The speaker declares that any man who claims he has been in love for an hour is insane; not because love “decays” in so short a time, but because, in an hour, love can “devour” ten men—in other words, not because love itself is destroyed in an hour, but because it will destroy the lover in much less time than that. To explain himself, the speaker uses an analogy: He says that anyone who heard him claim to have had the plague for an entire year would disbelieve him because the plague would have killed him in much less time than that. He also says that anyone who heard him claim to have seen a flask of gunpowder burn for an entire day would laugh at him because the flask would have exploded immediately. Like the plague and the powder-flask, love works violently and swiftly. “What a trifle is a heart,” the speaker says, “If once into Love’s hands it come!” Unlike love, other feelings and “other griefs” do not demand the entire heart, only a part of it. Other griefs “come to us” but Love draws us to it, swallowing us whole. Masses of people are felled by Love as ranks of soldiers are felled by chain-shot. Love is like a ravenous pike, and our hearts are like the small fish it feasts on. Addressing his beloved, the speaker asks her a question: If what he says about love is false, then what happened to his heart the first time he saw her? He says that he entered the room with a heart, and left the room without one. If his heart had been captured whole by his beloved, he says, it would have taught her to treat him more kindly; instead, the impact of love shattered his heart “as glass.” Still, he says, a thing cannot be so utterly destroyed that it becomes nothing; the pieces of his shattered heart are still in his breast. In the same way that a broken mirror reflects “a hundred lesser faces,” the speaker says that his “rags of heart” can “like, wish, and adore”; but after experiencing the shock of “one such love,” they can never love again.
He is stark mad, whoever says,
That he hath been in love an hour,
Yet not that love so soon decays,
But that it can ten in less space devour ;
Who will believe me, if I swear
That I have had the plague a year?
Who would not laugh at me, if I should say
I saw a flash of powder burn a day?
Ah, what a trifle is a heart,
If once into love's hands it come !
All other griefs allow a part
To other griefs, and ask themselves but some ;
They come to us, but us love draws ;
He swallows us and never chaws ;
By him, as by chain'd shot, whole ranks do die ;
He is the tyrant pike, our hearts the fry.
If 'twere not so, what did become
Of my heart when I first saw thee?
I brought a heart into the room,
But from the room I carried none with me.
If it had gone to thee, I know
Mine would have taught thine heart to show
More pity unto me ; but Love, alas !
At one first blow did shiver it as glass.
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 ;
And now, as broken glasses show
A hundred lesser faces, so
My rags of heart can like, wish, and adore,
But after one such love, can love no more.