How does the speaker use the varied imagery of the poem to reveal his attitude toward the nature of love in the poem "The Broken Heart" by John Donne?

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Imagery is describing using the five sense of sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch. If you can see, hear, taste, smell, or touch an item in a poem, then it is an image.

In this poem, Donne's speaker uses startling and violent images to depict love. Love is harsh and painful, according to this speaker. He likens it to the plague, a fatal disease that killed many people. He compares it to a burning flash of gunpowder.

Donne's speaker also compares love to a pike, a pointed staff that is used as weapon. He says that the pike of love spears a heart, which it then fries. We can both see and feel a heart speared and then sizzling over a fire.

When the speaker's heart is broken because his love is not returned, he uses the image of a mirror smashed with a blow that reduces it to shivers (shards) of broken glass.

As you go through the poem, you will be able to find more grim images of love.

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litteacher8 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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For Donne, the nature of love seems to be torturous.  Love is hard, and it makes us suffer both while we are in and when we are falling out.  It's hard to stay in love, even for a short time.

Donne describes the nature of love as fickle and harsh.  He comments that he carried his heart into the room, but not back out.  Love is akin to torture.  Love, he says, "swallows us and never  chaws" (stanza 2).  In other words, it never chews us up and ends our misery.

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 ; (stanza 4)

Donne finally seems to decide that although love is hard, we can put the pieces of our heart back together and love again.

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