Times When One Direction Were Actually Renaissance Poets

Sarah Smeltzer

Staff Writer

Sarah Smeltzer is a writer and educator in Minneapolis. Born and raised in Minnesota, she recognizes that lakes are the best and spookiest bodies of water around. When she's not teaching, she's usually writing stories, rollerskating, cuddling her dog, or researching medieval women's mysticism.

One Direction was once the axis on which my earth turned. I loved them so much it would make my chest ache; there wasn’t enough room in my body for how much I loved them. My best friend and I saw them in concert in 2015 and I sobbed the entire time.

The Pin

One Direction was about visible and enthusiastic love, and being earnest in your desire, and a view of the world that seemed simple and good and beautiful. They saw the blood and light within me and loved it all. Since the indefinite hiatus, I’ve felt a little less agonizingly in love with them, but I feel that they are still inscribed on my DNA. They crawled up next to my heart and have never left.

Renaissance era poetry is quite different from One Direction. Renaissance poets tend to be a bit more grim in their perspectives on love.

I’ve always felt that One Direction lyrics offer so much to explore, and I especially love pairing them with classic pieces of literature. Here, I pair One Direction lyrics with related quotations from Renaissance poetry and see what new understandings of love and loss emerge.


We’re on fire now/i’ve got fire for a heart/maybe we’re fireproof/the fire beneath my feet is burning bright/if this room was burning i wouldn’t even notice/in the heat where you lay i could stay right here and burn in it all day/let me be the one to light a fire inside those eyes/your fire is burning deep in my soul/don’t burn out


One Direction knows fire.

One Direction and Renaissance poets both love fire as a metaphor for love. It’s a good, if easy, metaphor: love hurts, fire hurts. Love destroys, fire destroys. Love is exciting and powerful, fire can overpower the one who set it aflame.

Fire and the heart

We’re on fire, we are on fire, we’re on fire now

—One Direction, “Happily,” 2013

I’ve got fire for a heart

—One Direction, “Drag Me Down,” 2015

Affection is a coal that must be cool’d;

Else, suffer’d, it will set the heart on fire.

—Shakespeare, “Venus and Adonis,” 1593

In this Shakespeare selection, fire is dangerous. It’s a risk to let fire grow in your heart. Fire can get out of control and destroy the person who allows themself to love too much.

To One Direction, fire is good. Having fire for a heart means that you are burning bright. It means you are alive. Your heart is so powerful, and that power only grows. You are hot to the touch and your passion extends beyond your body.

Fire to ashes

Don’t burn out

—One Direction, “Through the Dark,” 2013

How like a fire doth love increase in me,

The longer that it lasts, the stronger still…

Love I will till I but ashes prove.

—Wroth, “Sonnet 48,” 1621

In “Through the Dark,” One Direction are, as one unified front, loving and supporting me, their collective depressed girlfriend. They know that my brain’s all wrong. They know that I’m hurt and lost. But they’re going to hold me through it all, and they see that the fire in me is still burning, it has not died yet, and they plead with me: “don’t burn out.”

I’m framing this as Wroth responding that far from burning out, the fire of her love only grows stronger with time. She will love until she is ashes. This does indicate an eventual “burning out,” but one that occurs over a lifetime, with a fire that lasts as long as her body.

Heart and loss

for your eyes only i show you my heart/my heart your heart sit tight like bookends/let me touch you where your heart is


My heart, your heart, sit tight like bookends

—One Direction, “Strong,” 2013

I’m half a heart without you

—One Direction, “Half a Heart,” 2013

O cure this loving madness, and restore me to me, thee, my half, my all, my more.

—Donne, “Sappho to Philaenis,” 1633


You have lost something. When you’ve experienced the wholeness of two hearts sitting together close as books, the emptiness when one of them leaves is looming and painful. There’s a big empty space inside you that you’re desperate to fill up. Being half of yourself is a special kind of loss, and it’s what you risk happening when you find another heart to stack up tight next to yours.

Transference of hearts

your fire is burning deep in my soul/i can feel your heart inside of mine/i don’t need my love you can take it/i won’t be leaving ‘til i finish stealing every piece of your heart


I don’t need my love, you can take it. I don’t need my heart, you can break it.

—One Direction, “Never Enough,” 2015

I can feel your heart inside of mine

—One Direction, “If I Could Fly,” 2015

Take my heart…yours it is, to you it flies.

—Wroth, “Pamphilia to Amphilanthus,” 1621

In love, hearts exchange places. One Direction earnestly encourages their beloved to do what they will: please take my love. Please break my heart. I don’t need any of it. You can have everything, please, I want you to have everything.

Wroth’s heart flies to her beloved, its true owner, and One Direction reveals where that heart goes—inside their own. It strikes me as a deeply safe place to be, inside One Direction’s heart. Love requires the vulnerability in trading hearts and trusting the other to keep it safe.

Kisses and cups

Stained coffee cup, just a fingerprint of lipstick’s not enough

—One Direction, “No Control,” 2014

Leave a kiss but in the cup, and I’ll not look for wine

—Jonson, “Song: To Celia,”  1616

Jonson writes that his love doesn’t even need to kiss him for him to be satisfied; she can just leave the kiss in a cup, and he’ll ask for nothing more.

For One Direction, however, the lipstick stain on the coffee cup just makes them hungry for more. The remnants of where her lips once were are “not enough.” They’re not satisfied with seeing the traces of where she’s been; they want her whole embodied self. Seeing the lipstick stain just reminds them of where it came from and how bad they want it.


When I lie tangled in her hair,
And fettered to her eye,
The Gods that wanton in the Air,
Know no such Liberty.

—Lovelace, “To Althea, From Prison,” 1642

If he feels my traces in your hair, I’m sorry love but I don’t really care

—One Direction, “Happily,” 2013

I just love the idea of hair as a mechanism of love. To One Direction, love is a physical remnant left in the strands of our hair. Love leaves its mark all over us. To Lovelace, her hair is one of the features that keeps him bound to her, and in it, he has a freedom that even gods cannot imagine.

What even is a heart, anyway?

Now I’m searching every lonely place,

every corner calling out your name

trying to find you but I just don’t know

where do broken hearts go?

—One Direction, “Where Do Broken Hearts Go?”, 2014

I found something like a heart,

but colours it, and corners had,

it was not good, it was not bad

—Donne, “The Legacy,” ~1600

I like to combine these two to form one narrative. Someone is searching all over town for a broken heart that he knows is around here somewhere. He finds something that sort of looks like a heart, but not quite. What happens when you search for something, but only find something that vaguely resembles it? Is that good enough?

Does a heart, after being broken, become only “something like a heart?” Does it lose its original qualities when it breaks?

I want to know what a broken heart looks like. I imagine the One Direction boys looking everywhere—behind dumpsters, between books at the library, buying a coffee so they can get the key to the bathroom and investigate the paper towel dispenser. What are they expecting to find?

I think anyone who has had a broken heart knows very well where it goes. It stays in your chest and its jagged edges cut you up inside. It is heavy and it is painful. These two quotations, when placed together, articulate the fear that when your heart breaks, it is never the same. It will never be whole and itself again. It develops “corners” and is only an imitation of what it once was.

(If that bummed you out, the next sequence of quotations will demonstrate that No, This Is Not The Case)

Whole Hearted

Although I am broken my heart is untamed still

—One Direction, “Story of My Life,” 2013

Send home my harmless heart again

which no unworthy thought could stain

—Donne, “The Message,” ~1600


Love can break you. It can leave you stranded and in pain and torn apart. However, your heart always remains intact. It is never “stained” and it is always wholly and completely yours. It remains “untamed” because the heart is brave, the heart is good, and it will see you through this.

If you need a break from Renaissance poetry and are looking for poetry of the contemporary persuasion, check out this post.