Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 477

Certainly “Heart’s Limbo” is a poem about the central importance of love in human life, but it seems to focus more on vulnerability—both the risk and pain of love in addition to the intense human need for it. Kizer writes in “A Month in Summer,” a long poem that chronicles the end of a love affair, that for her one of the endearing qualities of male Japanese poets is their “overwhelming impulse, when/ faced with hurt or conflict, to stay in bed under/ the covers!” They too understand vulnerability.

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Any reader who is familiar with “Pro Femina,” Kizer’s widely known feminist poem about the status of women, may not at first think of her as a writer who is sensitive to the delicacy of love. However, love has always been one of her primary themes, beginning with her poem “Lovemusic,” published in The New Yorker when she was only seventeen. Several of the love poems in her first book, The Ungrateful Garden (1961), are filled with lush opulence, images from classical mythology, or paradoxes and metaphysical concerns that are vaguely reminiscent of English poet John Donne. “Heart’s Limbo,” with its contemporary, bloody images, offers an abrupt contrast to the more mannered poems.

She has written of love in its various guises, including sensuous poems of physical love such as “The Light” and bleak poems of lost love such as “A Widow in Wintertime,” where the yowl of mating cats reminds the widow of the fierce animal pleasures to which she “would not return” although she has obviously not forgotten them. Kizer has composed several other poems that might also be identified as love poems and dedicated them to close male and female friends. Still other frequently anthologized poems such as “The Blessing” and “The Great Blue Heron” address the bond that connects mother and daughter. Finally, characteristic of the witty and outspoken author of “Pro Femina” are the tough, ambivalent love-hate poems such as “Bitch,” in which she reveals her doggy self.

In her later work Kizer presents the subject of love directly and without sentimentality. In “Afternoon Happiness,” a poem that describes the joy of a happy marriage, she asks, “So how does the poem play/ Without the paraphernalia of betrayal and loss?” She concludes that, in order to be successful, a good love poem must draw on pain rather than happiness as its source. In “Heart’s Limbo,” which is laden with domestic details such as rolls in the freezer, Kizer opens the poem to the universal experience of love in all its complexity. Her writing is clearly not limited to the lives of women but rather includes them in her observation of the full human condition. Poulin, who published her Pulitzer Prize-winning collection Yin in 1984, contends that, “without sacrificing their feminist edge, Kizer’s poems are powerful, myth-making hymns” of celebration.

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