I studied the metaphysical poets as a college course and what at first seemed bland and flat to me, suddenly came alive and vibrant upon closer inspection. No one can do clever or detail like the metaphysicals. They twist and twine words to fit their general theme, making conceits of obvious things, elaborating simple ideas into wholesome meditations, putting words into a decadent array that not only please but puzzle. I do like their style!
The metaphysicals also know how to speak of love and heartbreak in a manner which mixes logic and longing. Today I am following Ruth Padel's lead in her travel-memoir 'Tigers in Red Weather', where she goes to a John Donne (one of the main poets of the group) poem after a break-up, which becomes her life-line in more ways than one.
Here today, Donne talks of a broken heart, specifically shattering like 'glass' after the tyrant love has had its way with it. He describes love as a grief like no other, since it uses up all of the heart and while other griefs come to us, we are drawn to love, who 'swallows us'. Harsh indeed. But it's the poem's language and form that are a restorative tonic, 'Yet nothing can to nothing fall,/Nor any place be empty quite;' and a soothing balm.
(Read a more detailed explanation of the poem here)
The Broken Heart - John Donne
He is stark mad, whoever says,
That he hath been in love an hour,
Yet not that love so soon decays,
But that it can ten in less space devour ;
Who will believe me, if I swear
That I have had the plague a year?
Who would not laugh at me, if I should say
I saw a flash of powder burn a day?
Ah, what a trifle is a heart,
If once into love's hands it come!
All other griefs allow a part
To other griefs, and ask themselves but some;
They come to us, but us love draws;
He swallows us and never chaws;
By him, as by chain'd shot, whole ranks do die;
He is the tyrant pike, our hearts the fry.
If 'twere not so, what did become
Of my heart when I first saw thee?
I brought a heart into the room,
But from the room I carried none with me.
If it had gone to thee, I know
Mine would have taught thine heart to show
More pity unto me; but Love, alas!
At one first blow did shiver it as glass.
Yet nothing can to nothing fall,
Nor any place be empty quite;
Therefore I think my breast hath all
Those pieces still, though they be not unite;
And now, as broken glasses show
A hundred lesser faces, so
My rags of heart can like, wish, and adore,
But after one such love, can love no more.