Stanza 1 Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it
- Even though we know Cummings likes to keep things interesting, he's still being pretty conventional by having his speaker start with the poem's title. In fact, Stephen Whicher (a Cummings critic) once coined this sort of thing a "renewal of the [romantic] cliché."
- Great. So what the heck does that mean? Well, it seems that our man was highly inspired by the lyricism (song-like vibe) and clichés about love that Romantic poets like Blake often used. But since he's way modern, he decided to give those romantic interests like love and nature his own spin—hence the zany lowercase, syntactical, punctuation experiments.
- As far as the lines themselves, the speaker states that he carries his lover's heart with him at all times. We've got some figurative language here, since he can't literally carry her heart because… she'd be dead.
- Instead we understand that figuratively her presence and her love are always near. He feels it at all times. It's within him, in fact: "i carry it in my heart."
- The speaker is also being mighty precise and simple here with his diction. There's no need to go overboard with super-obscure meanings when your syntax and form have got us distracted enough.
- Speaking of syntax and form, how does that lowercase type affect your reading? For those of us more closely tied to the digital world, we might be a bit desensitized and unimpressed. But for those living in the 1950s, this was groundbreaking stuff. Even still, we're a bit shocked by that first lowercase "i." Maybe we're thinking, did he forget he's a poet? Didn't he go to elementary school? If you're wondering about that stuff, too, check out "Form and Meter" for more.
- Also, notice Cummings's use of parenthetical clauses (that stuff in parentheses). See how the parentheses are within the adjacent word, almost like they're connected? Can we make any connections between this stylistic nuance and the meaning of the words? We'll give you a moment.
- Okay, so we see lots of hands waving in the audience desperate to point out that the parenthesis furthers the meaning of the speaker's unity with his lover since it's always squished into the word right next to it. So, both visually and contextually we understand that the two are connected, just like the words and parentheses. Maybe we can even imagine one "heart" being within the parentheses and the other being outside of it.
- (Side note: Cummings was very much inspired by modern art and wanted to blur the lines between poetry and art as much as possible. So he liked to play around with how words look on paper. Check out this Shmooptastic take on another Cummings's poem that's quite artful.)
i go you go,my dear;
- We're picking up with the second half of line 2 here, also in its own set of parentheses. So by now we should say a little more about how these guys contribute to the poem's meaning.
- As a kind of punctuation, a parenthesis is supposed to add something to the text already provided without interrupting the flow of thought entirely. It's important, but it doesn't need its own sentence.
- Here, the parentheses function with a similar purpose but they've got the added bonus of visually connecting the speaker and his lover. If what's in the parentheses represents one "heart" and what's outside represents the other, we get that the lovers are always connected since they're often squished together in the same word-pair: "it(anywhere" (2).
- Notice too that the language outside and inside of the parentheses doesn't change very much either. So even though the ideas look separate (just like two people would), the primary essence of the language that joins them (love) is the same.
- Also, the meaning behind lines 2-3 is pretty self-explanatory. Everywhere the speaker goes his lover goes as well, figuratively speaking of course. So it's almost as if the poem's form and punctuation are doing more of the explaining than the words are.
- That's oh-so-modern of you, E.E.
- The parallelism in line 3 also helps to keep the whole unity theme alive with the "i go," and "you go" clauses that look and sound alike. Check out "Form and Meter" for more.
and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
- By the second half of line 3, we understand that the speaker is really stressing this idea of unity. No matter where he goes or what he does, his lover's presence is always near and has a big influence over his feelings and actions.
- Notice too the ambiguity in the speaker's diction. Words like "whatever" and "anywhere" get us thinking in a highly universal/absolute sort of way. It doesn't matter what the "what" is or "where" the speaker is. The point is that the unity with his lover is the most important facet in all that he does.
- So line 4 strikes us as a sort of paradox since nothing can ever be done by "only [him]," because it is also his lover's "doing" as well.
- Cummings loves playing with these linguistic paradoxes. It's as if he wants to show us that the meaning of language isn't a hermetically-sealed sandwich bag. Language is always subject to change, interpretation, syntax, etc. (For more on that, check out this other Shmooptastic gem of Cummings paradoxes.)
- Notice too the squishing of words in line 4 between "doing" and "my." That's not a typo. Cummings meant to remove the spaces between clauses, likely for the purpose of stressing this idea of unity some more. The two are inseparable.
- Also, when we read the lines out loud, we find ourselves vocally squishing the words too. So even our reading of the poem has a unified sound.
- Those little terms of endearment like "my darling" also add to that romantic cliché we spoke about earlier. It's almost as if we get little splashes of Romantic poetry that are quickly countered by the zany form and syntax of modern poetry.
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)
- So why does line 5 begin all the way out in right field? Was Cummings anticipating a homerun? Did he change his mind about the first half of line 5 and not bother to fill anything else in?
- Since he's a particularly precise modern poet, we're going to say "No" to both those questions. If anything, Cummings was likely looking to shock us. Or maybe we're meant to see that "i fear" as a solitary anxiety without the parentheses and therefore without the presence of the speaker's lover. After all, love can't take away all of our anxieties, right?
- By line 6, the speaker gets a bit more specific about that "fear," and the enjambment between lines helps to clarify the fear that the speaker is feeling. In line 5, we first get the effects of recognizing "fear" as an individual feeling. That fear is out there (literally out the page) for the reader to see.
- But then, when we get to line 6, we read it as "i fear/ no fate" and now we see the fear is something that his lover can wash away, so to speak. No more boogeymen in the closet.
- And again Cummings is playing with language again by first including the "i fear" part and then immediately negating it by adding "no fate." It's almost as if he's got an "it is, but it isn't" paradox happening, which he's known to love. (Check out "Symbols, Imagery, Wordplay" for more.)
- We've also got more squishing of words and parenthetical clauses in line 6 between "fate" and "for." So by now we know that Cummings is working with a specific method of squishing words and clauses together to emphasize that feeling of unity between the speaker and his lover.
- We even get some squishing inside of the parenthetical clause too, between "my fate" and "my sweet." So the speaker's fate is again inextricably linked to his lover.
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
- The second half of line 6 has some more of that solitary quality we've been seeing, since it includes the clause, "i want." And just like before, the enjambment between lines helps to make that clause less solitary by blending it with line 7 to include the speaker's lover again: "for beautiful, you are my world").
- Cummings is also playing with language in the same way we saw in the previous lines. First he includes, "i want," and then follows that with "no world." So we have some more of that "it is, but it isn't" idea going on in these lines.
- The speaker doesn't want anything beyond the world that his lover represents. She is his world—simple as pie.
- We've got more squishing of words/parentheses in line 7 to further the unity motif that Cummings is working with.
- Notice the way Cummings is also working with the language that's inside and outside of the parentheses. Outside the parentheses he uses the word "world" in a pretty typical sense. But when he uses it again within the parentheses, he refines the meaning a bit, stressing that he's not just talking about any old world anymore: his true world is the speaker's lover. It's almost as if we zoom into some specifics once we're in the parentheses. And the specifics always include his lover.
- All the repetition of key phrases (and refinement of those phrases in parentheses) is a good example of how Cummings works with language and punctuation to make both highly efficient.
- Notice that he's not including a bunch of new ideas/words in parentheses. Instead he's working with what he already has and then uses punctuation and syntax to make the meaning of the words super-precise.
- By now we can also hear the speaker's voice a little more clearly. Or maybe we should say voices. Since we're really getting the whole unity motif, we can more easily pick up on two kinds of voices, one occurring outside and one inside the parentheses. That's not to say we have two different speakers. Nope. Instead, we have the same voice but with two slightly different tones. For instance, in these lines, the speaker first says outside of the parentheses that he "want[s] no world"—pretty poetic, right? But once we're in the parentheses, the speaker suddenly becomes more romantic, maybe even a bit clichéd: "(for beautiful you are my world,my true)." So yes, we've got the same speaker, but he's got a slightly different tone once we're in those nifty parentheses.
- That slight variation also really adds to the sense of unity that we feel in this poem between the lovers. Since "love" is the only true "voice" in the poem, it is also what unifies the lovers even if they're separate people.
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
- These lines give us a good idea of what critics mean by the "revival of the romantic cliché" with that modern poetry kick.
- Romantic poets loved to talk about the moon and love. But here, the speaker gives that interest a modern spin by questioning what a moon is supposed to "mean."
- So the speaker says that, no matter what that moon has always "meant," the real meaning rests with his lover, since she is the world to him.
- Notice too the speaker's continued use of ambiguity ("whatever") that gives the poem a universal/absolute vibe. We even sense a rather casual tone too, as if there's no need to bombard the reader with a list of romantic clichés. The speaker's too cool for that.
- Line 9 also gives us some personification with the idea of a sun singing. The sun doesn't actually sing, but if it did, it would sing about the speaker's lover. That's how awesome and cosmic their love is, turning suns into pop stars.
- We also have more of that universal language like "always." So we get the feeling that their love will continue even after they're gone, since the sun will "always" sing about the speaker's lover.
- Finally we have some more parallelism with that repeated "and… whatever" clause. Notice that Cummings isn't giving us any romantic couplets to keep his poem sounding lyrical and rhythmic. Instead he's using syntactical patterns (like the "and… whatever" clause) to maintain a rhythm. (Again, this is very modern, but it's still heavily influenced by those Romantic juggernauts. Just check out "Form and Meter" for more.)