Study Guide

Central Heating Stanza 2

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Stanza 2

Lines 6-7

Short-circuit in the heart-system
Engine breakdown

  • These two lines are short and choppy, like emergency messages broadcast over a radio would be. We start with a "short-circuit," or electrical mess-up, and are backed up by the idea that the engine is breaking down, failing to get its job done. 
  • But it's not an electrical system that's been wired wrong—it's the heart system. This line is helping to establish the metaphor of a central heating system for the human body and emotions in this poem. We can imagine a heating system, wires and engine sparking to a stop. Now, imagine a heart that is made of wire instead of human tissue. In this poem, the heart is stopping; its engine shutting down. 
  • But there's yet another layer of metaphor here. Normally, when we think of heart problems literally, we think of dying, of heart attacks. It doesn't seem, though, that our speaker is suffering any physical heart problems. Instead, we're guessing that the "heart-system" is standing in for his emotions, perhaps his romantic feelings for one of the women or the "you" mentioned earlier in the poem.

Line 8

What electromagnet is still keeping me running

  • Along with what seems to be a general failure of the heart, or emotional, system of this person's body and life, the main force that's keeping him running, without support from his heart, is under question. 
  • He claims that it must be an electromagnet that's keeping him going. An electromagnet is a magnet whose magnetic field is only created when it's activated by electricity. Without electricity, it's not magnetic. With electricity, it is. 
  • Now, apply that to a force that would make a human body work. It's an interesting metaphor, comparing the force that keeps us alive to an electromagnet. If we humans are magnets, that means that, by nature, we are drawn to or repelled by other people and objects. 
  • Then, you can't forget the "electro" part of the electromagnet. There's some force behind us, some electricity, powering this attraction and repellence. What the force of this electricity could be is a source of great debate. Some people would say the electromagnet keeping us all running is God, some would say love, and some might even say money. 
  • Either way, the speaker seems amazed that he's still running at all. Note that the word "running" continues the metaphor which compares the speaker to a heating system. He's not living, as humans normally are described, but "running," a word which would normally be used to describe a machine that's turned on and working. 
  • The word "still" connotes that the speaker feels that, by all odds, he should have broken down long ago, and wonders what force keeps him going.

Line 9

My eyes and my love are both taking the same wrong road

  • We skip from questioning what force is keeping the speaker running to focusing on two things: his eyes, and his love. These two things are together, but in a turn of figurative language, they're both headed down a road that's not going to take them where they should be going. 
  • We should think about what "eyes" could mean here. Eyes could mean the love that the narrator has for a woman's physical body, or, lust. It could also just mean, plainly, where he's looking. His love, then, could mean the romantic feelings that go along with the physical attraction that his eyes feel. Extend it further down the line, and it seems that "the same wrong road" could be a metaphor about falling for, physically and emotionally, the wrong woman. 
  • We don't know for sure why this love could be wrong, but there are many reasons that we can guess. Maybe he's married, and he's falling in love with someone else. Or maybe the person he's falling in love with is married. Or maybe she just doesn't love him back, or maybe she's moving thousands of miles away in just a few days. Either way, it seems that this road is going to lead the speaker straight into a dead end, if not over a cliff. 
  • It seems that everything in this poor speaker's life is up in the air. Not only is his heart breaking, his engine stalling, and the force that keeps him alive in question, he's falling in love with someone who's bound to get him into trouble. Bad times, gang.

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