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Analysis of ‘The Broken Heart’ by John Donne

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The Broken Heart

The Broken Heart by John Donne is about love and the pains when love is rejected. John Donne a poet of repute and cleric in Church of England had written many forms of poetry. Donne’s style is to open the poem with lines that is abrupt with some ironies or paradoxes. Drama, everyday speech rhythm, tough eloquence and tense syntax are some of the features of Donne’s poetry. The Broken Heart is no exception to abrupt opening as he starts with the line “He is stark mad…..”

John Donne opens the poem stating that a person is mad if he says that he does not feel pain and loss even if he was in love for an hour. Love is sparked in an instant but takes a longer time to wane.  This mad person is compared to one who says he had plague for a year or one who saw a gunpowder flash for the whole day. It’s a metaphor relevant to those times as plague is not heard anymore as is gunpowder. He goes on to say that pain felt in love is much more than the other ‘griefs’. It swallows us and does not ‘chaw’. The pain in love ‘devours’ a person like a pike and its shots are strong enough to kill a whole rank of soldiers.

In the third stanza the poet talks about his love, rather the reason for the lines of the first two stanzas. He walks into a room and falls in love but the woman he fell in love with rejects him. It was a momentary feeling but the pain of rejection shattered his heart into a hundred pieces. He feels he lost his heart and had she taken it she would have handled it with more care. His heart did not disappear; it was broken like a mirror and reflecting fragment of emotions and not the complete emotions. His heart is a rag now incapable of loving another one.

The Broken Heart has four stanzas with eight lines in each and the rhyme scheme followed is ABABCCDD. The meters used are the iambic tetrameter in the first three lines followed by one iambic pentameter. This again is followed by two iambic tetrameter and one iambic pentameter and the final line in the stanza is the iambic tetrameter. Iambic is a set of one unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. It can be one word or two words. So the iambic tetrameter indicates that the line has four such sets and iambic pentameter indicates that there are five such sets. This pattern is followed in all the four stanzas of the poem.

Most poets personify love as a woman but Donne has personified love as a man.  “He swallows…, By him…., He is the tyrant…” He has used strong imagery to show the destruction created by love. The grief of rejected love is so enormous that it ‘swallows’ or ‘devours’ one, there is nothing small about it. Then there is breaking imagery. It is as if the cannon ball shot down a rank of soldiers; so big is the damage.Breaking of the heart is compared to the breaking of a glass and simile is the technique used, “At one first blow did shiver it as glass.”

The title of the poem indicates what the poem is about. Not many details are given about the person he loved but we know that, that love was short-lived, in the third stanza. So the rest of the poem dwells on the pain of a broken heart.