The poem in question: Something Broken
When I was about 13, my older cousin recommended The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever to me. I probably shouldn’t have read them till I was a little older, but to this day they remain some of my absolute favorite books. The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant are also very good, and I’ve read the first and second Chronicles several times. The story and characters had such an impact on me that my wedding ring is made of white gold (Thomas Covenant’s white gold wedding ring is a fundamental element of the tale).
Unfortunately, I didn’t like The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, and I just pretend they don’t exist. Maybe I’ll read them again one day and see if I change my mind.
Anyway, in The Wounded Land, the first book of The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Thomas Covenant says to another primary character,
There’s only one way to hurt a man who’s lost everything. Give him back something broken.
That line stuck with me, and I wanted to write something based on the words “something broken,” which is how this poem came about. Despite its flaws, it’s one of my favorite poems that I have written. I was quite passionate about it, and I think it turned out pretty well. I also call it my “D” poem, becausemany of the words start with D. (Get it? GET IT?!)
My “Something Broken” isn’t about a man who’s lost everything, but rather about someone who is continually making poor choices without regard to consequence. It was written from an LDS perspective—as I mentioned some time ago in the commentary for Stormy Weather,
In LDS theology the Book of Mormon offers some insights to Satan’s workings in 2 Nephi 26:22 and 2 Nephi 28:21-23. Basically the idea is that the devil will attempt to be our friend, slowly putting a “flaxen cord” around us so we don’t realize we are under his control, until one day it’s too late, we’re bound by his “awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance,” and he gleefully abandons us and moves on to the task of ensnaring the next poor soul.
The subject of Something Broken—the friend—has taken this path and is beginning to suffer the consequences:
The wool has covered up your eyes just as you said it wouldn’t,
You’re dancing into danger without seeing.
You’re being dragged off to the dungeon where you said you couldn’t,
Destroying the true nature of your being.
But now that he’s lost, he doesn’t see a possible way back and is contemplating suicide as a plausible “out.” This is evidenced by wandering the rooftop alone, and (maybe my favorite lines from the poem):
Dark and dreary visions deign to occupy your mind:
They try by deep deception to convince you it’s your time.
In this case, suicide is not the way out, it’s just furthering the devil’s victory, but that isn’t easy to realize.
The speaker of the poem hasn’t given up on him, though. One interpretation of the speaker’s identity is Jesus, though really it could be anyone. The line
Your dearest friend will then become your foe.
Seems to me like it could easily be misinterpreted. It’s not that the speaker will give up on his friend, becoming an enemy; rather the lost soul will feel so uncomfortable in his presence that it will simply feel that way to him.
The superficial “something broken” is finally revealed in the final line. The “broken crown” represents the promised reward from Satan that is ultimately worthless. However, the real “something broken” is the lost soul. But the speaker understands that he can come back, and it may be hard, but worth it.
Setting aside the LDS view (since I no longer subscribe), I think it works well enough as cautionary tale of downward spiral. And though I wrote this a few years before The Lord of the Rings movies were released, the line
The stars are shining brightly but the clouds are hiding them.
Now reminds me of something Sam says to Frodo as they lay shivering in Mordor, near the end of The Return of the King. Sam looks up at the sky and sees a brief break in the clouds, and says,
Mr. Frodo, look! There is light, and beauty up there, that no shadow can touch.
Tolkien’s original text is even better:
There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.
The light may be hidden from us at times, but it is always there, waiting to be rediscovered.
Some notes on the original handwritten version, seen below:
The scribbled-out “D’s poem” at the top refers to two different things. Firstly, as mentioned earlier, I call this my “D” poem, but I also have a friend who has a sister whose name begins with “D.” People often called her “D” in lieu of her name. Around the time I wrote this poem, she was also at BYU, and I would often see her around the time of my HEPE class, as it was in the same building as the university swimming pools, and she was a swimmer who apparently practiced around that time.
Next, I can’t decipher all of them, but some of the scribbled-out lines are:
(2-1) And everybody knows your name, so why are you complaining?
(2-6) Your only friend will then become your foe
(3-1) Consequences hinder you from every direction
(4-4) You’re destroying the true nature of your being
(5-3) Run away from dragons that will only bring you down
(5-4) The disaster that results isn’t worth the plastic crown
I think we can all agree those lines are terrible. A few of the revised lines from the made it to the printed copy from my old web site, before becoming the final published version:
(2-1) Difficulties strewn about, I can see why you complain,
(3-3) Dark and dreary visions come to occupy your mind:
(4-3) You’re being dragged into the dungeon wherein you said you couldn’t,
(5-1) Come back and dwell with me, my friend, please don’t be deceived!
They are better, but I definitely prefer the final version. And as a final note, although Something Broken will remain as currently published, I offer the following replacement for the final line:
The disaster that’s descending isn’t worth a broken crown.