Jill Alexander Essbaum

The Heart by Jill Alexander Essbaum

Jill Alexander Essbaum’s ‘The Heart’ is a short poem that dictates the intricacies of dealing with heartfelt emotions. It describes the human heart as a room with four chambers and thousands of doors.

In this short and straight-to-the-point poem ‘The Heart,’ Essbaum makes it tenfold easier for readers to connect this piece to the complicated relationships of the modern age. This poem resembles the pattern of a haiku poem. However, there is no direct seasonal reference or kigo in the text. The kireji or “cutting word” occurs in the third line of the poem, “One of them is yours.” This metaphorical poem literally deals with human emotions, memories, and feelings.

The Heart by Jill Alexander Essbaum


Jill Alexander Essbaum’s ‘The Heart’ is short and straightforward that describes the heart with “Four Simple Chambers” but with “a thousand complicated doors.”

In this poem, Essbaum expresses every relationship, memory, and emotion has a place in the heart. They are unique and complicated in their own way. It alludes to the fact that every relationship can be complicated, be it with family, friends, lovers, or colleagues. In the last line, the poet singles out one “door” from the thousand doors to express that no matter how many complicated relationships a person has in their life, there is always one person that surpasses them.

You can read the full poem here.

Detailed Analysis

Line One

Four Simple Chambers.

The first line of ‘The Heart’ refers to the structure of the human heart. A human heart has four chambers: two atria and two ventricles. In a picture, the heart’s structure may look “Simple,” but the functioning of the organ is very sophisticated. Each chamber is allocated with different work. If the cardiovascular muscle falters at any moment, our whole body comes to a standstill.

Through the first line, the poet tries to simplify things. Firstly, the “heart” she refers to is not only about the organ. It is about the emotions that originate from the heart. Biologically, the brain is responsible for controlling our emotions. In literature, the heart, being the supplier of blood to the brain, is regarded as the organ indirectly responsible for controlling our emotions.

Like the four-chambered heart, the human mind has only a few simple doors. Hence, it is easy to enter into one’s mind. However, the way out is not that simple.

Line Two

In the second line, the poet refers to the heart having a thousand complex doors because of the things it stores. Through this line, Essbaum refers to the emotions, relationships, memories, and reveries that the heart stores. The metaphor can be easily understandable if the heart is compared to the human mind. In this poem, Essbaum compares the heart/mind to a house with four simple chambers or rooms. However, each room has several doors, making it difficult for one to come out. Each door opens into another one creating confusion and chaos. Yet, there is an order in all of that. Otherwise, how can the body function properly?

Line Three

In the last line, the poet singles out one from the thousand doors. Here, the “door” represents a memory of a person the speaker loves or loved. It can be of anyone’s, good or bad, blissful or saddening. Yet, there is one particular door that is reserved for the person the speaker cares about the most. Only she has the key to open the door to look at the moments they had together. Having so many people to love and care about, one person might triumph over the others. This is exactly what the poet expresses in this poem.


‘The Heart’ is written in close resemblance with the haiku form. The text consists of a total of three lines, with the 5-8-5 syllable pattern of a haiku. Each line ends with the same rhyme – “Chambers,” “doors,” and “yours.” Regarding the meter, the overall poem is written in iambic trimeter. The first foot of the first and third line is acephalous, containing only a stressed syllable. There is only a single variation. It occurs in the second line, which contains four iambs. Besides, Essbaum writes this poem from a third-person point of view and addresses her loved one using the pronoun “you.” The tone of the poem is sincere, thoughtful, and honest.

Literary Devices

The literary devices used in Essbaum’s ‘The Heart’ include:

  • Metaphor: The poet describes emotions, relationships, feelings, memories, etc., as “A thousand complicated doors” that rest within her heart. To be specific, she compares emotions to “doors.” Literally, it refers to the valves that control the flow of blood to and from the human heart.
  • Apostrophe: In the last line, “One of them is yours,” the poet talks to someone absent from the poem. It can be her loved one or one she cares about.
  • Consonance: The “t” sound is repeated in the line, “A thousand complicated doors,” and there is a repetition of the “d” sound in the terms “doors” and “them” in lines 2 and 3.
  • Epigram: In the line, “One of them is yours,” Essbaum refers to the fact that there are some relationships that stand out even amongst complicated ones. One of the thousand relationships surpasses the others.

Historical Context

Jill Alexander Essbaum is an American poet and professor. She was awarded the Bakeless Prize in 1999 and NEA Literature Grants in 2003 and 2013. Some of her best-known poetry collections are Heaven (2000), Harlot (2007), and Necropolis (2008). Essbaum was greatly influenced by the writing of Edna St. Vincent Millay, Simon Armitage, and Sylvia Plath. Her poems bring together several ideas such as sexuality, divinity, and wordplay. They are often mixed with religious and erotic imagery. In her poem ‘The Heart,’ she talks about the human heart as the center of our emotions, memories, and feelings by using the metaphor of “chambers” and “doors.”


What is the poem ‘The Heart’ about?

Jill Alexander Essbaum’s ‘The Heart’ is about the human heart, which holds its complications. In this poem, the speaker describes how some relationships are more complicated than others. Whereas a certain relationship always gets the upper hand or more importance than others.

What type of poem is ‘The Heart’?

This poem is written using the haiku form. There are a total of 17/18 syllables dispersed into three short lines. The poem is written from the third-person point of view. In the last line, Essbaum’s speaker addresses her loved one.

What is the theme of ‘The Heart’?

This poem taps on a number of themes that include love, emotions, relationships, and memories. It is an open-ended poem that can be interpreted in different ways.

What is the tone of ‘The Heart’?

The tone of the poem is sincere, thoughtful, and honest. It reflects the speaker’s thoughts about human emotions and memories.

What does the line “One of them is yours” signify?

This line signifies how some relationships are more complicated and significant than others. They leave a greater impact on the heart or the mind. This line is addressed to the speaker’s loved one. The memories she had with the person are stored behind that one door out of the thousand complicated ones.

Similar Poems

Here is a list of a few poems that similarly tap on the themes present in Jill Alexander Essbaum’s ‘The Heart.’

You can also explore these incredible poems about the heart.

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Sudip Das Gupta Poetry Expert
A complete expert on poetry, Sudip graduated with a first-class B.A. Honors Degree in English Literature. He has a passion for analyzing poetic works with a particular emphasis on literary devices and scansion.
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