Study Guide

Bearded Oaks Stanza 9

By Robert Penn Warren

Stanza 9

Lines 33-36

That cagèd heart makes iron stroke,
I do not love you now the less,
Or less that all that light once gave
The graduate dark should now revoke

  • If this is the speaker's idea of a declaration of love, then be still our Shmoopy heart. In some ways, the "cagèd heart" is always in a cage (the rib cage), but put this way, the accommodations feel all the more close and constricting. 
  • (Note: that funky accent in "cagèd" means that you should add a syllable to the word and put a stress on that second syllable: caged. Check out "Form and Meter" for more on that.) 
  • The notion of an "iron stroke" is a tricky one. A "stroke" can be a gentle gesture, like a stroke on the cheek. It can also be a quick happening, like a stroke of genius or a stroke of luck. We also think of it as a forceful motion, like the stroke of an oar pulling a boat or the stroke of a piston in an engine. Probably, the speaker's not talking about a medical stroke here—or Different Strokes for that matter. 
  • Likely, it's the idea of a forceful motion that the speaker is trying to get across. Since it's paired with "iron" and in the context of a cage, we're imagining a heart that has turned aggressive and forceful, rather than kind and tender. Any lovey-dovey stroking can be forgotten when things get all cage-y and metallic. 
  • All the same, our speaker seems like a forgiving chap. He "do[es] not love you now the less." Wait—that's good, right? Well, it's not bad, exactly. Let's be clear: he's not saying that he loves his beloved more, only "not less," even though she's apparently got some ex-con heart that is all tough and mean. There's something his beloved can write in her diary framed in pink hearts.
  • What's more, or what's not less, is this love, now that what was given by light has been rejected by darkness (come on, darkness, get it together). Look at the word choice here: "graduate" is used unusually, as an adjective. And yes, it does mean by degree, but it also evokes a certain progress to a new level. We wonder if that darkness is getting worse.
  • Whatever it's doing, it's telling everything that the light gave us to "talk to the hand." "Revoke," which rhymes so nicely with "stroke," is a word from the field of law, meaning to void. But at its root is the word "voice." It means to call back. It's hard not to see a kind of familiar voicelessness in this canceling darkness. And what spells death to a poet better than being voiceless? 
  • Even still, at the moment when darkness steals everything, right down to his very voice, the speaker loves his beloved. Aww.