Selected Poems of Kevin Young
Preserving the Vitality of Love: Analyzing “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart”
Almost everyone, at some point in their life, deals with heartbreak and loneliness from a broken relationship. In “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” Kevin Young utilizes literary devices to depict the cruelty of a past relationship. The poem successfully demonstrates the speaker’s story of love and loneliness, illustrating the inner turmoil one faces after the deterioration of a relationship. Young employs a metaphor of taxidermy, a cruel tone, and contradictions to highlight his desire to preserve the joy and vitality of a past love. Young uses the literary device of metaphor to illuminate the speaker’s pain and yearning to hold on to his lover and the love they once shared.
Within the poem, the speaker places himself in the shoes of a taxidermist: “I am hoping/ to hang your head/ on my wall,” (1-3), “the slightest taxidermy/ thrills me” (5-6), “and break/ your heart like a horse/ or its leg,” (14-16). A taxidermist practices the art of preparing, stuffing, and mounting the skins of animals. By connecting himself to one, the speaker uses a metaphor to symbolize the pain of his fleeting relationship. Furthermore, he is metaphorically inflicting this pain on his lover, similar to the practices of a taxidermist. The speaker’s loneliness and contempt is clearly established. Additionally, the final lines of the poem depict the speaker’s ultimate goal: “trying to keep from losing/ skin, the bobcat grin/ of the living,” (Young 33-34). By metaphorically practicing the art of taxidermy, and preserving the “bobcat” for display, the speaker evidences his desire to maintain the love he had with his lover. Throughout the poem, the taxidermist’s victims symbolize the speaker’s lover. His identification of the “bobcat[‘s] grin” reveals the joy and vitality of their love. Thus, Young’s taxidermist metaphor represents the strife of a broken relationship, and the speaker’s goal of holding onto that relationship.
Young employs contradictions throughout the poem to showcase the speaker’s confusion, which eventually highlights his desire to maintain the vitality of his deteriorated love. The speaker goes back and forth between wanting to inflict harm on his lover and wanting his lover back: “Put me down/ I want to call you thine,” (19-20). “to tattoo mercy/ along my knuckles,” (20-21), “I hope/ to have you forgotten/ by noon” (24-26). “To know you/ by your knees/ palsied by prayer,” (26-28). The speaker contradicts himself multiple times. For instance, he tells his lover to let him go, then abruptly changes his mind, wanting to call his lover his own. In fact, he wants to show his lover mercy. Then he bluntly states that he wants to forget his lover, yet, immediately after declares that he wants his lover to plead to take him back. The speaker’s inconsistent desires expose his confusion about what he wants. Thus, his underlying aspiration to get his lover back is unveiled. Although the revealed anger towards his lover negates his yearning to put the pieces of their broken relationship back together, the speaker’s sense of loneliness is emphasized. Therefore, the contradictions showcased further displays the speaker’s longing to hold on to the joy of his old relationship.
“I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” includes a distinct, cruel tone, which establishes a sense of unity, thus highlighting the speaker’s desire to hold on to the vitality of his past love. The constant reminder of the pain that comes from a deteriorating relationship through the stark taxidermist metaphor stylistically ties the piece together as a whole and supplies an ominous, cruel tone. For instance, throughout the poem, there are unnerving lines, which reflect a sense of pain and heartlessness: “I am hoping/ to hang your head/ on my wall,” (1-3), “and break/ your heart like a horse/ or its leg,” (14-16), “I assassin/ down the avenue,” (22-23). Young employs abrupt and frightening diction throughout the poem, such as “break your heart” and “assassin” which creates a cruel tone. This disheartened diction function’s as the speaker’s desires, highlighting his need to hold onto the love in which blossomed from his former relationship. Additionally, Young’s blunt explication of loneliness bolsters the poem’s tone: “Loneliness is a science,” (29). This clinical analysis of loneliness not only reveals the speaker’s detachment from affection, but also strengthens the dispassionate quality of taxidermy in which unifies the poem. Through this unification, a vicious tone is established. Young’s successful utilization of tone forms a mood of despair for the speaker, illuminating the pain and loneliness. which drives the speaker to metaphorically turn to taxidermy. Ergo, the cruel tone contrived from frightening diction ultimately illustrates the speaker’s goal of holding on to his lost relationship.
Throughout “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” Young employs literary devices to explicate the pain and strife in which comes from the deterioration of a relationship. The speaker’s metaphorical role as a taxidermist and denial to express what he wants unifies the poem as a whole. Furthermore, Young’s blunt, unnerving diction and utilization of metaphors establishes a cruel tone. Therefore, the speaker’s desire to preserve the joy and vitality of a disintegrated past love is illuminated. Along with these points, Young quotes the song “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” by Wilco: “I assassin/ down the avenue,” (22-23). This further emphasizes the pain and confusion brought by the severance of a deep and meaningful relationship.