I was considerably moved by Yeats’ “Never give all the Heart”, particularly the imagery regarding the speaker as he attempts to play his beloved’s heart like a musical instrument: “For they, for all smooth lips can say, / Have given their hearts up to the play. / And who could play it well enough / If deaf and dumb and blind with love?” This image of the heart being an instrument is a theme that occurs often in poetry, but the connection that Yeats makes with the evocation of human emotion through melody is particularly unique. Instead of the heart being a tool, in his piece it is a foreign object to the speaker, who is incapable of working his beloved’s heart properly because he is so consumed with love for her.
Yeats’ ultimate message in this poem, I find, is that he is heartbroken upon discovering that Maud Gonne mothered two children with another man, while he has been pursuing her for so long, his love unrequited. However he keeps the subject of the poem general, as if he is writing an advice column to all men, explaining that to give your whole heart to a woman is to doom yourself to disappointment and pain. He claims that love for a woman fades easily between people and things, and that their hearts are incapable of being tied down to a single person or circumstance.
After reading this piece I found a song entitled “Never Give All the Heart” performed on the t.v. show SMASH. Here I’ve attached a Youtube link as well as a link to the written lyrics of the song:
Never Give All the Heart- SMASH Performance
Never Give All the Heart Lyrics
What I find particularly interesting about the song is not just that it so idolizes Yeats’ work, but that it completely reverses the gender roles of the original piece. Where Yeats warns men that women will only hurt them, the performer of the song, Katherine McPhee, sings that Yeats’ writing is so effective, and that it resonates with so many people, that it is the reason why she cannot find a man who will commit to her. Ironically enough, where Yeats indirectly plays the victim of unrequited love, McPhee instead names him to be a keen observer, as well as a proponent of her inability to find someone willing to give her all of his heart. So, essentially, the it is Yeats’ fault for being so capable of articulating the truth about love, this otherwise intangible emotion, and his understanding of how it works is the reason why people so fear it. I thought this was a very unique modern take on his work, and it impresses me that his work can be so appreciated and discussed even in modern media.