Bleeding Heart by Carmen Giménez Smith transforms emotional pain into something that fills the poem, a physical bleeding spreading through the verse. Smith uses her own emotional state and transforms it into something palpable. From large acts of murder within war zone situations, right down to unfair ‘zoning decisions’, Smith shows her support through the metaphorical bleeding.
The poem begins with the symbol of the Bleeding Heart, the poet’s heart spilling blood constantly. She then proceeds to explore the impacts of the constant metaphorical bleeding. It fills her body up, choking the poet as it does. The emotional weight of the things she has experienced and seen as transformed into metaphorical bleeding. First, ‘because of a city in ruins’, causes her heart to bleed. The poet then moves on to a ‘baby bear not finding mama bear’, instances in nature which upset her. Smith further moves through images, ‘cancer eyes’, ‘IED-blown/leg’, revolution on the ‘steps of city hall’. She is exploring circumstances that make her emotional, showing her support through her metaphorical ‘bleeding’ in response to these events. One thing the events have in common is a sense of loss, the people impacted often separated or displaced from their natural circumstances.
You can read the full poem here.
Bleeding Heart by Carmen Giménez Smith is written as one stanza of 22 lines. The lack of stanza division and flowing form of the poem suggests the use of free verse. In employing this structural device, Smith allows for her poetry to flow naturally, unimpeded by constraints of more formal structures. This reflects her emotional response to these ideas, the flowing movement of her poetry mirroring the emotional reaction.
The free-flowing structure could also represent the movement of ‘Bleeding’ within the poem, the constant flowing of poetry being emblematic of the poet’s Bleeding Heart.
The first technique that comes to mind when reading this poem is the use of extended metaphor. Throughout the poem, Smith is using the idea of a Bleeding Heart to represent her emotional reaction to these upsetting events. The association of heart links to compassion, the poet suggesting her support and sympathy for the situations discussed. Initially, the use of ‘bleeding’ seems to reflect the flowing emotions of the poet. Yet, it could also be argued that in linking to blood, Smith is connecting with events in which blood is quite literally spilled, those such as war featuring prominently within the poem.
Another technique that is used within the poem is polysyndeton. In places such as ‘righteous and terrible and red’, the use of polysyndeton, the use of multiple connectives, allows for the idea that whatever she is describing has a sense of urgency to it. Instead of simply depicting the ‘bleeding’ as ‘righteous, terrible, and red’, the triple use of the connective and emphasizes each one of the words in turn, furthering the impact they have individually. As they are more impactful on an individual scale, they become further moving as a cohesive whole, the emphasis on the sentence being a powerful rhetorical device.
Bleeding Heart Analysis
My heart is bleeding. It bleeds upward and fills
Sometimes my heart bleeds so much I am a raisin.
The opening line of Bleeding Heart instantly reiterates the title, ‘My heart is bleeding’, followed by a caesura, creating a create statement. The poet draws attention to this powerful moment, the clarity of this initial sentence within the first line furthering the suggestion of the title.
Smith allows this by explaining what her heart ‘bleeding’ does to her, depicting her mouth being filled ‘up with salt’. This image of the blood rising through her body, eventually into her mouth, leaving a horrid ‘salt’ sediment is unsettling, creating a disgusting physical presentation of emotional anguish. There is a sense of suffocation, the imagery being used to disturb. The use of enjambment across this first line, into the second, reflects the ‘fill[ing] up’ of the body, the metrical rhythm flowing across the lines as the blood fills Smith’s mouth.
Within the first two lines, three variations of ‘Bleeding’ are repeated, ‘it bleeds’ being echoed twice. The constant repetition of the word creates a sense of inescapability. Wherever Smith goes, she always sees something that evokes an emotional response – here depicted as a metaphysical response.
What pains her is within the destruction of ‘a city’, or a ‘sister’s body’, the poet understands that it will be ‘irreproducible’. The pure individuality of human life, and what those lines create, is something that can never be recovered from ‘ruins’. The depressing certainty fills the poem, the ‘bleeding’ being a physical representation of her mental anguish.
It bleeds until I am a quivering ragged clot, bleeds at the ending(…)any circumstance. Because it is mine, it will always bleed.
The use of polysyndeton after ‘I am bleeding/ for you and for me and for the tiny babies and the IED-blown/leg’ creates a sense that the poet is being overwhelmed by the horrors of the world. The consecutive building of ‘and’ one after another seem linguistically swamp the poet, her poetry being suffocated by the polysyndetic chime. Each of these images haunts Smith, being collocated together within the uninterrupted line. Indeed, when using polysyndeton, there is a lack of comma, suggesting there is also no metrical interruption, the words of Bleeding Heart flowing quickly and allowing the horrific images to overwhelm Smith.
The sense that Smith’s grief has filled her to the brim is again depicted through the idea of ‘I choke on it’, her ability to breathe and survive being impeded by the constant ‘Bleeding’. The emotional unrest she feels is being transformed into a physical sensation, strangling the life from her body.
My heart bled today. It bled onto the streets
or kissing, and because it is righteous and terrible and red.
This is not an infrequent occurrence, the poet ‘bleeds’ all the time. Indeed, ‘it bled today’, daily acts of human ignorance and barbarity weaving their way into the very fabric of society.
Smith conflates the notion of ‘bleeding’ with ‘breathing’, the ‘bleeding in and out’ suggesting that the weight of emotional response is one that everyone should be feeling. Seeing the horrors of the world, how can one not feel angry and upset. Smith suggests that to be alive, especially with all of the horrors going on in our modern world, how can you not be ‘bleeding’ all the time. The world is ‘righteous and terrible and red’, human grief being exuded through the powerfully imagistic poem.