Study Guide

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

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

The poem opens with the speaker declaring, "i carry your heart with me(i carry it in my heart)." He goes on to stress the sense of unity he (we're just assuming it's a he) feels with the one he loves. Everything he does and feels is connected to her (again, just our gender assumption here). His fate and his world is her alone. The meaning of nature is also shared with the speaker's love. Finally, the "tree of life" or the "secret nobody knows" has its roots in the wonder of love and its limitless possibilities. All together now: aww.

  • Stanza 1

    Lines 1-2

    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.)

    Lines 2-3

    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.

    Lines 3-4

          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.

    Lines 5-6

                                                 i fear
    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.

    Lines 6-7

          i want
    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.

    Lines 8-9

    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.)
  • Stanza 2

    Lines 10-11

    here is the deepest secret nobody knows
    (here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud

    • The third stanza starts with some anaphora in that repetition of "here is the." So things are sounding very lyrical without all the perfect couplets the romantics might have preferred. 
    • But where is "here"? If we go by what we saw in the previous stanza, we're guessing the "here" refers to the foundation of the speaker's love, its true essence, which everything revolves around. The "here" might even be referring to the poem's refrain and the idea of the speaker always carrying his lover's heart. That heart he carries is the "root of the root," the bee's knees, so to speak. 
    • And what's all this about a "deepest secret nobody knows"? We can assume the speaker is driving at the deepest essence of love, since love is what the poem's all about. And nobody knows the secret because love is kind of the greatest mystery of all.
    • But we also know it's probably more important than anything else.
    • We've also got some more ambiguity with all the secrets, "roots," and "buds." By now we understand that specifics don't matter to this poem because the only thing that's important is the speaker's unity with his lover and their love. Everything else is defined via their love.
    • So line 11 makes even more sense to us when we imagine "roots" and "buds" that are the symbolic foundations of life. You can't have trees without roots and you can't have pretty flowers without buds. And since the speaker says it's the "root of the root" and the "bud of the bud," we understand that love is therefore the deepest foundation of all, since it goes beyond the roots and buds.
    • Line 11 is therefore an extended metaphor that's using roots and buds to represent love as the greatest foundation of all. And now we have Whitney Houston's "Greatest Love of All" in our heads. Thanks, E. E.

    Lines 12-13

    and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
    higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)

    • So we were just in the ground with the roots and now we're in the sky, where trees exist too. It looks like the speaker is blending it all together to show that love is the unifying force that keeps the roots, buds, and the sky together in this "tree called life." 
    • We're also noticing some nature imagery and metaphors that the Romantics would likely get very excited about. So the speaker seems to be giving more of a nod here to Blake and Co.
    • Notice too the repetition of that "of the" clause. The more the speaker uses that clause, the deeper and bigger we seem to get in terms of love being the ultimate unifying foundation. So again, Cummings is demonstrating his use of syntax to not only keep things sounding lyrical but also to be as efficient and precise with his language as possible. 
    • By line 13 we understand that the "tree called life" can figuratively grow to limitless heights because it's founded on (have you guessed it?) love! 
    • Even those pesky "souls" and "minds" can't fully grasp the full extent of life without love. It'd kind of be like having a Big Mac without the patty. (Romantic, we know.)
    • Notice how the speaker includes the idea of the mind never "hiding" the full potential of life and love. Here he's saying that reason can't outperform love. Likewise, love can't be rationalized or "hidden" in theoretical hoopla. 
    • Finally, this parenthetical clause is a lengthy one with three lines. And it kind of makes sense that it's so long since these lines delve more into the general idea of love. The speaker's not just focused on his lover at this point; he's thinking about the bigger picture of love.

    Line 14

    and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

    • Just in case you weren't sure if love is the greatest mystery of all, line 14 sums it up by letting us know that it keeps "the stars apart." 
    • So there's no need to search for meaning and purpose in love because in this poem it's kind of the defining element of the cosmos. It just "is," so that should be enough.
    • To have love is therefore what this "tree of life" is all about. Since its roots rest in love and its potential is limitless, we understand that its "wonder" sustains everything else. 
    • We also get by the end of the third stanza that the speaker isn't just talking about the romantic love he shares with his partner.
    • We're seeing "love" in a more general sense here that's linked with the cosmos. 
    • So sure, love may be difficult to qualify and rationalize, but that's kind of the point. If love were easy to explain (and write a poem about) we wouldn't have that "wonder" the speaker is referring to.
  • Stanza 3

    Line 15

    i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

    • In true Romantic poetry style, the speaker ends by (almost) perfectly referencing the title. Notice the omission of "with me"?
    • So line 15 sounds a bit tongue-in-cheek, since he's keeping with a normal poetry convention (but not entirely). You probably saw that coming, right?
    • After all the cosmic, "tree of life" stuff, we're back to where we started, with the most important idea of the poem: the speaker carries his love within him at all times. 
    • And we're also reminded of the unity that he feels with his lover with that squishing of words and parentheses. 
    • In true modern poetry style, this stanza only has one line. So Cummings is making it clear to us that line 15 is the point of the whole poem. It even gets its own stanza because it's so important and special. (Check out this one-line approach here too.) 
    • Our speaker has traveled the globe of love in only 15 lines, but he reminds us here that the love one personally experiences is most important. To quote another poet: "All you need is love."