead. This is further enhanced by Armitage's use of the words "after," "phase," "nights," and "days," all of which relate to the passing of time. Emphasizing this in the first stanza of the poem immediately prepares the reader for the important role that time has to play both in the poem and the healing process the poem describes.
The initial romantic imagery will quickly be juxtaposed against violent imagery of scarred faces and "blown" jaws. This contrast may serve as a metaphor for the relationship's dual nature. On a surface level, the relationship is a loving one, but there is a troubling undertone regarding the soldier's experiences in war which runs counterpoint to this throughout the poem.
The first stanza is a rhymed couplet; "phase" is a perfect rhyme with "days." Rhyming couplets are often used in love poetry, and their use at the outset of the poem could, therefore, support the initial view of the relationship as following traditional, predictable patterns, highlighting its strength and stability at this point. The meter, too, adheres to this. While the poem, strictly speaking, is written in free verse, Armitage intersperses more rhythmic metrical devices in certain lines. In the second line, for example, he uses a trochee (stressed-unstressed) / dactyl (stressed-unstressed-unstressed) pattern:
after | passionate | nights and| intimate | days
This strong emphasis on the first syllable gives the second line a feeling of continuous forward motion, perhaps signifying the head-over-heels feeling encountered in the early stage of a new relationship. The consonance of the poem's initial line does the same thing, with the rush of /f/ sounds in "After the first phase" suggesting abundance, an initial overflow of love and happiness.