Meaning of “Shape of My Heart” by Sting
“Shape of My Heart” is a song performed by English singer and songwriter Sting. Contrary to popular belief, this song isn’t a love song. In a 1993 interview, Sting said the lyrics of the track tell the story of a card player (a gambler/poker player) who plays cards or gambles not because he hopes to win but because he wants to “figure out something” eluding him. According to Sting, the gambler gambles mainly because he wants to understand “some kind of mystical logic in luck”.
Sting went on to refer to the gambler as a “philosopher” who gambles neither for respect nor for money but in the sole attempt to figure out the logic in chance or luck, which he refers to as a law that is to a certain degree scientific or even religious.
In describing the character of the gambler, Sting said that by virtue of the fact that he is a poker player, he doesn’t “express his emotions”. He wears a mask, which “never changes”.
In Sting’s 2007 book titled Lyrics by Sting, Sting said after receiving the song’s guitar riff from his longtime friend and guitarist Dominic Miller, he went out for a walk through the woods to try to think of the lyrics of the song and that by the time he returned, he had written the entire song in his head.
Facts about “Shape of My Heart”
- The song was written by Sting and the noted Argentine-born guitarist Dominic Miller.
- Sting produced the track with English record producer Hugh Padgham, who is considered one of the most influential producers of his time. Padgham is best known for producing some of the most famous works of such bands and artists as Phil Collins, Genesis, David Bowie and The Police. He pioneered the legendary gated reverb drum sound which was used heavily on Phil Collins’ 1981 global hit song “In the Air Tonight“.
- “Shape of My Heart” was released on August 1st, 1993 as the 5th single from Sting’s fourth studio album Ten Summoner’s Tales, which sold over 10 million copies worldwide.
- The song, which has a total run time of 4 minutes and 41 seconds, peaked at number 57 on the UK Singles Chart.
- The late American harmonica player Larry Adler played the harmonica on the track.
- The song was played during the end credits of the 1994 thriller film Léon: The Professional starring French actor Jean Reno and Israeli-born American actress Natalie Portman.
Did the song “Shape of My Heart” win a Grammy Award?
No, it didn’t.
Which artists have sampled “Shape of My Heart”?
A lot! Some of the most notable songs that contain prominent samples of this track include: the 2003 song “Shape” by the English girl group Sugababes, another 2003 song titled “Rise and Fall” by English singer Craig David and the 2018 song “Lucid Dreams” by American rapper Juice Wrld. Some other popular songs that sample “Shape of My Heart” include the following:
- “The Message” by Nas
- “Take Him Back” by Monica
- “Emotional” by Carl Thomas
- “Pieces” by Tory Lanez (ft 50 Cent)
What musical genre does the song “Shape of My Heart” belong to?
This track fits perfectly into the category of pop rock.
Love this song. It makes me ponder the solitude of being alive and at the same time being a feather in the breaze.
That’s such a beautiful comment.
Perhaps he doesn’t know himself what the real meaning is and only the songwriter does, in private? The clue is given away by: “If I told her that I loved you / You’d maybe think there’s something wrong / I’m not a man of too many faces / The mask I wear is one.” The song in – in essence – probably about an extra-marital affair or something of the kind and the lines about the card game are merely a metaphor. Anyone who is familiar with analyzing poetry should see through this…
The verses are in 3rd person while the refrain is in 1st. The speaker is describing a man studies the art of sexual conquest.
“He deals the cards as a meditation”. Meditation is a solo act that focuses inward. It doesn’t matter who he plays. They will never know that they are just another opponent and this is just another hand of cards.
“He doesn’t play for the money he wins He doesn’t play for respect.” This is a person who does engage in a relationship for the sex or even the respect from other men that he can conquer women.
“He deals the cards to find the answer. The sacred geometry of chance”. He studies relationship after relationship in pursuit of the science of control of another person. He calls the chance interaction sacred. This elevates his hurting into a religion. The repetition of card hand after card hand like a religious ceremony done repeatedly.
“The hidden law of the probable outcome”. The numbers lead a dance. These probable outcomes the man being described has tested so repeatedly and rigorously as to turn them into law. A dance is between two people. The numbers being the factors in a relationship.
In the refrain the speaker switches to first person. He describes the different components of the game. (Personally I think spades are used to create defenses in war and don’t refer to swords). He is speaking to the card player’s current conquest because the speaker loves her. He says that he understands how the game is played but that is not the shape of my heart.
The speaker goes on to describe different gambits the player may use. He eludes to different ways she may be played against and manipulated.
He repeats the refrain again saying twice that that is not how he views love. That is not the shape of my heart.
The musical interlude has a meandering tone from a melancholy harmonica. It sounds like the speaker knows that she is not listening to him. She is destined to learn the hard way about the player.
He says she would think there is something wrong if he told her that he loved her. The speaker says he is not a man of too many faces again pointing out that he doesn’t dissemble and hide who he is but that he is wearing a mask. He is hiding his true feelings from her behind his mask. The speaker doesn’t usually hide himself but he must hide this from her. He is afraid to tell her how he feels.
The speaker says that “those who speak know nothing and find out too their cost”. He knows that he will loose the relationship he has with her if he tells her the truth about how he feels.
“Like fools who curse their luck in too many places” is him realizing that if he says what he feels it will simply sound like he is trying to trash talk the player to elevate himself.
“Those who fear are lost”. The speaker is in an impossible position. He knows to keep talking is to reveal himself but to say nothing is to say nothing is to abandon her to her fate. Do you save the person you love heartache if it means you can’t have them yourself? Do you let it happen and attempt to scoop up the pieces afterwards? It’s a question he is asking himself. Am I better that this player? He answers yes and the last refrain is him saying that this is the way the player is waging war against your heart.
He ends the song saying “that’s not the shape of my heart”. He says it three times turning it into a plea. This player does not love you. He is just studying your reactions. You are a thing to him. The speaker says that is not who I am. He is all talked out. He has said his peace.
The last melodic line is another repetition from earlier as though the speaker knows the outcome of all his entreaties. The harmonica comes back to say what will be will be. Still somber but in a less serious, slightly more hopeful note. Will she listen? Did this ruin his chance to win her heart? If the speaker does will the shadow of the player forever taint their relationship because the speaker has in the end manipulated her just like the player?
Nice interpretation, Tom. My husband is a musician who sings this song often & we talk about the meaning. I also like that your post is on our 24th wedding anniversary. 🙂
Votre histoire, (analyse caricaturale hyper freudienne) pourrait être intéressante… Seulement voila, il est très clair que vous connaissez mal certaines formules idiomatiques de la langue anglaise. Traduire “it’s not the shape of my heart” par “ce n’est pas la forme de mon cœur” (qui, au demeurant en français ne veut rien dire du tout) le démontre clairement. C’est un peu du même genre que d’imaginer quelqu’un essayer de couper vraiment un cheveu en 4 parce que il a entendu cette expression.
N’est pas traducteur qui veut, et je ne l’aurais moi même pas su si un anglophone natif ne m’avait éclairé sur ce point.
Pour le reste, achetez un canapé et mettez une plaque en cuivre sur votre porte. On ne sait jamais ! ;-=)
English Translation via Google Translate:
Your story, (hyper Freudian caricatural analysis) could be interesting… Only voila, it is very clear that you do not know certain idioms of the English language well. Translating “it’s not the shape of my heart” by “ce n’est pas la forme de mon cœur” (which, incidentally in French does not mean anything at all) clearly demonstrates this. It’s a bit like imagining someone trying to really cut a hair in four because they’ve heard that expression.
You don’t want a translator, and I myself wouldn’t have known if a native English speaker hadn’t enlightened me on this point.
For the rest, buy a sofa and put a copper plaque on your door. We never know ! ; – =)
Knowing a bit about the tarot, there is a deeper metaphorical meaning to playing the cards as a meditation. Our modern playing cards have common roots with the tarot, and are essentially the Minor Arcana of a traditional Tarot deck. The suits are similar – spades = swords, clubs = wands, diamonds = pentacles, and hearts = cups. In a reading, playing the jack of diamonds represents someone coming forth with an offer of love (page of pentacles), laying the queen of spades is an offer rejected (queen of swords), and a king concealed in one’s hand until the memory of it fades means that what was held secret was more than just the tentative offer presented by the page. It may be about a gambler, perhaps, but I’d like to think Sting’s fertile mind is probably fed by all sorts of esoteric studies.
Oh finally! This is the comment I was looking for… for the very first time I noticed the possibility of tarot references in these lyrics, and as tarot itself, the words, just as much as the cards, can be read into multiple interpretations, that we as consultants will only recognize to the extent our masks allow us to.
Diamonds (pentacles) were originally coins, which is why Sting refers to it as money.
The way you have explained the song is magnificent Tom, I was trying to find the right meaning for the song but only this explanation convinced me.
I respect the comment of the poetry analyst/s (and I like it) but I think it would be more accurate to add an “I think that the author meant:…”. In fact I believe that we may never know the true meaning of this song and I believe that the author may have another deep,deeper explanation for this song, deeper experiences so that his heart and soul wrote this song spontaneously, deeper feelings about this song “masking them” on a “superficial” explanation like the one he gave. And to conclude I think that we shouldn’t bother searching a meaning for this song, because this song speaks feelings. You may not understand english at all and the melody itself will translate the emotions of the author for you.
Well said. I agree with you, and the others. I, too, find the analyst reached a bit in interpreting/misinterpreting the metaphors. As well, he/she did not know enough about the language to figure out the idiomatic references to “playing” (tricking perhaps) the “jack of diamonds (the knaive, the fool with money); or “laying” (sex) the “queen of spades” (perhaps a woman who can bring wrath from scorn); or “conceal” (hide, protect, sequester, shelter, or CONTROL) the “king in is hand” (a person in power, or a leader, or a boss who is under his control by some element of force). These are nuances that were lost, missed, in the analysis that, I believe, should be considered when attempting to dissect A, not THE, greater story. As said, none of us know the ACTUAL story, so al of our suppositions are speculative, at best. And that is the beauty of art (individualistically interpretable), and the elusive SHAPE of his heart. Enjoyed yours; I hope you enjoyed mine. Bye for now, my friend.
Don’t look for a deeper meaning, try looking for a life lesson here. Don’t live your life trying to figure out everything in order for u to be sure u make the right choice… just start living it
The song is so good. I like the voice of the Singer and the instrumental
What a surprise that a song that use card things can have that meaning and its that popular.
i think is a good song even though it’s not of my type of music that i like.
Such an extended metaphor. The use of words is artistically subtle. One of my favourite, definitely.
Due to the Pandemic, which started wayback March 2020 here in the Philippines, I started learning how to sing this song. The learning process took at least 3 months, everytime I sing this song Live, I can feel shivers down my spine, I always reminisce those things that I have done in the past, those things that motivated me to be a better person now, Thank you to my Idol, STING and Sir Dominic Miller for creating the song, MORE POWER TO BOTH OF YOU!
Appreciate Tom’s analysis. Whether it is “correct” or not does not matter to me. I like it because it is plausible, thorough, and thought-provoking.
Music emotion and lyrical meaning is in the eye of the beholder. That’s the whole point. Arguing over “true meanings” is an exercise in futility. Even if Sting proclaims a song meant something specific to him when he wrote it, doesn’t mean your interpretation is wrong. It simply makes it your own.