My Heart is Heavy by Sara Teasdale

My heart is heavy with many a song
Like ripe fruit bearing down the tree,
But I can never give you one –
My songs do not belong to me.

Yet in the evening, in the dusk
When moths go to and fro,
In the gray hour if the fruit has fallen,
Take it, no one will know.

 

Albeit very short, ‘My Heart is Heavy’ is an extremely powerful little poem that gives us a lot to think about and relate to. Perhaps this is my more melancholy side coming to the surface but when I first finished reading this poem, I imagined that the reason for it’s abrupt and seemingly premature end was due to the heartache felt while writing it. To me, it depicts a time in life where we have given so much love to one person that we cannot possibly give anymore; when the right person comes along but we are helpless to give them our love like we have done with others before.

The first line; ‘my heart is heavy with many a song’ is puzzling. The normal connotations of song are ones of joy and lightheartedness, but here, song makes the writer’s heart heavy with despair. It’s almost as if too much happiness results in sadness and bleakness, these metaphorical songs are ‘ripe fruit’ and filled with the potential as affection and love can be, but the persona has already given too much away in the past and now – as they say – ‘my songs do not belong to me.’ Their love has already been exhausted by others and metaphorical walls have been erected as protection to the pain that love can inflict.

Despite this, the speaker wants to open up to this new-found potential lover and encourages them to try to steal their love away through Teasdale’s continuation of her ‘double metaphor’ of song and fruit. The persona ends by encouraging the potential lover to look out for the ‘gray hour’, when their guard is down and ‘the fruit has fallen.’ When the ‘fruit’ is available for the taking, the persona wants their potential lover to steal it away, claiming that ‘no one will know.’

The poem, if read in this way, is ultimately tragic and deals with the irony of having given too much love away to the wrong people and have them break hearts and trust, to only be unable to give the right person this love when they come along.

Sara Teasdale (1884-1933)

Sara Teasdale (1884-1933)

 

 

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Emily Brontë by Ted Hughes

The wind on Crow Hill was her darling.
His fierce, high tide in her ear was her secret.
But his kiss was fatal.

Through her dark Paradise ran
The stream she loved too well
That bit her breast.

The shaggy sodden king of that kingdom
Followed through the wall
And lay on her love-sick bed.

The curlew trod her womb.

The stone swelled under her heart.

Her death is a baby-cry on the moor.

 

© Ted Hughes

I’m currently reading Wuthering Heights for the first time and I can’t even tell you how much I’m reveling in it. I just adore Emily Brontë’s beautiful use of language and especially the use of the Yorkshire moors as a strong motif for the relationship between Cathy and Heathcliff and as its coming up to what would be Brontë’s 196th birthday I thought there would be no better subject for today’s post (I’ve been so rubbish at the whole daily thing recently…but once school’s over I’ll get back to it properly). I came across this poem by Hughes and really loved the way that he intertwines Brontë herself with the setting of the moors that she loved so dearly.

Hughes really treats Brontë and the moors as two interacting characters, personifying the moors – quite violently – with ‘the stream she loved too well / that bit her breast’ which perhaps gives the impression that Hughes recognizes the dangers in becoming too consumed by one’s environment. ‘The wind…was her darling’, but this wind is personified through the use of the personal pronoun ‘his’, and Hughes depicts this male wind as ‘fierce’ and surrounding the female Brontë, and along with the stream that bites her breast, we feel a sense of attack and threat against femininity. She loved this stream ‘too well’, perhaps ‘too well’ for her own good. Her sister Charlotte once said “My sister Emily loved the moors . . . They were more to her than a mere spectacle; they were what she lived in and by, as much as the wild birds; their tenants, or the heather, their produce . . . She found in the bleak solitude many and dear delights . . .” Emily lived in the moors in the same way that the wild birds did and even the heather. She was at one with that place and chose it as the place for her to ‘lay on her love-sick bed’ and immerse herself in Cathy and Heathcliff’s romance, with ‘stone swelled under her heart.’

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Her Kind by Anne Sexton

I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.
A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
I have been her kind.

 

I have found the warm caves in the woods,
filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,
closets, silks, innumerable goods;
fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:
whining, rearranging the disaligned.
A woman like that is misunderstood.
I have been her kind.

 

I have ridden in your cart, driver,
waved my nude arms at villages going by,
learning the last bright routes, survivor
where your flames still bite my thigh
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
A woman like that is not ashamed to die.
I have been her kind.

 

© Anne Sexton. All Rights Reserved.

 

When you think about feminist poets, I think I’d likely be correct in assuming that Ms Sexton would be right up there; and Her Kind tackles the very thing that I find the most intriguing about being a woman: our varied dimensions in not only the way in which we present ourselves, but the way in which society as a whole and the media portray us. As Sexton’s is one of the great confessional poets, we can assume that this poem explores her own very personal experiences of womanhood which gives the poem a relatable and intimate tone, especially for female readers. Her Kind compromises of three stanzas, each one examining a different facet of womanhood and Sexton’s personal growth and experiences of these stages.

To me, the first stanza could portray the ‘possessed witch’ that a woman can become in times of heartache and jealously with the word ‘possessed’ suggesting that the woman is not in control of her actions in this state. Sexton depicts this kind of woman as ‘haunting the black air’ and ‘dreaming evil’, crafting sinister images through ‘black’ and ‘evil’ connotations. Perhaps she is characterizing the ways in which this kind of woman deals with hurtful emotions through becoming vengeful and bitter, typifying characteristics one would associate with a scheming witch. Alternatively, of course the stanza also seems to acknowledge a more taboo facet of womanhood in their times of promiscuity. This is suggested through the alternative interpretation of the woman who has ‘gone out, a possessed witch’ and being ‘braver at night.’ The connotations of being braver at night could suggest the woman’s new-found confidence each night to go out and attract the attention of men. As it is the general view in society that promiscuity is a negative trait, Sexton’s metaphorical depiction of this side of womanhood as a witch seems well-fitting as both a critique of ‘a woman like that [who] is not a woman’ as she exploits her sexuality to satisfy her own ego and also of society as a whole in its harsh judgement of female promiscuity which is suggested through Sexton’s hyperbolic imagery.

The second stanza explores the nurturing mother that can come out of womanhood, and the language reflects this. Sexton switches up the tone at this point – in her way – replacing the haunting imagery of the first stanza with the chaotic but comforting images of domesticity, depicting ‘warm caves’ and describing ‘skillets’ as a part of ‘innumerable goods.’ This suggests a positive view of motherhood, but also displays how it can overwhelm women and consume them into becoming solely that kind of woman; a mother only and nothing else. The speaker tells us that she’s ‘fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves’, depicting the typical scene of a mother cooking for her children, but perceiving those children as ‘worms’ and ‘elves.’ Worms epitomize the dirt that the children playing, their connotations also possibly suggest that these children have wormed their way into the mother and have completely taken over her life. The more complex metaphorical image of these children is in Sexton’s depiction of them as ‘elves’, the mythical creatures possessing magical qualities. This seems to counter-balance likening the children to worms, recognizing that although having children means having to sacrifice other elements of yourself and become ‘misunderstood’, you can be rewarded in seeing your children grow, an experience that many parents describe as being magical.

The final stanza of Her Kind is in some ways tragic if you read it in context. Anne Sexton died from suicide in 1974 after suffering from severe depression for many years and even resulted in her hospitalization in 1955. The final stanza portrays a woman who has ‘ridden in your cart, driver’, possibly suggesting that she herself – who is not driving – is not in control of what is happening around her and has succumbed to madness and waving her ‘nude arms at villagers going by.’ ‘Nude’ suggests both vulnerability but also liberation, this woman – Sexton herself – is tired of concealing her true kind. To her, it seems as though life itself is painful to endure as ‘flames still bite [her] thigh / and [her] ribs crack where your wheels wind.’ To me, it seems as though this presence that she is addressing as ‘you’ is life as a personified character, life is her driver who takes her where it wants her to go in fate and the speaker completely scorns this path. She needs to acquire her own fate, and mold it herself; she has ridden in the cart, but now she is ready to leap out of it, she is ‘not ashamed to die’ and is ready to shed the persona she has had to parade for so long.

Anne Sexton (1928-1974)

Anne Sexton (1928-1974)

 

Then Wear the Gold Hat by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Then wear the gold hat, if that will move her;
If you can bounce high, bounce for her too,
Till she cry “Lover, gold-hatted, high-bouncing lover,
I must have you!”

©F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby 1922. All Rights Reserved

In some ways this isn’t a poem as such and is more often considered to be epigraph, and serves as the opening to Fitzgerald’s 1922 novella: The Great Gatsby. I’ve always read it as a straight poem with a traditional but loose adoption of the ABAB rhyme scheme, but in considering it as an epigraph intending to foreshadow the central theme of the novella, Then Wear the Gold Hat portrays this beautifully. Although ostensibly written by another ‘author’ – Thomas Parke D’Invilliers – those of us who are familiar with Fitzgerald’s work will know that D’Invilliers is actually a fictional character in his first published work entitled This Side of Paradise; a quasi-autobiographical novel in which D’Invilliers served as the characterization of one of Fitzgerald’s closest friends and poet;John Peale Bishop.

Although this is not intended as an analysis of The Great Gatsby, it is important for us to understand the foundations of the story in order to fully appreciate this poem/epigraph as a part of the story. So, James Gatz, a poor young man falls in love with the beautiful and wealthy Daisy Fay and the two spend their youth wrapped together in love. After returning from war, and realizing that Daisy has married Tom Buchanan, who is cushioned with an extensive inheritance, Gatz molds himself into the suave and wealthy Jay Gatsby, formulating his wealth through illegal bootlegging. After reuniting through Daisy’s cousin Nick Carraway (our story’s protagonist) Gatsby’s obsession with the girl he loves is reignited to extraordinary lengths and continues his facade of glitz and glamour in an attempt to win Daisy; a women who can only be wooed with the prospect of money and status.Now it’s not too difficult to see why the epigraph relates to the novella itself, but it is interesting to unpick the true connotations behind ‘D’Invilliers’ words.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan as Gatsby and Daisy in the 2013 adaptation of Fitzgerald's novella.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan as Gatsby and Daisy in the 2013 adaptation of Fitzgerald’s novella.

The image that Fitzgerald crafts for us of a ‘gold-hatted, high-bouncing lover’, seems to be a somewhat absurd and silly mental image. To me, it seems to connote the absurdity of Gatsby’s obsession and mission throughout not just the course of the novella but his entire life. He is completely and utterly absorbed in reinventing himself as the wealthy and well stationed man who Daisy is attracted to, and in portraying his mission as wearing a gold hat to impress the one he loves, Fitzgerald suggests that this dream is futile and will amount to nothing.

The final thing to note is to really consider Fitzgerald’s adoption of a pseudonym. This in itself foreshadows Gatz’s own veil of pretense throughout the novella, re-branding himself as the flamboyant and fantastically Gatsby and pretending to be something that he is not in order to win Daisy. Fitzgerald is ultimately exemplifying one of the most prominent themes in his novella; the obsession with status and its effect upon romance. In reinventing an ostensibly bland family name like Fitzgerald and replacing it with an ostentatious name – D’Invilliers – suggests status and wealth, and this is precisely the practice taken up by the novella’s eponymous protagonist. The fact that this practice ultimately – yet indirectly – results in Gatsby’s demise gives the epigraph a rather sinister undertone when re-read after finishing the novella, but does reveal the dangers of abandoning one’s identity and posing as something you are not.

 

F Scott Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)