Barbed Wires from a Master Songwriter

One more post in our poetry series about relationships. This time, we’re looking at the broken relationship in Sting’s “Fortress Around Your Heart”.

Barbed wires and high walls and a dangerous chasm protect a heart wounded so many times before.

You can find the Lyrics here and the video is HERE!

Sting is above other songwriting poets for this singular reason >

He never seeks the mundane metaphor that everyone else is selecting.

In “Fortress”, a guarded heart is a walled city with protective barbed wires, guarded because of constant emotional hurts.

The lover who caused the emotional damage—by something as simple as continual slights or inconsistencies or as painful as unfaithfulness or perfidy–must besiege the city to conquer his beloved’s guarded heart.

Of course, the relationship is already doomed.  Love is not a battlefield. (Sorry, Pat Benatar.)  e.e. cummings reminded us that relationships should be between two equal independents who are enriched by the love and the loved one. (Remember our 2/25 blog here?)

Neither of the two people in “Fortress” are so enriched. The speaker recognizes “the walls” he caused.  He’s done so much wrong with his beloved and to her and away from her and without her that just approaching her is crossing a minefield.  Every step brings up a trap partially buried.  Not even partially, really.

He recognizes the “chasm” between them that his idiocy caused—but he still wants to try.  He wants to build a bridge:  span that deep chasm of trouble and avoid the minefield, connect to her guarded heart and burn out—with passion—the walls protecting her heart.

Poor, gullible woman:  she believed him.  She must have, for in Stanza 2 they had declared a truce.  That “tattered flag” they made, it’s still flying.

But he’s repeating his sins.  He goes off, leaving her behind, to pursue his own goal.  And she, when she thinks about him and their relationship—well, she keeps it going, but she wishes she didn’t have to do so.

That adds additional rolls of barbed wires around her guarded heart.

Is he a soldier, sent off to war?  Nyah.  That’s too simplistic.

Is this Sting and his pursuit of fame and fortune at the expense of his relationship?  Maybe.

Is this all of us?  Bingo!

We involve ourselves in a relationship, but we devote ourselves to other things: jobs, hobbies, grown-up toys (Bass boat, painting, coaching, shopping with friends, gaming, children).  We leave no room for couple-time, and when the partner expresses dissatisfaction then increasing complaints, we ignore or cast them off.

Stanza 3 repeats most of S1, except for the first two lines, the key ones:  When we cause too much emotional damage, then the hurt heart will place themselves in a prison, and everyone will suffer.

The unusual extended metaphor builds a depressing little song for a depressing little condition, never quite enough to explode and everyone serving a sentence of pain.

Catchy tune, though:  bright chords, interesting brass line—juxtaposed with the bleak lines.

Great irony here:  we can’t have our passion-fruit cake and eat everything, too.

Coming Up

Spring is springing forth!  Now that the vernal equinox is upon us, we’ll look at a song that made me re-think my snobbish view of a famous country singer.  Once I changed my perspective about her, I began changing my entire perspective about the whole genre of country music. Join us on the 25th!

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