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“i carry your heart with me” is a love sonnet. That the poem is about love will be immediately evident to every reader. That the poem is specifically a love sonnet may initially escape notice, particularly given how the poet experiments with meter and rhyme. Even so, Cummings does approximate the structure, meter, and rhyme of the sonnet form. This fact situates “i carry your heart with me” in a tradition of love sonnets that reaches back to fourteenth-century Italy. Numerous poets of the Italian Renaissance helped establish the sonnet as a respectable form. However, this form was perfected by a poet we know as Petrarch, who composed many sonnets to express his love for a woman named Laura. Petrarch’s sonnets proved widely influential, particularly in England. There, another master of the form arose at the end of the sixteenth century: William Shakespeare, whose sonnets are characterized by their complexity, as well as by the mystery surrounding the figures addressed in his poems. Each in their own way, Petrarch and Shakespeare elevated the status of the love sonnet and inspired countless other poets over the centuries. Despite his idiosyncratic take on the form, Cummings belongs to this esteemed lineage.
E. E. Cummings is a unique figure in the history of modernist avant-garde poetry. The term “modernist avant-garde” encompasses a broad range of innovative approaches to verse from the early twentieth century. The American poet Ezra Pound helped inspire the avant-garde spirit of innovation with his famous mantra: “Make it new!” Cummings certainly embodies this spirit of newness. Indeed, the first time a reader looks at a poem by Cummings, they can immediately sense its experimental nature. Cummings often played with how his poems were laid out on the page, and he experimented with spacing in subtler ways as well. We can see these aspects of his experimentation in “i carry your heart with me.” Most obviously, he collapses the spaces before and after punctuation, which produces a certain density and urgency in the language, as seen in the third line: “i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done.” Yet despite Cummings’s experimentation, he nonetheless pursued subjects his contemporaries deemed unfashionable. While his peers were writing about the fragmentation and disenchantment of modern life, Cummings persisted in writing about romantic love and spirituality. “i carry your heart with me” is thus both quintessentially modernist and deeply conventional.