‘The Hope of My Heart’ by John McCrae is a three-stanza poem which is separated into sets of four lines, or quatrains. McCrae has chosen to structure the piece with a consistent rhyme scheme. This was done in order to unify the text and make its prayer-like nature more evident. The lines follow a pattern of abab cdcd efef.
Additionally, the metrical pattern is easily recognizable. The first three lines of each stanza are written in iambic pentameter. This means that they contain five sets of two beats. The first of which is unstressed and the second stressed. In a significant contrast to this form, the fourth line contains one single set of unstressed/stressed beats.
A reader should also take note of the line of text which precedes the three stanzas of verse. McCrae has included a line in Latin that contains a plea to God to forgive a man for his sins. It also begs God to protect the man’s wife and to refrain from anger over his past, youthful ignorance.
“Delicta juventutis et ignorantius ejus, quoesumus ne memineris, Domine.”
Summary of The Hope of My Heart
The poem begins with the speaker describing how he was forced to leave his “little maiden” alone on earth. She is someone he cares deeply about and does not feel like can live on her own. He has prayed to God that he might keep her in his “sight.”
McCrae’s speaker goes on to describe why it is he does not trust the earth. It is not “sweet” or mother-like as claimed. It is a cruel place that could easily do harm to the one he loves. He knows this as it was the earth that led him astray. It has caused his separation from his lover.
In the final lines, he speaks directly to God. He replies by telling the speaker that he will watch over the “maiden” and make sure she comes home to heaven.
Analysis of The Hope of My Heart
I left, to earth, a little maiden fair,
With locks of gold, and eyes that shamed the light;
I prayed that God might have her in His care
In the first stanza of this piece the speaker describes what he has done and the position, he has put his lover in. He sees his actions as being wrong, at least to the extent that the woman is now in danger of some kind. He has left her “to earth.”
The speaker continues on to describe his distrust of earth later in the text but a reader should note that it is not the earth itself he is worried about. He is more concerned with those who reside on the planet and the nature of his contemporary culture. His “little maiden fair,” at least in his eyes, is not able to contend with the earth.
The following lines are used to describe what the “maiden” looks like. Her hair is “gold” and her eyes are so bright they “shame…the light.” It is clear from just these two phrases that the speaker has his lover up high on a pedestal. She is the best of all women with the most beautiful features and delicate nature.
He continues on to tell his intended listener that he “prayed that God” would look out for “her.” The speaker hopes that she is in “His care / And sight.”
Earth’s love was false; her voice, a siren’s song;
(Sweet mother-earth was but a lying name)
The path she showed was but the path of wrong
The second stanza is dedicated to explaining why the speaker sees the earth as untrustworthy. Right from the start, the planet is referred to as “she.” This fits with a stereotypical depiction of nature being fertile and therefore the domain of a woman. In the first line “Earth’s love” is said to be “false.” It is not something you can depend on.
In fact, it is like a “siren’s song.” This refers to the Greek myth of the sirens. These beings were beautiful women who took pleasure from luring ships of men with their song. The ships would become wrecked on their island and the men trapped. In ‘The Hope of My Heart’ the earth is functioning in the same way.
It is likely the speaker is referring to earthly pleasures at this point. They are called “pleasures,” but often they lead to un-pleasurable outcomes. This is made clear when the speaker says that “Sweet” was not an appropriate name for “mother-earth.” It is a lie.
The next two lines state that the “path” shown by earth to the speaker was the wrong one. He blames the nature of the earth and life itself, for leading him somewhere he didn’t want to go. Whatever choice he made brought him shame. This is likely why the speaker is no longer with his “maiden.” His choice has separated them.
“Cast her not out!” I cry. God’s kind words come —
“Her future is with Me, as was her past;
It shall be My good will to bring her home
In the last set of four lines, the speaker turns his attention to God. He is not longer addressing the listener. His words are being relayed through quotes so that one might know the end of the speaker’s prayer.
He asks that God not, “‘Cast her…out!’” The speaker wants God to keep his lover within his care. He believes that the “maiden” will be safer within the hands of God than she will ever be alone on earth.
The final lines contain “God’s kind words.” He speaks to the narrator of the poem and tells him not to worry. The woman’s future is “with [Him]” just as her “past” was. He says that he will be happy to “bring her home / At last” to heaven.”
From these lines, and all those which came before, a reader can assume the speaker has died. He is in heaven, speaking directly to God. His request comes from a position of great separation from his lover. He has no way to help her when she remains on earth.