Wise Poets – Hayden Carruth – An Apology for Using the Word ‘Heart’ in Too Many Poems

Hayden Carruth (August 3, 1921 – September 29, 2008)

What does it mean? Lord knows; least of all I.
        Faced with it, schoolboys are shy,
And grown-ups speak it at moments of excess
        Which later seem more or less
Unfeasible. It is equivocal, sentimental,
        Debatable, really a sort of lentil—
Neither pea nor bean. Sometimes it’s a muscle,
        Sometimes courage or at least hustle,
Sometimes a core or center, but mostly it’s
        A sound that slushily fits
The meters of popular songwriters without
        Meaning anything. It is stout,
Leonine, chicken, great, hot, warm, cold,
        Broken, whole, tender, bold,
Stony, soft, green, blue, red, white,
        Faint, true, heavy, light,
Open, down, shallow, etc. No wonder
        Our superiors thunder
Against it. And yet in spite of a million abuses
        The word survives; its uses
Are such that it remains virtually indispensable
        And, I think, defensible.
The Freudian terminology is awkward or worse,
        And suggests so many perverse
Etiologies that it is useless; but “heart” covers
        The whole business, lovers
To monks, i.e., the capacity to love in the fullest
        Sense. Not even the dullest
Reader misapprehends it, although locating
        It is a matter awaiting
Someone more ingenious than I. But given
        This definition, driven
Though it is out of a poet’s necessity, isn’t
        The word needed at present
As much as ever, if it is well written and said,
        With the heart and the head?

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