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Analysis of Poem "i carry your heart with me (i carry it in" by E.E. Cummings

Andrew has a keen interest in all aspects of poetry and writes extensively on the subject. His poems are published online and in print.

E.E.Cummings and a Summary of "i carry your heart with me (i carry it in"

"i carry your heart with me (i carry it in" is one E.E.Cummings' love sonnets. It's a typically light-hearted yet sincere poem with the signature syntax of Cummings – unorthodox, experimental and difficult to grasp.

  • The poem has 15 lines instead of the usual 14.
  • There are full rhyming lines (true/you) and slant rhyming (want/meant).
  • There is heavy use of parentheses, phrases between brackets.
  • There is no period (full stop in British English) and little punctuation, so the reader has to decide when and where to pause for the best effect when reading. Natural caesurae occasionally help.
  • Reading through this sonnet and making sense of the structure isn't easy for those without prior warning of the poet's poetry! The first time it's best read slowly, repeated and then read out aloud for best effect.
  • Only then will the feelings rise and the penny drop – this is a sonnet of traditional theme (love and affection) treated in a most unfamiliar fashion.

Cummings is well known for his offbeat lines, strange punctuation and inventive orthography (spelling). From an early age, he put to one side tradition and convention and concentrated on the weird and wonderful. William Carlos Williams, the noted poet-doctor, nicknamed him 'lower case cummings.'

Form and lineation became natural playthings, spontaneity and unpredictability hallmarks of his work. Cummings reacted against the formal, regular rhythms of iambic full rhyming poetry. Not for him neat quatrains and epic stanzas – he preferred a little disorder in his lines:

let's live suddenly without thinking

Title line of Sonnet VI Actualities (from Tulips&Chimneys, 1922 manuscript)

And he wrote a poem about putting feelings before anything ordered and organised:

since feeling is first

who pays any attention

to the syntax of things

will never wholly kiss you;

Cummings produced revolutionary poems once he'd broken through the barrier of conventional verse, but he had trouble getting his work published. Some thought it twee and sentimental, others were put off by the outrageous form and syntax.

Having studied art and modernist works in Paris and Europe he further developed his poetry in an abstract, almost painterly fashion. He declared:

'The day of the spoken lyric is past. The poem which has at last taken its place does not sing itself; it builds itself, three dimensionally, gradually, subtly, in the consciousness of the experiencer.' (Richard S. Kennedy: On E. E. Cummings | Modern American Poetry, Notes, Houghton Library, Harvard University)

In 1922 he published his first book, Tulips&Chimneys. This year also saw T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land" appear, and Frost's book New Hampshire in 1923 contained his popular "Stopping By Woods On a Snowy Evening." Wallace Stevens's Harmonium was also published in 1923, a groundbreaking first volume.

But Tulips&Chimneys stole the show stylistically. Cummings rejected the ordinary forms, invented new ways of laying down poetic language and experimented with syntax, the way clauses are sequenced in a line, in a stanza.

Not everyone in the poetry world was convinced:

But the really serious case against Mr Cumming's punctuation is that the results that it yields are ugly. His poems on the page are hideous. He insists on breaking up even the least unconventional of his verses which would be more appropriately printed as neat little blocks of type... (Edmund Wilson, review of Tulips&Chimneys, New Republic, March 19th, 1924)

"i carry your heart with me (i carry it in" has much of the typical love sonnet diction cummings is known for: stars, sun, moon, heart, bud, soul, root, wonder, darling, sky and so on. It's the typography (display of the printed word) and syntax that set it apart.

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in

Stanza by Stanza Analysis of "i carry your heart with me (i carry it in"

This lyrical sonnet, full of figurative language, demands a careful approach from the reader because of the lack of punctuation as guidance for pauses. Enjambment – line endings that flow into the next, without punctuation – can be found in most lines, so the reader has to negotiate the pauses.

First Stanza

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That first line could well be from a lovesong lyric, traditional and cosy. Is it addressed to a friend, lover or partner? The brackets indicate parenthesis, here a repeat and affirmation, that the heart of someone is carried in the first-person speaker's heart.

So, here we have hearts bound together, two in one. The speaker elaborates on this heart-to-heart situation, reinforcing the idea of togetherness, of one action being actually two because the speaker has the other heart (the other person) always close by.

Note the introduction of the other – my dear – which basically means that the speaker is addressing the other as an intimate, or at least as a familiar who is informally well known.

This is followed up with yet another term of endearment – my darling – so we can say the speaker is addressing a lover or intimate partner or spouse.

Second Stanza

The second stanza starts with an unusually short line i fear which slant rhymes with the ending anywhere from line two, a loose connect.

The speaker relates his fate to the relationship he has with the partner – she is his fate, that is, if fate is seen as a final outcome or destination, then she is his. And because of this idea of one fate totally wrapped up in someone else, there is no fear. Fate is personalized.

And he doesn't want the world (in a material sense) for all his needs and wants are in her. She is the world (based on the old cliche I think the world of her), providing everything.

Moon and sun bring meaning and song, implying that the dear, the darling, the partner contains all mystery, emotion, all femininity throughout the ages. Singing is related to spring and summer, the music of the future. Note the past tense has always meant...contrasting with will always sing.

Third Stanza

Here we have five lines worth again but unlike the previous stanza, these lines are more or less uniform in length. And three of them are contained within brackets as if the speaker is adding an aside for the reader, as in a staged drama.

The speaker introduces some folk philosophy in the form of a secret – nobody knows it – because it is a wonder both cosmic and earthly, relating to the way things grow and live and exist, in a metaphysical sense.

We're edging towards the divine but don't quite get there; we're thinking maybe about love but that isn't mentioned. There is no dear or darling or sweet or true in this third stanza. It's as if the speaker is wanting to underpin his feelings through nature and the mystery of growth and the greater life of the cosmos. How everything fits together and works.

Fourth Stanza

A single line, a repeat of the first line almost, reinforces the speaker's personal statement – he carries someone's heart within his, figuratively speaking.

What is the Meter of icarry your heart with me (i carry it in?

This is an unorthodox sonnet and doesn't follow the traditional iambic beat, where each line has 10 syllables and five feet, daDUM daDUM daDUM daDUM daDUM.

Cummings's sonnet has only one line with 10 syllables (line 13), one exceptional line with only two syllables(line 5) - the rest range between eleven and thirteen syllables.

The reader has to read with caution initially because of the arrangement of words and clauses (syntax), some lines being easier than others to negotiate rhythmically.

i car / ry your / heart with / me(i / carry / it in
my heart) / i am / never / without / it(an / ywhere
i go / you go,/ my dear; / and what / ever / is done
by on / ly me / is your / doing, / my dar / ling)

The opening three lines of this first stanza are hexameters, six feet per line, with varying iambic, pyrrhic and trochaic beats. This stretches each line, the relatively simple language subject to rise and fall, stress and pause, the contrast of spondee (double stressed foot) with pyrrhic (no stress).

Sources

Norton Anthology, Norton, 2005

Diction, Voice, and Tone: The Poetic Language of E. E. Cummings on JSTOR

Complete Poems, Liveright/Norton, 1994

William Carlos Williams, “lower case cummings,” Harvard Wake, V (Spring 1946), 20-23

100 Essential Modern Poems, Ivan Dee, Joseph Parisi, 2005

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Andrew Spacey

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