‘The Broken Heart’ by William Barnes is a two stanza poem that is separated into two sets of twelve lines. The poem follows an interesting rhyming pattern that changes from the first to the second stanza. The first stanza follows the scheme of aaaaaabbcccc while the second rhymes, aaccddaacbbc. Barnes has chosen to limit the poem to only a few different end sounds, this creates a feeling of unity throughout the lines. It also creates a sing-song-like rhythm to the poem, particularly when read aloud.
The first element of this piece which a reader is apt to notice when looking upon the text is the alternate spellings of words. William Barnes is best known for his use of dialectical writing. He was born in Dorset, England, and utilized his native dialect, or the way he and others spoke, in his poems. He chose to write phonetically, this technique gives the poetic narratives a more realistic feeling. Read more poetry by William Barnes.
While this is a very interesting way of writing, it can present a problem for modern readers who are not used to this kind of language. It is often helpful when reading dialect pieces to speak the words aloud. This will allow a reader to interpret their meaning easier than if one simply skimmed through the text.
The poem begins with the speaker stating that a woman named Fanny has just suffered a great loss. She has been startled by this loss and is at first unable to process it. Fanny has been forsaken and has lost the man she loved. She mourns for her him with tears falling down her cheeks.
In the second half of the poem, the speaker turns to the man who betrayed her. He chastises the man for what he has done and reminds him, via the listener, that God will judge him in the next life. Although he may have gotten away with what he did at this moment, he will not be able to forever.
Analysis of The Broken Heart
News o’ grief had overteaken
Dark-eyed Fanny, now vorseaken;
There she zot, wi’ breast a-heaven,
While vrom zide to zide, wi’ grieven,
Vell her head, wi’ tears a-creepen
Down her cheaks, in bitter weepen.
There wer still the ribbon-bow
She tied avore her hour ov woe,
An’ there wer still the hans that tied it
Or wringen tight,
In ceare that drowned all ceare bezide it.
In the first stanza of this piece, the speaker begins by stating that his main character, “Dark-eyed Fanny” has received a piece of bad news. Whatever this news is it has resulted in her being “overteaken” or overtaken, by “grief.” While the reader does not yet know exactly what the news is, one might take an educated guess based on the title and the following two words, “now vorseaken,” or forsaken. It is likely that she has been abandoned by her lover and now her heart is “broken.”
The next lines depict Fanny’s grief. She is stunned by the news and is unable to make any great movements. She is breathing heavily, her breast was “a-heaven,” and her body was rocking back and forth “wi’ grieven.”
Fanny’s head falls forward, perhaps into her hands, and suddenly she is “weepen.” The tears are “a-creepen” down her face. She is truly mourning a loss at this point. Her new situation is sinking in and she is beginning to process what the future will hold for her.
The speaker gives the reader a few more details in the next lines about Fanny and how she looks in this moment. The simple details the poet includes make the scene extremely realistic. One is easily able to picture the woman with her “ribbon-bow” that she only tied an “hour” ago. They were placed in her hair at a time in which she was a totally different person than she is now.
The speaker takes note of this fact, and describes how her hands are alternating between hanging limp and “wrigen tight.” She is consumed by the “care” of the moment and feels her loss poignantly.
When a man, wi’ heartless slighten,
Mid become a maiden’s blighten,
He mid cearelessly vorseake her,
But must answer to her Meaker;
He mid slight, wi’ selfish blindness,
All her deeds o’ loven-kindness,
God wull waigh ’em wi’ the slighten
That mid be her love’s requiten;
He do look on each deceiver,
He do know
What weight o’ woe
Do break the heart ov ev’ry griever.
In the second stanza, the speaker turns to address the situation of the man who has left Fanny. Although the reader still has no idea why this person has abandoned his lover, one will automatically be on Fanny’s side. The previous stanza should have created empathy within the reader, turning one against the man.
The first four lines of this section are spoken with anger. It is clear the speaker dislikes this person and believes that he should be punished for what he has done. The speaker is annoyed by the fact that the heartless man who has become “a maiden’s blighten” or emotional problem has “cearelessly,” or carelessly, “vorseake[n] her.” He has yet to be punished for what he has done.
One should not fear though, as he will “answer to her Meaker,” or maker. God will judge the man.
The narrator continues to state that everything the man did was “wi’ selfish blindness.” He didn’t stop to think how it would impact Fanny who did nothing but “deeds o’ loven-kindness.”
In the final section of the poem the speaker states that no matter what happens on Earth, God “wull waigh,” or will weigh, everything in heaven. The last lines describe God’s power and how he is able to “look on each deciever” and know what it is he has done. God will weigh the “woes” of life that broke the “hear ov ev’ry griever.”