“i carry your heart with me (i carry it in”: a poem about empathy?

Caveat: While I do love to read poetry and endeavour to write some now and again, save for a sprinkle of undergrad English, I have not studied it thoroughly and have no expertise on the matter.

The notion of empathy has been in the air for me lately. From attending a guest presentation by The Empathy Factory to having an employer actively working towards international recognition as a “Compassionate University,” it just seems like a word I’m hearing more than ever before–and significantly so.

I’ve been thinking carefully about what it means to be empathic and, to be perfectly honest, have been struggling to relate. I’m generally more the type of person inclined to offer a cup of tea or a potential solution to a friend’s dilemma, rather than just the listening ear that he or she might need. The more time I spend thinking about this concept–this seemingly immeasurable, Herculean-in-size concept–the further away from it I feel.

I understand its importance. I know that it’s a genuine emotional response in which an individual puts herself in the shoes of another so that she can truly identify with the experience in question. In theory, I think I get it. My own struggle arises when it comes to putting empathy into practice. Unlike sympathy, I just don’t know what empathy is “supposed” to look and feel like within myself and thus, am unable to know if I’m demonstrating it or not.

Then, I had an epiphany.

When I was out for a walk this afternoon, sighing at the icy grey sky and wishing for the greenness of spring, I recalled a poem: “i carry your heart with me(i carry it in” by E. E. Cummings. I thought about the first few lines:

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
 At first glance, I’d easily categorize this as a poem about an all-encompassing love. In fact, for many years I’ve read these words and wistfully dwelled on the romance behind each line. I thought the poem was about two loves being so intertwined that their spirits are forever aligned and actions inseparable. My partner and I had done two years of long-distance at the beginning of our relationship and then another few months of (even longer) distance a year or so later. The poem, for me, was about togetherness. CHEESE WARNING: I even used the line in an engagement photo.
Photo credit: Tammi Hayne Photography
Photo credit: Tammi Hayne Photography

It resonates with me now in an entirely different way. Certainly, it’s still a love poem; but beyond the surface of love, I think Cummings speaks to the ability of partners to empathize with one another. This is my thought: If empathy requires us to put ourselves on the same emotional level as another to be able to relate to them, then figuratively holding the heart of another within your own heart is surely the deepest way two beings might connect in a shared experience. Even if two are physically apart, the perceived linking of their hearts indicates a mutual ongoing connection.

(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)

We are the same. I’ve been there.

and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
You are important to me. What you do and say matters.
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
I hear you. I’m here for you. (Empathy.)
SPACE
SPACE
SPACE

Then again, what do I know? 🙂

Fans of the poem, feel free to print off the PDF of the image below. Enjoy!

i carry your heart(i carry it in

“[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]” from Complete Poems: 1904-1962 by E. E. Cummings. Source: Poetry (June 1952). Accessed at http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poem/179622

Krista

6 thoughts on ““i carry your heart with me (i carry it in”: a poem about empathy?

  1. Beautiful post, Krista. A lot to think about here!!

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  2. I really liked this post Krista! Such an interesting topic. I’ve been thinking about how I’ve been doing that with mama friends. Always telling them my experience, trying to relate, instead of just listening to them. Sometimes it feels like that’s not enough and they’re looking for advice so I just keep blabbing regardless.

    • Thanks, Steph. I totally know what you’re saying. I’m CONSTANTLY trying to offer advice and solutions thinking that it’s the best way to help…but apparently sometimes people just need to vocalize their issues and aren’t necessarily looking for you to “help” them. I’m not very good at recognizing when it’s one or the other. YET.

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