"In The Shape Of A Heart" as written by and Jackson Browne....
It was a ruby that she wore
On a chain around her neck
In the shape of a heart
In the shape of a heart
It was a time I won't forget
For the sorrow and regret
And the shape of a heart
And the shape of a heart
I guess I never knew
What she was talking about
I guess I never knew
What she was living without

People speak of love don't know what they're thinking of
Wait around for the one who fits just like a glove
Speak in terms of belief and belonging
Try to fit some name to their longing

There was a hole left in the wall
From some ancient fight
About the size of a fist
Or something thrown that had missed
And there were other holes as well
In the house where our nights fell
Far too many to repair
In the time that we were there

People speak of love don't know what they're thinking of
Reach out to each other though the push and shove
Speak in terms of a life and the learning
Try to think of a word for the burning

You keep it up
You try so hard
To keep a life from coming apart
And never know
What breaches and faults are concealed
In the shape of a heart

It was the ruby that she wore
On a stand beside the bed
In the hour before dawn
When I knew she was gone
And I held it in my hand
For a little while
And dropped it into the wall
Let it go, heard it fall

I... I guess I never knew
What she was talking about
I guess I never knew
What she was living without
People speak of love don't know what they're thinking of
Wait around for the one who fits just like a glove
Speak in terms of a life and the living
Try to find the word for forgiving

You keep it up
You try so hard
To keep a life from coming apart
And never know
The shallows and the unseen reefs
That are there from the start
In the shape of a heart


Lyrics submitted by uncgurl, edited by Natalie98

In The Shape Of A Heart song meanings
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12 Comments

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  • +4
    General CommentIt's about more than love, it's about the desperate need of so many hurt, broken, damaged people, to find someone to pull them out of their wrecked lives - and about how others just can't quite understand where the broken people ae coming from until it's too late.

    In the end, after she had gone - suicided, run away from her rescuer? - he drops the ruby into one of the holes - far too many to repair in the time we were there.

    It's not about love, but tragedy. The love wasn't enough, it came too late, to save her. And yet, she had clung on to that hope.
    jimqukon January 12, 2007   Link
  • +2
    General CommentJB uses the heart-shaped ruby necklace as a metaphor to draw us in. A ruby is the most precious of stones. A heart is also precious, also a life.

    Women are typically the ones in the relationship who let things build up and, sorry to say, men are quite difficult to deal with (especially young, untrained ones with lots of testosterone.) Very difficult being involved with a musician, I can attest to that one personally.

    Also, mnen have a tough time with women who generally don't know how to handle a guy, and who take to nagging him. The gals will nag and complain, and escalate the conflict. Generally, even amidst the conflict, the man is oblivious. He isn't listening to what she's nagging about, because she's still there. Men understand action and logic, and nagging is neither of these. He generally believes that she just likes the drama of nagging and he doesn't, so it's a power struggle and he doesn't HEAR. Hear what she's missing. She generally doesn't properly communicate her needs in a proper way to give him an opportunity to meet those needs (if he's so inclined.) Sometimes, it was doomed from the start because, for example, you're not going to get a musician to give up music to make his life about you and not his guitar and crowds! Didn't think that thru from the start..those shallow waters and reefs were there from the start.

    By the time that the man is really starting to get it, it's too late. It's like Natalie Portman's character in the movie, "Closer": "I don't love you anymore, GOOD BYE." (Jude Law asked her in the beginning if she ever left a man that she still loved and she said NO. Later, she did tell him that line and she did leave...after he dealt a blow to her face.)

    Obviously, there was a physical altercation that Browne alludes to, perhaps just throwing an inanimate object:

    "There was a hole left in the wall
    From some ancient fight
    About the size of a fist
    Or something thrown that had missed.."

    The fist and it's resultant "hole(s)" are a metaphor representing the escalating conflict and it's damaging layers in their hearts. The first hole could mean an actual altercation, but the other holes appear to be a metaphor for the damage done to the heart, not more physical holes in the home...rather the house is the relationship and the nights that were spent in conflict, not building true intimacy.

    "And there were other holes as well
    In the house where our nights fell
    Far too many to repair.
    In the time that we were there"

    Who can't relate to the slow, eventual unraveling of a relationship. He gives the antedote later...

    "Speak in terms of a life and the living
    Try to find the word for FORGIVING..."

    How can a couple get to the place of forgiveness and moving past the hurts. Generally, one of the two will move on to the elusive "one who fits them like a glove"...thinking the grass is greener.

    He uses the necklace later in the song again as a metaphor...as is often the case in relationships, the man "gets it" once she's gone. He's left behind with all his feelings of pain but also of the knowledge of his love for her....the necklace that he can tangibly HOLD in his hand. He is realizing that she wasn't just bitching to bitch or nagging to nag. She is now gone, and it's all too apparent that he's feeling all these feelings so acutely. All he can do is throw up a defense by putting the knowledge and feelings of HER in that secret place of pain back where the point of conflict began...in that secret place deep down. The mind in its infinite wisdom will deal with pain by enveloping the pain and conflict with defenses and splinter that off and tend to dissociate from the core personality or conscious mind. You can't camp out there where it hurts...so you dissociate and move on. Maybe to that fairy tale one that will fit just like a glove...where there aren't the shallow waters and unseen reefs (but there always are).

    "And I held it in my hand
    For a little while
    And dropped it into the wall
    Let it go, heard it fall..."

    It's a masterful use of the device of the metaphor. I agree that it's one of his best song lyrics! There's at least one performance (see youtube.com) where he looks like he really isn't doing so well while singing the song. You gotta love JB for always showing us his heart. He's one of the few performers that I can say that I feel that has affected my life all these decades just because he's shared his.
    phxvalleygirlon September 17, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI agree completely. Relationships appear great to the outsider, or when a relationshsip begins it's wonderful. But there's a lot more that goes into it. After a while people find out that relationship that began so perfect require a lot more to make it work.
    jtbon February 12, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General Comment"and never know the shallows and the unseen reefs that are there from the start, in the shape of a heart." what a cynical view on love. tis great. basically, this amazing song (that no one's commented on) is about how love and people's relationships can seem so great in public and on the surface, but right below are fights and suffering.
    uncgurlon October 25, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General Commentit's all about how any thought can be conceived with good intention. even if it turns out bad, it was conceived "in the shape of a heart" or in good will. something may turn out really bad, or a plan or a thing you do in a relationship can turn out really bad, completely the opposite from that you wanted it to, but it happens. its explaining that thats what he wants people to know. he thought of it in goodwill.

    his thoughts are conceived in the shape of a heart, he did it for love
    baxon June 07, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General Commentbax has it kinda right...people think of love in terms of the shape of a heart, a perfect shape of two mirrored halves joining together. However, what love actually is can be fist-shaped, disfiguring, and sometimes hollow. This song is about unrealistic expectations of love and relationships. She wore that pendant as her ideal of their relationship while the house represents its reality. The house was still standing, but there was too much damage: "Far too many to repair in the time that we were there." Before they could mend the relationship from one battle, others cropped up and nothing got resolved. She lost her idealization (ruby pendant) of love in the reality (the hole in the wall) of the pressure of dysfunctional relating. It's said that Browne wrote this about Daryl Hannah, and given his past hurt, it's likely that he refused to allow emotional intimacy its full rein.
    jamiescryinon July 15, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI believe it is about his first wife, who committed suicide. Not Daryl Hannah.
    Dabizion May 03, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentJackson's double imagery in the title is what strikes me about this song. There is "the ruby that she wore/on a chain around her neck/in the shape of a heart". One one hand, the ruby pendant signifies something about the outer appearance of a person, while the "unseen reefs" refer to their emotional makeup - the shape of their heart. One of Jackson's best songs ever.
    detailrichon October 18, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentJackson's double imagery in the title is what strikes me about this song. There is "the ruby that she wore/on a chain around her neck/in the shape of a heart". One one hand, the ruby pendant signifies something about the outer appearance of a person, while the "unseen reefs" refer to their emotional makeup - the shape of their heart. One of Jackson's best songs ever.
    detailrichon October 18, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI think its about how people dont go looking very hard for true love. Instead they just take what comes
    "Wait around for the one who fits just like a glove"

    But unfortunatly true love doesnt just come around when people wait for it, and instead they often end up finding love which is not completely real, instead, it is only
    "In the shape of a heart"
    ..and this is what causes the holes in the walls...etc..

    very powerful song though, and probably true for many relationships.
    dublinboioon February 02, 2009   Link

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