Brian Doyle Essay Joyas Voladoras Message

An In-Depth Response on Joyas Voladoras

     Brian Doyle has an interesting approach that he used in his passage, "Joyas Voladoras". He uses metaphors through this passage to comment on the life humans live and how we love. With comparisons of the hummingbird and tortoise heartbeat speed, Doyle is commenting that there are different ways to live your life. He still is stressing the fact that human life is precious throughout this passage. Doyle also explains about blue whales to bring in the topic of love.

     Within the opening paragraph he speaks in detail about the heart of a hummingbird. He explains that the title means flying jewels. With each piece of information the reader learns about the incredible hummingbird with the heart the size of a pencil eraser. He spaces out these ideas to give time to the reader time to think with just a single gap in between each paragraph. In the second paragraph he continues explaining their talents such as being able to "dive at sixty miles an hour...[or] fly more than five hundred miles without pausing to rest"(Doyle 273). Quickly, he changes to explain how fragile this is. He is trying to show that life can be just that fragile. One moment you could think you are at the top of the world but any moment you could be at rock bottom just like the hummingbird only inches from death. Doyle is inspired to write on the topic of the heart because his son was born with three out of four chambers in his heart. He understands how precious life is. He is trying to convey this through his metaphor of the hummingbird.

     In the third paragraph he mixes both ideas together. Doyle is able to do this through his explanation of the metabolisms of the hummingbirds. With this paragraph he explains "the price of their ambition is a life closer to death; they suffer heart attacks and aneurysms and ruptures more than any other living creature...You burn out. You fry the machine" (Doyle 273). He is using the metaphor again with the hummingbird to show that hummingbirds live their lives very quickly. He's commenting that we can live our lives like this, fast and moving all over the place but we will not live a long life. He compares the hummingbird life to a tortoise's life. He explains that with "approximately two billion heartbeats" (Doyle 274) you can live your life in different ways. One option would be the hummingbird life, about two years but all over the place. Another option would be like the tortoise to live almost two hundred years old. He sees these two opposite options as the way we view our own lives. Some people go through life very quickly not stopping, they just keep buzzing all around. With others they are very conservative in their life so they take things slowly. He is not saying one way is better than another but simply providing two different lifestyles.

     Doyle introduces the blue whale in the next section with the largest heart. He explains how their hearts are "as big as a room. It is a room, with four chambers. A child could walk around in..." (Doyle 274). He wants the reader to visualize and compare the hummingbird heart, a pencil's eraser, to the blue whales heart, four rooms a child could fit through. Each heart keeps different animals alive whether it is the largest for a blue whale or the smallest for the hummingbird. We can all live through different lifestyles but going through life so quickly will burn us out faster. If we go through life slower than we can live a longer time. Doyle points out "There are perhaps ten thousand blue whales in the world, living in every ocean on earth, and of the largest mammal who ever lived we know nearly nothing. But we know the animals with the largest hearts in the world generally travel in pairs..." (274). These animals show how to love in life. By living together in a pair they truly love each other because they take care of each other everyday. He then goes on to compare different types of living beings with their different hearts. The last sentence in the second to last paragraph states "we all churn inside" (Doyle 274). He is preparing the reader for the deepest part of this passage.

     Doyle states "so much held in a heart in a lifetime. So much held in a heart in a day, an hour, a moment" (274). Without a metaphor he is saying life is important, every single second. Take advantages of the moments you have in this life by living your life through every moment. He goes on to compare the heart to a house in which we all live alone. He explains that we let people in by opening windows. We choose who comes into our heart but still we are living alone. He explains we live like this because we are to afraid to of a "constantly harrowed heart". As we age our hearts become "bruised, and scarred, scored and torn, repaired by time and will, patched by force of character, yet fragile and rickety forevermore, no matter how ferocious the defense and how many bricks you bring to the wall" (Doyle 274). Doyle is saying through our lives as we grow and love we do get hurt through heartbreak and with time and will we do become "repaired" but we will still stay fragile. We can put up as many walls to prevent people from hurting us but to let someone in is to allow them to love you or hurt you. The walls will come down eventually. The cycle can continue through each person we let inside of our hearts to be loved or to be hurt. He states you can make "your heart as stout and tight and hard and cold and impregnable as you possible can and down it comes in an instant..." He leaves us with things in life we all can relate or imagine such as "a child's apple breath...the words I have something to tell you...[or] the memory of your father's voice early in the morning echoing from the kitchen where he is making pancakes for his children (Doyle 275). Memories like these bring back emotion from experiences we have had in our own lives. The walls in our lives come down, fast.

     In Doyle's passage Joyas Voldoras, he uses metaphors through hearts to explain about life and love. This poetic passage may be a little over two pages but it is very deep. Through the hummingbird, Doyle explains about such a precious fast-paced life that is very dangerous. He compares their lives to the life of a tortoise who lives a very slow long life. Through these two ways of life Doyle comments on how humans live their lives. Through the blue whale, Doyle explains about love with the largest heart in any mammal. Talking about hearts in general, Doyle explains to live every moment in our life.

When I was a senior in college I took a creative writing class as part of my English major.  In this class we read a number of essays and short-stories in a collection that promotes up and coming writers.  In any case, as I was flipping through this book, I ran across a very short essay called “Joyas Voladoras” by Brian Doyle.  While only slightly over two pages, this essay perfectly captures the reality of the human heart and the pain of love.  The last paragraph is one of the most beautiful–and heart-wrenching–paragraphs that I’ve read in all of literature.  It literally knocks the breath out of you.

As part of the class, we read the story out loud together by taking turns reading paragraphs.  As I had already read it, I knew that when we reached the last paragraph, we would want to be prepared.  I don’t mean the kind of prepared where we brace ourselves for an impact that we don’t want to feel, but the kind of preparation where we need to pause to give our hearts the time and space to really feel what is about to happen.  Far too often we ignore the deepest emotions of our heart, and I didn’t want this to be one of those times.  So as we neared the final paragraph, I raised my hand and suggested that our professor should read the last paragraph so we could all listen and let the experience of this reading fully hit us.  She quietly smiled and said that I should read it.

I began reading out loud slowly and deliberately not wanting to rush over the lines for fear of having this moment end too quickly.  When someone captures the human experience in the way this writer did, you can actually enter into it yourself as you read.  And as I read, our creative writing class entered into this moment.  At the end, I looked up, and our teacher (and a number of others if I’m not mistaken) were wiping tears away from their eyes.  It is one of my favorite moments of college, and perhaps my life.

“Joyas Valadoras” is the name given to the humming bird by the first explorers in the Americas.  It means “flying jewels” and the description of the hummingbird–and the hummingbird’s heart–is how Doyle begins this essay.  Don’t be fooled by the word “essay” for it is far too poetic to be a mere essay.  In fact, the first sentence of this piece gives wise instructions for how the reader should approach the whole piece:  “Consider the hummingbird for a long moment.”  In other words, don’t rush through this.

Doyle describes the hummingbird’s heart.  It beats ten times per second and is the size of a “pencil eraser.”  In fact, the heart beats so fast that on a cold night or when they need to sleep they are actually in danger of dying for the heart slows down too much.  Rest for them can be deadly.  Doyle explains it like this:  “On frigid nights…they retreat into torpor, their metabolic rate slowing to a fifteenth of their normal sleep rate, their hearts slugging nearly to a halt, barely beating, and if they are not warmed, if they do not soon find that which is sweet, their hearts grow cold, and they cease to be.”  [**Stay with me here, for this is far more than an essay describing the physical conditions of a hummingbird!**]

Doyle then asks us to consider those humming birds who do not wake up:  “Consider for a moment those hummingbirds who did not open their yes again today…each thunderous wild heart the size of an infant’s fingernail, each mad heart silent,  a brilliant music stilled.”  Doyle explains that the hummingbird’s heart races incredibly fast, so much so that they often experience heart-failure or aneurysms–more than any other creature.  The nature of the racing of their hearts is such that their lives are very short.

Then slowly and imperceptibly, Doyle is not talking about a hummingbird’s heart anymore.  That is not what this essay is about anyway. He writes, “Every creature on earth has approximately two billion heartbeats to spend in a lifetime.  You can spend them slowly, like a tortoise, and live to be two hundred years old, or you can spend them fast, like a hummingbird, and live to be two years old.”

In contrast, Doyle explains that the biggest heart in the world is that of a blue whale.  It ways seven tons!!  Yet, we know very little about this gigantic creature.  There are about 10,000 blue whales in the world and “of the largest mammal who ever lived we know nearly nothing.”  But Doyle goes on to write, “But we know this:  the animals with the largest hearts in the world generally travel in pairs, and their penetrating moaning cries, their piercing yearning tongue, can be heard underwater for miles and miles.”

As should be obvious by now, Doyle is doing far more than describing the hearts of various animals.  In explaining about the hearts of animals, he has subtly been drawing us into this reality:  “We all churn inside.”  In this creation there is unimaginable beauty (“flying jewels”) and their is excruciating pain (“a brilliant music stilled”).  And so finally, we are led to his masterful ending and the real point of this whole piece.  If you’ve read this far, I encourage you to take a minute and quiet your heart.  Let yourself feel these words.  It may hurt, but it will almost certainly heal as well.  In giving an overview of the hearts of creatures, Doyle ends with this:


“So much held in a heart in  lifetime.  So much held in a heart in day, and hour, a moment.  We are utterly open with no one, in the end–not mother and father, not wife or husband, not lover, not child, not friend.  We open windows to each but we live alone in the house of the heart.  Perhaps we must.  Perhaps we could not bear to be so naked, for fear of a constantly harrowed heart.  When young we think there will come one person who will savor and sustain us always; when we are older we know this is the dream of a child, that all hearts finally are bruised and scarred, scored and torn, repaired by time and will, patched by force of character, yet fragile and rickety forevermore, no matter how ferocious the defense and how many bricks you bring to the wall.  You can brick up your heart as stout and tight and hard and cold and impregnable as you possibly can and down it comes in an instant, felled by a woman’s second glance, a child’s apple breath, the shatter of glass in the road, the words I have something to tell you, a cat with a broken spine dragging itself into the forest to die, the brush of your mother’s papery ancient hand in the thicket of your hair, the memory of your father’s voice early in the morning echoing from the kitchen where he is making pancakes for his children.”


We’re meant to experience deeply this life.  Deeply.  And that hurts.  And naturally we attempt to shield ourselves from the pain.  And in the short-term, that may work.  But, we’re not meant to “brick up our heart” so that it’s cold and impregnable.  We’re meant to go on,  and as we go, we experience pain and sorrow–and there’s a hell of a lot of it.  But you know what, in the midst of all of the pain that humanity bears, there’s real love and real joy too.   And we’re meant and designed to experience that as well.  Let’s not close off our hearts to the few things in life (i.e., joy, friendship, love, courage, God, eternity) that make this all worth it, just because we have to have a little (or a lot of) “pain and sorrow” along the way.  What kind of life is that in the end?

Keep living–and feeling deeply.

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