Poetry Shelf classic poem: Medb Charleton picks Janet Frame’s ‘I Take into My Arms More Than I Can Bear To Hold’


I Take Into My Arms More Than I Can Bear To Hold


I take into my arms more than I can bear to hold

I am toppled by the world

a creation of ladders, pianos, stairs cut into the rock

a devouring world of teeth where even the common snail

eats the heart out of a forest

as you and I do, who are human, at night


yet still I take into my arms more than I can bear to hold


 Janet Frame

from The Goose Bath, Vintage, 2006

(posted with kind permission from the Janet Frame Literary Trust)




Note from Medb Charleton:

The first time I read this poem it gave me that feeling only poetry can give, my nervous system was instantly held captive by the emotions generated and then freed as those emotions connected with my own lived experiences and ability to dream of life inside this mysterious art form.

Each line, in its weighted simplicity, its juxtaposed images, deciphers that moving and syntactically wonderful title. When I read it in more and more detail, I can see Frame’s musicality of diction with the effortless onomatopoeia, assonance, the line breaks, the repetition with which she somehow manages to weave the philosophical and moral themes that interested her.

A softness and beauty prevails even though adversity and disillusionment are present. The poet is willing to risk all, must in fact if she is to live, and with that very burden, one that she can barely carry, there is something of a pleasure and wonder in everyday things and the destructive capacity of the beautiful. Even she herself is accountable as you and I are. The world threatens to become too much. Not just the suffering, endurance and hardship in the world and in nature, but also its incredible creations, its mysteries – she feels it all intensely and it’s this unbearable weight that she holds.

The repetition of the title in the closing line, its gentle insistence, is both a plea and an acceptance of unattainable goodness with the hope that through this art of making, the poem itself, that she may find truth enough to absolve life’s cruelties, the weight of responsibility and bewildering unknowns and perhaps even be able to bear the pain or emotional intensity of beauty when found.




Medb Charleton grew up in Sligo, Ireland. She did an MA in Creative writing at the IIML in Wellington and since has published poems in Landfall, Sport, JAAM and online.

Janet Frame (1924-2004) published eleven novels, five story collections, a previous volume of poetry (The PocketMirror, 1967), a children’s book and a three-volume autobiography. She won numerous awards and honours, including New Zealand’s highest civil honour when she was made a Member of the Order of New Zealand in 1990. In 2003 she received the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement and was named an Arts Foundation Icon Artist. Pamela Gordon, Denis Harold and Bill Manhire edited The Goose Bath, Janet’s posthumous collection of poems in 2006.






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