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.)