“Know, Heart” by Elisabeth Murawski

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[From the WVFC Poetry Archive. First Published August 23, 2020.]

 

Know, Coronary heart

The top is aware of
the kid who grew inside her

isn’t any extra. Between
head and coronary heart

a tundra lies,
windswept and chilly,

to be crossed on foot
with out boots

or overcoat. The center
winds itself

spherical and spherical
with silk thread,

tight sufficient
to carry all the pieces

breaking. The top
consoles: in time

the miles to go
will develop shorter.

Muffled in silk, cocooned,
the center can’t see

the homes have lights on,
can solely attain again

like a blind individual
to the best way issues have been.

 

First printed in Cumberland River Overview and reprinted right here with permission of the creator. 

Take heed to the creator studying her poem here

 

Elisabeth Murawski is the creator of Heiress, which obtained the Poetry Society of Virginia Award; Zorba’s Daughter, which gained the Might Swenson Poetry Award; Moon and Mercury, which gained the Washington Writers’ Publishing Home competitors; and two chapbooks: Troubled by an Angel and Out-patients. Practically 300 of her poems have been printed in journals or on-line. Murawski has gained The Ledbury Poetry Competition Poetry Competitors (2019), the Gabriela Mistral Poetry Prize (2016), the College of Canberra’s Worldwide Poetry Prize (2015), the Mudfish 11 Prize (2011), the Phyllis Good-Younger Prize (2011), Shenandoah’s Graybeal-Gowen Prize (2011), and the Ann Stanford Poetry Prize (2006). Born and raised in Chicago, Murawski is a DePaul College alumna who earned an MFA in inventive writing from George Mason College. She has obtained grants from the Helene Wurlitzer Basis, the Vermont Studio Middle, a residency from the Achill Heinrich Böll Affiliation, and a Hawthornden Fellowship. Employed for twenty-eight years as a coaching specialist for the U.S. Census Bureau earlier than retiring in 2005, she has performed poetry workshops as an adjunct professor on the College of Virginia and Johns Hopkins College. Murawski presently resides in Alexandria, Virginia. Creator photograph credit score: Janette Ogle.

 

Heiress is accessible here, and Zorba’s Daughter is accessible here

You possibly can hearken to Murawski studying different poems here (“The Day Pablo Neruda Met my Mom”) and here (“Blows” and “For Alun Lewis”). 

 

Poet’s Word

That is considered one of many poems I’ve written within the seven years because the demise of my son Alex. Writing about him and the loss, the seemingly bottomless grief, has been my technique to cope. 

 

Commentary by Rebecca Foust, Poetry Editor

The format of “Know, Coronary heart” is easy and deceptively spare: 24 very brief traces organized into couplets with no finish rhyme or common meter. Most traces have two stresses, as within the first (“The head is aware of”) and final (“to the means issues have been”), however what retains me from calling it dimeter is the presence of different traces (for instance, “the little one who grew inaspect her,” line 2) that lay stress on three syllables. Principally, the meter feels iambic, following a sample of unstress/stress as within the traces quoted above. Different traces, reminiscent of 13 (“tight sufficient”), 15 (“breaking. The top”), and 19 (“Muffled in silk, cocooned”) invert the stress sample within the first foot, creating the texture of a trochaic line. Meter is probably not common, however it’s current sufficient to create the sense of a two-beat pulse working by means of the poem, one thing that mimics a human heartbeat in its regular (iambic) rhythm in addition to in its irregular, disturbed (trochaic) arrhythmia. 

“Know, Coronary heart” eschews finish rhyme, however that doesn’t imply it lacks music. Musicality is often a consequence of patterned sound repetitions, however these can take different kinds moreover the tip rhyme we affiliate with songs and nursery rhymes. In “Know, Coronary heart,” sound repetitions happen as very refined inside rhyme throughout (versus inside) traces and in addition as consonance or repetition of preliminary consonant sounds. Inner rhyme primarily happens as variants on phrases that rhyme or close to rhyme with “coronary heart”—“foot,” “boots,” “overcoat,” “shorter,” and “lights” are examples. Uncommon consonance is seen in “head and heart” (line 4), “round and round” (line 11), and “house have” (line 21). One other sort of repetition, one that will register extra on the degree of the physique than by means of precise listening to, is the rhythm created by the poem’s two-line (couplet) stanza construction and use of parallel development in its syntax. We could not consciously hear these patterns, and so they could also be fleeting, however we however register them at some degree in our our bodies.

The primary figurative machine at work in at this time’s poem is imagery—imagery of a specific variety referred to as “synecdoche.” Synecdoche is outlined as “a determine of speech wherein an element is used for the entire or the entire for an element, the particular for the final or the final for the particular, as in ten sail for ten ships or a Croesus for a wealthy man. (Supply here) In my go-to examples, the phrase “deck hand” makes use of one a part of the physique (the hand) to face in for the entire “individual” of a sailor, and Recreation of Thrones followers will recall how the person closest to the ruling monarch was dubbed “the King’s Hand.” A associated machine, metonymy, makes use of associated to a time period associated to one thing else (versus part of it) to face in for an idea, as in once we use “the White Home” to imply our authorities’s govt department or “the Crown” to designate a monarchy. 

The imagery right here all pertains to the speaker’s physique, particularly to her “head” and “coronary heart,” which one other set of images transforms into components of a panorama the speaker is trudging throughout. In addition to being examples of synecdoche that use “head” and “coronary heart” to face for extra summary ideas like purpose and emotion, these phrases additionally belong to a different particular class of picture referred to as “symbols”—phrases which have acquired a secondary which means, and in a really widespread means, by means of drive of utilization over time. Thus, anytime we see the phrase “coronary heart,” we routinely affiliate it with love and human emotion simply as we are inclined to hyperlink “head” with thought, purpose, and different issues that may typically appear to be the center’s antithesis. Symbols are like apps—they provide us a shortcut to deeper, extra complicated ideas and are a fast and efficient means for a poet to evoke a response.

Till they don’t, which is what occurs when an emblem will get overused and loses its energy by changing into a cliché. Bear in mind, although, that clichés solely turn out to be clichés when a specific development of language is within the first occasion so good, so very apt, that it attains widespread utilization. In at this time’s parlance, it turns into a meme. Consider the phrase “proper as rain.” We hear it on a regular basis with out actually listening to it or considering, actually, about rain. However there was one thing about it as first uttered—some mixture of sounds, the sensation it evokes—that gave it extraordinary efficiency, a lot so that everybody began saying it. To categorically keep away from all clichés in writing is to disclaim your self a supply of nice energy: phrases and phrases hanging sufficient to make themselves felt in language as an entire. The very best writers harness that energy through the use of clichés consciously in ways in which refresh them and get better a number of the drive that characterised the unique utterance. 

There are a lot of methods to do that. One is to out-and-out acknowledge that you recognize you might be utilizing a cliché, maybe with irony. One other is to show the cliché in some way in a means that makes it new whereas nonetheless recalling the ability of the unique utterance. The phrase “social distancing” has turn out to be fairly rote in at this time’s discourse, however after I just lately noticed its phrases reversed someplace as “distant socializing,” that caught my eye and made me return to recall the unique time period and take into consideration its which means and derivation as a substitute of simply skating previous it. 

College students of poetry are accustomed to the admonition to keep away from massive, summary, and infrequently overused phrases like “coronary heart,” so typically seen in poems that it has turn out to be a trope and dreaded cliché (suppose Hallmark playing cards). So, it particularly delights me after I see a poem like at this time’s that will get away with utilizing it. Why does “coronary heart” work right here?

It really works primarily due to the author’s super restraint. It’s troublesome to think about a poetic topic extra evocative of pathos than a beloved little one who has died, and but Murawski manages to speak the depth of that loss with out sentimentality or grievance. The primary approach is distance—the speaker stands at a take away, as standpoint is goal third individual with nary an “I” within the poem. Melodramatic diction is scrupulously averted. As an alternative, the speaker appears at her head and coronary heart nearly actually, not simply as physique components but in addition as locations in a panorama the speaker should cross. 

In addition to being an important technique for conserving readers within the poem, this machine enacts what the poem is speaking about when it describes a coronary heart unable to really feel issues because it used to really feel them. The poem is gloomy as a result of its topic is gloomy, however the speaker is markedly dispassionate in her recounting of it, in her tone. This sort of take away is critical for writers to have the ability to make artwork from painful private occasions. In addition to simply enabling the poem to be written, it additionally enhances the expertise of studying it—readers can enter the poem by levels with out feeling manipulated or overwhelmed, after which might be led to an expertise that can remind or educate them one thing about human grief. 

Another excuse Murawski will get away with utilizing these coronary heart and head photos is that she does one thing uncommon with them. As an alternative of what we’d count on to learn in a poem of bereavement—my aching coronary heart or my heart-and-head-at-war, for instance—she presents the center and head as literal physique components after which goes additional with what feels nearly like an inversion of personification. Personification ascribes human attributes to nonhuman creatures and issues. Right here, one thing human—a head and a coronary heart—turns into one thing not-human—a bodily vacation spot in a panorama made bleak by loss. That panorama, furthermore, is the map of the speaker’s religious state and struggling. The outcome provides us a brand new technique to entry the speaker’s ache, which feels contemporary in the best way grief all the time feels contemporary.

So, the top “is aware of” that the speaker’s little one has died, and the center, positioned at a bodily take away (from throughout a frozen tundra), is aware of one thing else completely. In a picture I can’t cease desirous about, the speaker’s coronary heart is constricted, wound too tightly with silk thread to really feel or correctly perform; it’s “muffled” and sure. Anybody accustomed to deep grief will perceive this picture and feeling, maybe what Emily Dickinson was speaking about in “After nice ache, a proper feeling comes.”

I take it that silk represents the accrued expertise of struggling, and what it holds in its tightly cinched loops is one other equally devastating picture. In a means that brilliantly employs its line break, the silk holds “all the pieces / breaking.” These layers of silk thread bind the items of a life shattered by the lack of a beloved little one. The picture’s visceral high quality, what I typically name the “intestine quotient” or “really feel quotient,” is so hanging right here. Simply desirous about winding a fantastic thread round something so many instances as to choke it out provides me a sense of hysteria, a tightening in my chest that mimics precise grief. The concept of a coronary heart laboring underneath its sluggish, inexorable accretion of grief-thread feels proper and matches what I really feel after I recall my very own deepest losses. 

I discover the silk-shrouded coronary heart picture resonant for private causes as effectively. After I was within the fourth grade, my class visited the Juniata Silk Mill in Altoona, Pennsylvania, a discipline journey that ended with every pupil being given a finger-sized picket bobbin wound with shiny silk floss. You see what’s coming right here, proper? In multiple occasion, that floss ended up wound round an precise little one’s finger, which in my case turned blue. That have taught me the reducing tensile energy of silk thread, a fiber additionally used to make parachutes and sutures. “Silk” within the poem additionally jogs my memory of the spider silk now used to make sutures, violin strings and Airbus jets. So for me, the picture of a coronary heart wound spherical and spherical with silk communicates a disturbing sense of suffocation and claustrophobia.

The opposite purpose that picture compels me is usually recommended by the poem itself, which begins by positing the center as an organ “inside” the speaker’s physique the best way the kid as soon as was. That makes me consider anatomy, of how a coronary heart is actually one lengthy band of muscle folded and refolded to slot in a chest cavity; in dissection, apparently, a human coronary heart might be unrolled like a thick ribbon or wire. So, we have now the thought of the center—itself a wire—being wrapped unto mummification by one other wire (the silk thread). That sort of doubling in poetry pleases me greater than I can say.

“Know, Coronary heart” ends in a spot of utter desolation and loss, with the center so baffled by struggling that it can’t really feel something and even conceive of a future. All it may do is look blindly again into reminiscence. I see some small hope in the truth that the speaker’s head is in a position to ponder any sort of future with out the kid and has discovered a technique to consolation itself (within the information that struggling might be ended by a demise drawing ever close to). If like me, you are inclined to return to a poem’s title after you’ve completed studying the final line, you might apprehend one other glimmer of hope. That’s, the title might be learn as an injunction by the speaker telling the center to “know” what the top has found: Struggling has its inevitable finish when the physique dies, and within the meantime, some homes in life do nonetheless have their “lights on.” If the center was “de-personified” within the first few stanzas, that course of is reversed in the best way I learn the title after I’ve learn the entire poem.

These photos work on a number of ranges and evoke deeply felt connections and symbols resulting in different, typically doubled photos and meanings. For me, they lead to a picture complicated that evokes a number of emotions and associations without delay, triggering reminiscence and resonating in some primitive a part of my unconscious. I wish to name it “deep picture,” besides that could be a very particular time period of artwork which means one thing else, as utilized by Lorca and others [source here], that I hope would be the topic of a future column. In any occasion, “Know, Coronary heart” does what I need poetry to do: It makes me really feel one thing deeply and take into consideration one thing acquainted in a brand new means, and does all that with suave compression and easy, plainspoken diction that communications complicated concepts and feelings. 

 

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