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Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
The speaker of “i carry your heart with me” opens and closes the poem with references to the heart, which symbolizes romantic love. The heart is so conventional a symbol for romantic love that it’s basically a cliché. Yet Cummings introduces a subtle twist on this otherwise highly conventional symbolism. This twist is apparent in the phrase that gives the poem it’s title. To a native English speaker, there’s something unusual about the phrase, “i carry your heart with me.” In idiomatic English, it’s more common to say, “I carry you in my heart.” When one person carries another in their heart, it means they keep the thought of their beloved close so they can cherish them, even when apart. But the speaker revises the idiom: “i carry your heart with me(i carry it in / my heart)” (lines 1–2). Intriguingly, the parenthetical part of this statement sounds more idiomatic. Yet when we consider both parts of this statement together, we arrive at a striking image in which the speaker carries their beloved’s heart in their own heart. Though verging on cliché, the speaker’s idiosyncratic phrasing yields a unique image that suggests romantic intimacy as well as spiritual unity.
In the poem’s final section, lines 10–14, the speaker draws on images of the natural environment to symbolize the vitality their love. The references to the natural environment all appear within a long parenthetical digression that functions to explain what the speaker means by “the deepest secret nobody knows”:
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart
The speaker implies that there’s a secret “that’s keeping the stars apart,” and this secret lies deep within the natural world. At first glance, formulations like “the root of the root” may seem meaninglessly repetitive. However, these repetitive formulations express the speaker’s desire to get beyond mere appearances and strike to the very heart of things. Thus, the speaker wishes to talk not about a root, but about what it is that makes a root a root. Hence, “the root of the root.” Similarly, the speaker isn’t referring to ordinary buds or the sky we look at every day. Rather, they’re referencing the essence of the bud, the essence of the sky. Through these symbolic essences, the speaker gestures at a more fundamental mode of living that’s made possible through devotion to their beloved. This deeper mode of living is symbolized by the “tree of life;which grows / higher than soul can hope or mind can hide.”