The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Heart” is written in thirty-one lines of free verse. Its three stanzas represent three stages of an emotional experience that moves from fear to a vision and a sense of reconciliation. The title emphasizes the image that occurs in the first and the last two lines of the poem and is a metonym for feeling. In the first and third stanzas, the heart is nevertheless personified. Wild with passion, unruly, and unnerved by fear and anguish, it represents the persona in the first line. In the last two lines, however, it belongs to a female figure, who brings about reconciliation and hope.

In the first stanza, the persona describes feelings that accompany a walk near the woods on a November evening. The poem begins with the anticipation and fear of approaching darkness and death. As the persona enters the outskirts of town, he observes a group of poor women, who buy cheap food at the slaughterhouse. They receive innards and decaying meat, nourishment that can clearly bring on illness. On the symbolic level, the nature of this food evokes the inner decay and disintegration of society, because nourishment that sustains life is traditionally blessed, rather than cursed, as this food is in the persona’s thoughts.

Fear, defeat, and mourning for a destroyed past are the predominant feelings of the second stanza. Instead of experiencing the hoped-for peace of the evening, the persona observes a storm, which he uses as an extended metaphor for war...

(The entire section is 511 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Heart” consists of a series of brief descriptions of scenes that the persona selects as if to convey a state of mind informed by social and historical awareness of the world. This approach lends expressionistic style to the first two stanzas of the poem, which nevertheless remains primarily symbolistic.

Symbolic dimensions are introduced by means of a fusion of several literary devices—personifications, metaphors, a rich web of adjectives, and color imagery—which resonate with both traditional associations and new connotations acquired through context. Beginning with the “wild heart” of the first line, almost every image is personified. Most images also involve movement and change. Through the multiple associations of the imagery, the poet stresses that traditional associations or expectations no longer hold. Whereas “wild” suggests daring and independence, for example, here it is transformed by fear. Even the evening, presented in the metaphor of a blue dove, arrives without bringing peace or reconciliation.

The interchangeability of inside and outside, observation and feeling, natural phenomenon and historical event, expressed by means of an intricate fusion of imagery, lends the poem emotively rich texture. In the second stanza, for example, a storm is described in metaphors that suggest war, but it is the battle that appears over-whelmingly real, even though it may be only anticipated or feared by the persona. Again,...

(The entire section is 489 words.)