The Woman who could not live with her faulty heart

August 16, 2006 at 11:06 pm 10 comments

Margaret Atwood


I do not mean the symbol
of love, a candy shape
to decorate cakes with,
the heart that is supposed
to belong or break;

I mean this lump of muscle
that contracts like a flayed biceps,
purple-blue, with its skin of suet,
its skin of gristle, this isolate,
this caved hermit, unshelled
turtle, this one lungful of blood,
no happy plateful.

All hearts float in their own
deep oceans of no light,
wetblack and glimmering,
their four mouths gulping like fish.
Hearts are said to pound:
this is to be expected, the heart’s
regular struggle against being drowned.

But most hearts say, I want, I want,
I want, I want. My heart
is more duplicitious,
though no twin as I once thought.
It says, I want, I don’t want, I
want, and then a pause.
It forces me to listen,

and at night it is the infra-red
third eye that remains open
while the other two are sleeping
but refuses to say what it has seen.

It is a constant pestering
in my ears, a caught moth, limping drum,
a child’s fist beating
itself against the bedsprings:
I want, I don’t want.
How can one live with such a heart?

Long ago I gave up singing
to it, it will never be satisfied or lulled.
One night I will say to it:
Heart, be still,
and it will.

More Atwood. This one taken from her 1978 collection, Two-Headed Poems.

I’m not that fond of the beginning of this poem, but after the first couple of stanzas, it really takes off. I love the way Atwood captures the faulty rhythm of the woman’s heart in words, and the sudden burst of metaphors in the penultimate stanza (“a caught moth, limping drum. / a child’s fist beating / itself against the bedsprings”).

The poem is also a good illustration of something I alluded to in my last post – Atwood’s talent for myth-making. The Woman with the Faulty Heart is one of those memorable characters who, once you have read about them, will never leave you. You can imagine a whole story about her, perhaps even an entire novel. And it’s Atwood’s ability to conjure up that world of possibilities, the tantalising promise of all the stories that must lie behind this woman, that makes this such a powerful poem.


Entry filed under: English, Falstaff, Margaret Atwood, Prose Writers.

I Know the Place Buried 2. Part iv

10 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Dani  |  November 22, 2006 at 3:33 am

    I think this poem is briliiant. Only recently have I started studying Atwood’s poetry and already I am fully intrigued by her diction. I think this poem is exceptional because Atwood trys to distract us from the superficial connotation of the heart and still as almost inevitable that she returns to that “symbol of love”. The dichotomy in this poem is particularly interesting. Many people think Atwood is crazy and sick…I think she’s realistic.

  • 2. Shanice  |  February 24, 2008 at 1:54 pm

    this poem along with its twin, have changed my life and way of thinking…

  • 3. Deborah Faust  |  September 9, 2010 at 5:23 am


  • 4. Erica Richards  |  January 19, 2011 at 5:56 pm

    This is one of margaret’s better poems.The other are to graphic for public reading,especially,A women’s issue.

  • 5. Erica Richards  |  January 19, 2011 at 5:59 pm

    The poem one A womens issue made me sick to my guts and almost vomitted in class.This poem is to raw for me.

  • 6. Here, Bullet – Fiat Camena  |  July 25, 2011 at 2:34 am

    […] really grabbed me. It made me think of a couple of other poems I love – Naming of Parts, and The Woman Who Could Not Live With Her Faulty Heart. Brian Turner follows in the fine steps of war poets Wilfred Owen, Rupert Brooke and Edward Thomas. […]

  • 7. For Wanting. | .  |  January 31, 2012 at 9:43 pm

    […] Auden; Atwood) Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  • 8. livy16  |  March 5, 2012 at 11:31 pm

    A woman’s issue may be graphic, but it is reality.

  • 9. Joe Kim  |  March 7, 2012 at 10:27 pm

    I really love this poem because it tells us about her lesbian story. She was in love with another woman and her heart is broken because she left her. I am lesbian and my heart is also broken and that is why I really like this poem.

  • 10. Anonymous  |  March 8, 2012 at 4:18 am

    This poem is about a woman who has a faulty heart. Especially if you are doing a poetry journal about this poem you should get off the web and do your own work. BTW the above comment us correct :D


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