Never Give All the Heart

One of my very best friends just got his heart broken. It wasn't the first time and in all likelihood it won't be the last, because love is a messy game and he is brave enough to keep trying, but I for one really admire his tenacity. Such heartbreak would put most of us off to the idea of love for some time, but not this guy. He is still devoted as ever to the idea of wholehearted, earnest love.

I don't know about you but when I think "love," I think Monet.
 Girls don't like boys girls like cars and Monet 

I haven't experienced much in the way of love or heartbreak in a few years, but as I chew on these ideas now I'm reminded of Yeats, and a poem he wrote called "Never Give All the Heart." In it he warns men and women of his age not to give all their love, all their energy, passion and vulnerability, to others. "O never give the heart outright," he laments. Never. Never give anyone your whole heart. Well gosh Yeats, that sounds kinda cynical. Way to be a bummer.

What might have driven this poet, a student of the romantics, to be so guarded in matters of love? It really is a paradox, considering how Yeats grew up during an age when every poet worth his or her salt wrote lines and pages and books of verse about the transcendent qualities of romantic love. How did he stray so far from the path?

Here's a radical theory: maybe he got his heart broken. Maybe he simply gave his whole heart to a woman and she handed it back in pieces. It would have been so easy for a young poet to get swept up in the cacophony of voices praising romance as a god, and to then seek out some bonnie lass to acquire firsthand knowledge on the subject. And maybe their love didn't last, and he learned love isn't what they say it is. Yeats may well have discovered what happens when you give and give and love and love and lose and lose and cry and cry. Mayhaps he was familiar with the cycle, and had (by all accounts reasonably) become jaded by it. In fact as we read the end of his poem we discover this is the case:

"He that made this knows all the cost,
For he gave all his heart and lost."

And I don't blame him for it. The memories I carry of my own romantic entanglements (a long time ago in a galaxy far far away) haven't aged particularly well. I gave my heart outright, and have often since wondered whether or not I should have, as I was rewarded for my efforts with some of the deepest hurt I have ever experienced. And I think I did give up on love, at least for a couple years. Even now I cannot imagine what it would be like for me to open up my heart and let another in, at least not in any romantic sense.

Now I don't mean to kill the mood here; maybe it's just not time for me yet. And I'm not totally broken over the whole thing. I just mean to say I know how easy it is to give up on love after having drunk of the cup of heartbreak. It can be so tempting to replace the tempestuous dangers of love with the safety of loneliness (or for that matter the loneliness of promiscuity).

So never give the heart outright, Yeats tells us. If you must love, love moderately. Love reasonably. Do not ever become consumed by the fires of passion. And I understand his guardedness, not out of sympathy alone but out of what little logic I possess. I have seen dear friends and loved ones become trapped in unhealthy relationships, or give too much too fast (physically or otherwise) to those who do not deserve them, and these situations are uniformly tragic. There is, after all, a reason the Psalmist impels us to guard our hearts as they are wellsprings of life.

Bear in mind, though, that the purely destructive force behind these nightmarish scenarios is not love. We unfortunately do not have language as nuanced as the ancient Greeks (who had four words for love) to describe our own milieu, but I believe we must nonetheless delineate between addiction masquerading as love and real, honest, vulnerable, self-giving love expressed mutually between two willing hearts. Love is patient, love is kind, and so it goes. If we're going to talk about love, let's talk about love, not some caustic facsimile.

Can love, even true love, be reasonable though? Is love something to be doled out bit by bit? No, I'm afraid this is where Mr. Yeats and I must part ways, because I believe love is only love when it burns fiercely. Love is only love when it makes demands on us, requires that we give of ourselves, take risks, break our hearts open. We cannot love reasonably, we must love self-sacrificially, and on some level indiscriminately (love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself).

And to make matters worse I think our romantic jadedness has spilled over into our relationships with God. When we remember how often we have been hurt by lovers, we shrink away from Love and do not trust God enough to give our hearts outright. And it is tragic, because within His healing hands is where our hearts belong, especially when they need mending.

Now I know it takes courage, courage more than one lone man or woman can possess, but we must not give up on God, or love, or romantic love for that matter, because love is why we're here. Love is the point. Love is a many splendid thing, love lifts us up where we belong, all you need is love. And remember, always, that God is love.

"If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."

1 Corinthians 13


  1. Great article Jordan. I know of Yeats, but never that specific poem, and I think you're right--he got burned. How many people experience "burns" and never want to go near the fire again. It's one thing to be apprehensive, aware of the power of the fire, but another to develop a phobia about fire. Many your age think intimacy is love, and find it just as/if not more unfulfilling as relationships. Well stated.


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