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Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
A central motif throughout “i carry your heart with me” is the dynamic contrast between proximity and distance. The poem’s exploration of proximity is perhaps easiest to discern in the speaker’s idiosyncratic choice to collapse the spaces before and after punctuation. As an example, consider lines 3 and 4:
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling
In ordinary usage, punctuation functions to create meaningful separation between syntactic units like clauses and sentences. As the lines quoted above show, syntactic separation still occurs in the poem, since the speaker doesn’t get rid of punctuation altogether. However, the speaker counterbalances the separation of syntactic units with the collapse of the spaces between words. The contrast between proximity and distance that plays out in the use of punctuation also appears in the poem’s imagery. In the poem’s opening lines, the speaker gestures to a powerful sense of intimacy: “i carry your heart with me(i carry it in / my heart)” (lines 1–2). The slightly unusual image of one heart carrying another implies a radical kind of intimacy. Yet, paradoxically, this radical intimacy also seems to hold the “deepest secret nobody knows” (line 10), which, as the speaker tells us, is also a cosmic force “that's keeping the stars apart” (line 14).
Throughout the poem, the speaker makes numerous references to celestial bodies, including the sun, the moon, and stars. The speaker uses these references to suggest that their beloved embodies a mystery that is cosmic in nature. In the poem’s middle section, the speaker explicitly contrasts the ordinary world of earth with the extraordinary bodies of the sun and the moon:
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
Here (lines 6–9), the speaker seems to renounce the ordinary world in favor of a cosmic realm that’s under the sway of lunar and solar influence. The speaker associates both the moon and the sun with a kind of mystery. This is what they mean when they refer to “whatever a moon has always meant / and whatever a sun will always sing.” Although the meaning of the moon and the song of the sun remain enigmatic, the speaker clearly associates their mystery with their beloved: “you.” The speaker continues to associate their beloved with cosmic mystery in the poem’s final sestet. There, they describe “the deepest secret nobody knows” (line 10), which produces the “wonder that’s keeping the stars apart” (line 14). Once again, the speaker’s beloved embodies a cosmic mystery that’s beyond direct knowledge, but which powerfully attracts the speaker.