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Donne Commentary: The Broken Heart

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Introduction

In his poem, "The Broken Heart," John Donne uses the conceit of love as an all-powerful destroying force to portray the lasting, damaging effect of true love and the speaker's inability to love anyone else. Donne begins the poem with the assertive, abrupt phrase, "he is stark mad" who "hath been in love an hour," suggesting that love is so overpowering that it is not connected to time. The hyperbole of his statement, "it [love] can ten in less space devour" demonstrates the insignificance of men when faced with the power of love. The comparison of love to "the plague" and "a flash of powder" further emphasizes its ability to destroy, in the long term or in an instant, and have a permanent, crippling effect. ...read more.

Middle

Donne also states that love "swallows us and never chaws," introducing the metaphor of a large fish that completely and unceremoniously destroys its prey. The fact that the fish "never chaws" emphasizes the abrupt and brutal way in which men are consumed by love. Donne also uses military metaphors to highlight the violence in which men are overcome by love; he states that "by [love], as by chain'd shot, whole ranks do die." The violence and bloodiness of shot, and the effect that it has on so many soldiers, parallels the permanent, damaging effects that love has on men. The fish metaphor is continued when Donne states that love is "the tyrant pike, our hearts the fry." ...read more.

Conclusion

The speaker's lament, "my breast hath all/those pieces still, though they be not unite" underscores the complete damage that love has inflicted on his heart; not only is his heart not intact, but he must suffer the many small pieces that remain. Finally, the speaker says, "broken glasses show/a hundred lesser faces," implying that although he may have many more loves, none will come close to the first love that shattered his heart. He conveys the vivid image of his "rags of heart," compounding the sense that his heart is completely destroyed and useless. The comparison of his ability to "like, wish, and adore" other women to his first love demonstrates their complete inferiority compared to the destructive power of true love. ...read more.

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