The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Heart’s Limbo” is written in six free-verse stanzas of varying length. As is typical of a dramatic monologue, the poem’s speaker (“I”) addresses a silent listener, presumably a potential lover, and through her words reveals her innermost self. From her choice of language (“rolls ready to brown n’ serve,/ the concentrated juice”), the speaker appears to be a woman, although she may not necessarily be Carolyn Kizer. She may be a persona, a voice created by the poet.

In Christian tradition, the word “limbo” refers to a place in the afterlife, somewhere between heaven and hell, which is set aside for the innocent souls of the unbaptized. Here the “limbo” of the title carries the more general meaning of a place or state of confinement or neglect, a place where nothing happens. In the poem’s central metaphor, the speaker’s “maimed” heart has been placed in limbo (literally, in a freezer) for safekeeping and is now being thawed for use.

The poem begins as the speaker tells her listener that she had placed her heart, like a piece of meat, in the frozen food section of her refrigerator to prevent it from spoiling. She has had to remind herself not to snack on it (“It wasn’t raspberry yoghurt”) and not to give it to the cat by mistake—in other words, to take special care with it. It is not like the other food in her refrigerator. Although she continues to refer to the heart as an object, the rest of the poem...

(The entire section is 460 words.)