The Broken Heart by John Donne, Analysis & Summary

This study guide provides a detailed analysis of the poem "The Broken Heart" by John Donne. The guide explores the meaning and themes of each stanza, examines the poet's background, offers a critical analysis of the poem, discusses the use of symbols, language, structure, sound devices, and other literary devices. Additionally, it highlights the attitudes and feelings conveyed in the poem and suggests similar poems that share common themes.

Poem Text

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.


Stanza 1: The speaker challenges the notion that love can fade quickly, emphasizing its devouring nature. They sarcastically question who would believe them if they claimed to have experienced the plague for a year or witnessed a flash of powder burning in a day.
Stanza 2: The speaker reflects on the insignificance of a heart once it falls into the hands of love. They compare love's power to consume completely with other griefs that allow some respite. Love is portrayed as a tyrant pike that swallows hearts without chewing.
Stanza 3: The speaker ponders the fate of their heart upon first encountering the beloved. They suggest that if their heart had gone to the beloved, it would have taught the beloved to show more compassion. However, love shattered their heart at the first blow, leaving them bereft.
Stanza 4: The speaker muses on the idea that nothing can cease to exist completely, and their broken heart still contains the fragmented pieces. They compare the broken heart to broken glass, which reflects a hundred smaller images. Despite longing, the speaker believes that after experiencing such a love, they can no longer love again.

Major Themes in Detail

- Transient nature of love: The poem explores the fleeting and destructive aspects of love, highlighting its ability to consume and shatter hearts.
- Powerlessness in the face of love: The speaker portrays love as a tyrant, emphasizing its ability to control and swallow individuals without mercy.
- Heartbreak and loss: The poem delves into the pain and devastation caused by a broken heart, portraying the shattered fragments and the inability to love again.
- Fragility of human emotions: The speaker compares the heart to broken glass, highlighting the vulnerability and delicate nature of emotions.

John Donne"

1. John Donne (1572-1631) was an English poet, satirist, and cleric of the Church of England.
2. Donne is considered one of the most important metaphysical poets of the 17th century, known for his complex and intellectual poetry.
3. He studied at the University of Cambridge and Lincoln's Inn before embarking on a career as a lawyer and later as a clergyman.
4. Donne's works explore themes such as love, religion, death, and metaphysics, often using elaborate metaphors and conceits.
5. He is well-known for his powerful and passionate love poems, as well as his religious poetry, which reflects his deep spiritual struggles and conversion to Anglicanism.
6. Donne's poetry had a significant influence on later poets, and his work continues to be celebrated for its wit, intellectual depth, and innovative use of language.

Critical Analysis

"The Broken Heart" delves into the destructive and consuming nature of love, exploring the aftermath of a shattered heart. The poem employs vivid imagery, metaphors, and contrasts to convey the speaker's feelings of powerlessness and loss. It also raises questions about the transient nature of love and the human capacity to love again after experiencing heartbreak.

"The Broken Heart" portrays the destructive power of love, presenting the heart as vulnerable and easily consumed. The speaker's sarcastic tone and use of vivid imagery highlight the transitory nature of love, suggesting that once the heart is broken, it can never fully recover. The poem reflects on the fragility of human emotions and the profound impact of heartbreak, leaving the reader contemplating the complexities of love and its ability to both uplift and destroy.


- "Flash of powder burn a day": This metaphorical image represents the sudden and ephemeral nature of love's destruction.
- "Tyrant pike, our hearts the fry": The tyrant pike symbolizes love's overpowering control, while the hearts being the fry signify their vulnerability and helplessness.


- The use of rhetorical questions, such as "Who will believe me" and "Who would not laugh at me," conveys the speaker's disbelief and emphasizes the absurdity of their experiences.
- Sarcastic and ironic language adds a satirical tone to the poem, highlighting the speaker's cynicism towards love and its effects.


- The poem consists of four stanzas of varying lengths, each exploring different aspects of the broken heart.
- The consistent use of rhyme and meter creates a sense of musicality and rhythm throughout the poem, enhancing its lyrical quality.

Sound devices

- The poem utilizes alliteration, such as "love's hands" and "chain'd shot," to create a musical and rhythmic effect.
- Rhyme scheme and consistent meter contribute to the poem's overall musicality.

Other Literary Devices

- Metaphor: The poem employs metaphors, such as love as a devouring force, the heart as broken glass, and the heartbreak as shattered fragments, to convey the emotional and physical devastation caused by love.
- Irony: The poem utilizes irony to underscore the paradoxical and contradictory aspects of love, emphasizing its ability to both elevate and destroy.


- Cynicism: The speaker exhibits a cynical attitude towards love, questioning its authenticity and emphasizing its destructive nature.
- Vulnerability: The speaker conveys a sense of vulnerability and powerlessness in the face of love's consuming force.
- Desolation: The poem evokes feelings of heartbreak, loss, and a sense of being shattered, leaving the speaker unable to love again.

Similar Poems

- "Break, Break, Break" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson: Both poems explore themes of heartbreak and loss, focusing on the profound impact of a broken heart.
- "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning" by John Donne: This poem shares common themes of love's power, the fragility of emotions, and the transformative nature of love, further reflecting on the depth and complexities of human relationships.
- "Heart, We Will Forget Him" by Emily Dickinson: Like "The Broken Heart," this poem explores the aftermath of heartbreak and the struggle to move on, highlighting the lasting impact of lost love.
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