Study Guide

[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in] Analysis

  • Sound Check

    It sounds peaceful and in love. We'd definitely like to have what the speaker is having. At the same time, though, it's not as if "[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]" sounds like some lovesick puppy pulling petals off a daisy. Cummings is way too cool for that. Instead the poem sounds balanced, precise, with only a light dusting of romantic clichés to give it that love-poem kick. The speaker's casual tone and use of ambiguity ("whatever," "anything") also keeps us from rolling our eyes over a bunch of overused metaphors and hyperboles that we usually hear in love poems.

    Notice how we're not overrun with adjectives to describe his lover's ruby cheeks or flowing hair. Instead we've got ultramodern lines like, "you are whatever a moon has always meant." So Cummings is keeping things real for us while still managing to create a flutter in our tummies with lines like, "i fear no fate(for you are my fate, my sweet)." The combination of the ultramodern with the occasional romantic cliché adds to the poem's balance and freshness in the world of go-to love poems.

    Cummings also avoids bombarding us with perfect couplets that would make his poem sound a bit too song-like for a modern audience. Instead he uses syntactical patterns ("i go," "you go") to create a noticeable rhythm that doesn't get annoying like some rhymes might.

    Internally we do notice some alliteration that adds to the poem's lyrical and organized sound. For instance lines 3-4 have a repetition of that D sound in "dear," "done," "doing," and "darling." In the second stanza, we have the repetition of that F and W sound in "fear" and "fate," and "want," "world," and "whatever." So it looks as if Cummings was aiming to create an organized and uniform sound for each stanza without going overboard with too many cute couplets.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    The weird-looking title we get prepares us for all the experimental stuff we see in the poem's body. "[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]" catches our attention, since it looks so not like what you would expect a poem title to look like. More than that, it also provides a good idea of what Cummings's style is all about. We know punctuation is bound to be important, and we know Cummings is also looking to work with the visual presentation of the words he's using. The brackets may also be indicating that this title is the first line of the poem. All in all, his zany title doesn't strike us as so zany by the end of the poem, since we get that there's a purpose to all the punctuation and lowercase type.

    From the very beginning, then, Cummings is trying to shock us into having some "fresh eyes" for his poem. The title provides that initial sledgehammer blow to all the "normal" stuff we expect to see. Instead, we get to experience his work in a way that's equally artistic in a visual and literary sense. Punctuation and lowercase type are being used in a way that's visually stimulating, while also furthering the poem's theme of unity. There's a method to all this madness, after all. Come on—it's not like Cummings decided to take a detour in his career with finger-painting and elementary school grammar mistakes.

  • Setting

    We're not in a garden watching a pair of swans do their thing. Thank goodness for that. Instead "[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]" looks as if it takes place in the speaker's heart. How cool (gruesome) is that? Of course the speaker doesn't literally say we're in his heart, but we get the feeling that all the parentheses serve to mimic the feeling of being inside and outside of his lover's heart. Outside of the parentheses, things tend to look simple and less clichéd: "i am never without it" (2). But once we're in the parentheses (or perhaps in his lover's heart), the speaker can't hold back on the romance with endearing terms like "my sweet" and "my darling."

    In a more symbolic/cosmic sense, we may even be looking at the "roots" of love by the third stanza. And those roots are mighty expansive and envelop the whole world in love. So, in a way, the poem's setting is love. We're right in the heart of it. And if love unifies the whole world, then we can also assume that the poem's setting is everywhere and everything. The speaker doesn't provide any specifics because of love's universal kind of setting—there's no need to box things into a specific time or place, because love is always somewhere to be found.

  • Speaker

    Our speaker is definitely in love, so we've got a first-person voice happening in this poem. But it's not your average lusty kind of love that's likely to burn out before anyone ever knew it was there. His is a kind of love that's able to see the big picture, so to speak. And the big picture involves love as the foundation for everything, including the speaker's world. So our speaker has got a voice that not only sounds as if it's in love, but also sounds at peace with the world and everything in it.

    And since the speaker carries his lover's heart with him at all times, we sometimes hear a bit of this other voice. The voice that we hear in each set of parentheses sounds like the speaker, but the tone is slightly different. For instance, in the first stanza the parenthetical clause that we get provides something more specific: "whatever is done by only me is your doing." So the speaker's voice in the parentheses tends to sound a bit more focused and explanatory than the voice that's outside of the parentheses. In turn, we get both perspectives of being "inside" and "outside" of the speaker's "heart."

    Occasionally, we hear a romantic cliché like "my sweet" and "my darling." So the speaker also has a bit of that Romantic poetry vibe, which is quickly countered by some ultramodern enjambment and squishing of words that keeps things real. All in all, we've got a speaker with a balanced voice that tells us a lot without burdening us with too many words or clichés.

  • Tough-o-Meter

    (5) Tree Line

    Don't expect every E. E. Cummings poem to get such a relatively easy rating. He has quite a few gems that may have some brilliant syntax but can be a pain in the neck to figure out. But "[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]" goes a bit easy on the syntax and keeps things focused on love. And love shouldn't be too complicated, so the simplicity makes sense. (What's that you say? Okay, the concept of love shouldn't be too complicated, even if everything else about it can be.)

  • Calling Card

    Linguistic Rebel

    It's hard to come up with a better label for Cummings than "linguistic rebel." The guy's a rock star for literary geeks as he thumbs his nose at linguists and English teachers all over the globe. We bet there are even a few Shmoopers with photos of our man pinned to their walls. He's just that cool.

    If you come across another Cummings poem you'll likely see a lot of purposely misused lowercase spellings, parentheses, lines starting all the way out in right field, and some wild syntax to boot. Plus you'll probably have the added bonus of having lots of that "it is, but it isn't" idea going on.

    Take a look at some of these Cummings classics that showcase his zany (but precise) world of modern poetry: here and here.

  • Form and Meter

    Free Verse

    With all the experimenting we see happening in "[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]," it's no shock that Cummings would opt for free verse over the traditional sonnet. At the same time, though, he uses literary devices like parallelism, anaphora, and the occasional trochee that make it sound ultra-lyrical without the fancy form and meter. And that's not to mention all the parentheses that turn the whole idea of poetic form on its head. In a way, then, Cummings creates his own form and meter that doesn't play by the old rules.

    The rhythm we hear in the poem is largely determined by the syntactical patterns Cummings uses. What the heck does that mean? Well, instead of using end rhymes and specific metrical feet to fit a particular kind of form (like the Romantics), he uses the arrangement (syntax) of his words to create rhythmic patterns. For example, the anaphora we see in the repetition of the "here is the" clause in lines 10-11 creates a familiar rhythm without sticking to a particular meter. In lines 5-7 we have another familiar rhythm with the pattern we hear in "i fear no fate" and then "i want no world." We can definitely hear and see Cummings's use of syntax hard at work in those clauses.

    Similarly, in line 3 we have more trochees (which are two-syllable pairings with the emphasis on the first syllable: DUM-da). They can be found in the "i go, you go" clause. But again, Cummings isn't looking to pin the line down to a specific meter. He's way too modern for that. Lines 8-9 also have some parallelism, with that similar sounding "and […] whatever" syntactical arrangement that gives the lines that lyrical, song-like vibe.

    Finally, Cummings's use of enjambment is super-modern, but also adds to the poem's lyrical quality. Each line flows into the next without any interruption from punctuation. In fact, the entire first stanza comes to us without any stops or pauses. And by the third stanza, the speaker's description of the "tree called life" is a constant flow of thought that's stressed even more by all those "of the" clauses. Even if we hit a set of parentheses, we still sense the flow of thought, since each parenthetical clause is squished into the adjacent word. So, just like everything else, Cummings is even giving the use of enjambment his own modern spin. We're telling you, there's nothing stopping this guy from shaking things up.

  • Carrying Hearts

    We know the idea of carrying a person's heart is spoken in a figurative sense in Cumming's poem. You really can't go around carrying actual hearts. Folks tend to freak out at you. But the idea of carrying a lover's heart at all times seems to be the speaker's main point. Visually and contextually, Cummings furthers this idea with his use of parentheses and squishing of words.

    • Lines 1-2: The poem opens with the title and the idea of carrying a lover's heart. The squishing of the parenthesis with the adjacent word ("me") creates a sense of unity between the lovers.
    • Lines 2-3: We start to see some ambiguity in words like "anywhere," which creates a universal kind of vibe. Specifics don't matter because the only thing that's important is the speaker's love.
    • Line 15: In a pretty conventional fashion, Cummings ends his poem with the title (though it's not word for word exact). But by beginning and ending with the idea of carrying hearts, we know it's the most important idea of the poem.
  • Paradoxes

    Cummings loves his linguistic paradoxes. That's just to say he likes playing with words in a way that flips their meaning, according to a line's syntax. So we often hear the speaker include ideas of "fear" and "want" in one line, only to negate them in the following line by including the word "no." So it is, but it isn't.

    • Lines 3-4: The speaker states that whatever is done by "only [him]" is also his lover's doing. So nothing is ever done by "only him." It is, but it isn't.
    • Lines 5-6: We get that solitary anxiety of "i fear," which is then quickly countered by "no fate" in the next line. So in other words he doesn't really fear anything since his lover is his fate.
    • Lines 6-7: The speaker then says, "i want," only to quickly counter that desire by including "no world" in the following line. So we're guessing he doesn't really "want" anything besides his lover—who is his world.
  • Tree Called Life

    Yes, it's a romantic cliché we've probably heard a thousand times. But the one Cummings refers to is like a super tree of life, since it grows "higher than soul can hope or mind can hide." It's also founded on love, which makes it even more mysterious and extraordinary. So his tree of life is also a tree of love.

    • Lines 10-11: The roots of this tree run deeper than anything else. It's the "root of the root," so we're talking about something beyond dirt and worms. And what's beyond that? Love, of course.
    • Lines 11-12: We get that all the roots and buds are symbols for the foundations of life. And the foundation of life's foundation is… love. Love as a unifying force connects the roots with the sky and the "tree of life." 
    • Lines 12-13: And since the tree is founded on love, it grows "higher than soul can hope or mind can hide." So we're talking about something beyond our earthly realm. Love is pretty cosmic at this point and can outmatch reason any day.
    • Steaminess Rating


      Although this Cummings poem is about love, we don't see any of the sex part. Sorry folks, but we're talking about love in a cosmic and romantic way that's more emotional than physical.