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Shape Of My Heart by Sting

Album: Ten Summoner's TalesReleased: 1993Charted:
57
  • Sting (from a 1993 promotional interview): "I wanted to write about a card player, a gambler who gambles not to win but to try and figure out something; to figure out some kind of mystical logic in luck, or chance; some kind of scientific, almost religious law. So this guy's a philosopher, he's not playing for respect and he's not playing for money, he's just trying to figure out the law - there has to be some logic to it. He's a poker player so it's not easy for him to express his emotions, in fact he doesn't express anything, he has a mask, and it's just one mask and it never changes." >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Monica - London, England
  • This is one of the rare songs that is co-written by Sting's longtime guitarist, Dominic Miller. In Lyrics By Sting, the singer remembered Miller bringing him the "beautiful guitar riff" and going for a walk along the riverbank and through the woods to figure out the lyrics. "When I got back, the whole song was written in my head. Dominic now thinks that I find lyrics under a rock somewhere... He could, of course, be right," Sting wrote.
  • This song was edited into the end of the 1994 movie Leon: The Professional. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Jeff - Kendall Park, NJ, for above 2
  • Both the Sugababes and Craig David sampled this and had hit singles with it in 2003 in the UK. The Sugababes' "Shape" made #11, and Craig David's "Rise And Fall" made #2. On the latter, Sting even made an appearance in the video and performed the track with Craig David on live music shows. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Adam - Dewsbury, England
  • Renowned harmonica player Larry Adler played on this song. Before collaborating with popular musicians like Sting, Elton John and Kate Bush in his later career, Adler worked with composers like George Gershwin, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Darius Milhaud - many of whom composed works specifically for him. Unfortunately, he would be blacklisted during the anti-Communist crusade led by Senator Joe McCarthy in the '50s.
  • This was featured on the TV crime drama Hustle in the 2011 episode "The Delivery."
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Comments: 22

Hi Rapha of Singapore.

Sorry, but in my understanding you misquote the lyrics of this song at the (for me) most important point!
You wrote: "And those who smile are lost", but I think the correct words are "And those who fear are lost" !
And for me that is the main message of this song, if you fear you are lost. So, get up, Cheer up, get back on your feed.
For me this is my personal song to lead me out of my darkness.

Greetings form Germany

Michael
Michael - Germinay
Sting's songs can be compared to each other to gain a good understanding of what he's attempting to convey with his lyrics. He may be singing about an aspect of himself, or it may just be a recurring character in different stories. This song is similar, at least in theme, to Fortress Around Your Heart. Fortress is a story about someone who has protected their heart for so long, and built such high walls to guard it that they have essentially created their own prison. Shape of my Heart is the introspective version.

He deals the cards as a meditation
And those he plays never suspect
He doesn't play for the money he wins
He doesn't play for the respect
He deals the cards to find the answer
The sacred geometry of chance
The hidden law of probable outcome
The numbers lead a dance

Let's call him the cardplayer. Whether he is playing cards or not is irrelevant. The game is a metaphor for the life that he has created for himself. He doesn't play this game with the same motivations as the average player. The game is his journey for truth, "to find the answer, " and is comprised of choice and chance. "The hidden laws" are only evident after play has occured. The player must "lead a dance" with his partner, the "sacred geometry of chance." Knowledge vs fate. A poker face may be great for a game of cards, but if you can't take it off when you're with a lover then you're in trouble.

I know that the spades are the swords of a soldier
I know that the clubs are weapons of war
I know that diamonds mean money for this art
But that's not the shape of my heart

The cardplayer understands how to fight and achieve. There is only one thing that is completely alien to him. Hearts are not his strong suit. He emphasizes his bewilderement by repeating like a mantra what he does know, but his own heart (and also the love of another person) is out of reach. The obvious symbolism here is the heart representing emotion and love. The "shape" of the heart on the card is a fantasy; the reality of a human heart is quite different.

He may play the jack of diamonds
He may lay the queen of spades
He may conceal a king in his hand
While the memory of it fades

Again our cardplayer is reassuring himself of what he can do. I though it interesting to find out that in a tarot deck the jack of diamonds represents the rebel and the queen of spades, betrayal. But to understand what the king is all about we need to remember one of Sting's other songs, which he did with the Police: King of Pain. Our cardplayer is hiding his pain, a pain from the past that he is trying to let go of. Could it be what hardened his heart in the first place?

I know that the spades are the swords of a soldier
I know that the clubs are weapons of war
I know that diamonds mean money for this art
But that's not the shape of my heart
That's not the shape, the shape of my heart

And if I told you 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
Those who speak know nothing
And find out to their cost
Like those who curse their luck in too many places
And those who smile are lost

Our character lives his life in a shell, unable to express himself to those around him. Those that know him would be caught off guard to the point of believing him to be a different person if he said, "I loved you." He is not deceitful, he only has one face, but that face is hidden behind "the mask." He is afraid of a life involving people and interaction, and he believes that those who choose that road pay a terrible price. They "curse their luck in too many places and those who smile are lost," meaning that life just ends up leaving you bitter without even your smile.
Rapha - Singapore, Singapore
[Sting]: I wanted to write about a card player. A gambler. Who gambles not, not to win, but to try and figure out something. To try and figure out some sort of mystical logic in luck. Or chance. A sort, some sort of scientific law or almost religious law. So this guy's a philosopher, you know, and he's not playing for respect and he's not playing for money. He just wants to try and figure out the, the law, I think. There has to be some logic to it. And, um, he's a poker player so he doesn't, it's not easy for him to express his emotions. In fact, he doesn't express any. He has a mask. And it's just one mask and it never changes. That's good for a poker player, but it's terrible for a, for a lover. If you're having a relationship with a guy like this, the poor woman is lost. So, I tried to create a little story that the guy was searching with his gambling. At the same time losing, losing his relationship. And also the cards are - I looked back at the derivation of our playing cards, which are actually tarot cards. And they're very old. Thousands of years old. Where they are, the suits of the cards. The, the diamonds mean money. The, the clubs are weapons. The spades are swords. And the, um, the hearts are, you know, it's love. But, uh, then I, I got, I got more and more involved in this thing, y'know, and the shape of the heart is not the shape of the human heart. And so, there's a kind of conflict there between reality and fantasy.Rapha - Singapore, Singapore
The rules may be set by men and the universe but no one and nothing can dictate upon you whom to love. Society can put labels to anything and everything except true love from the heart, from the soul, which remains constant throughout the ages.Alias - Metro Manila, Philippines
So does "that's not the shape of my heart" mean "that's not what I want/like"?Yury - Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
See also Spanish train by Chris de Burgh. In this case we might not be the dreem of s sleeping Deity but cards in his Deck. So be carefull if you choose to be a Joker in your life. (the only one playing that part perfect is Jack Nickelson let him live many more years)Roeland - Milan, Italy
Proverbs 25:2 [It is] the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings [is] to search out a matter.

see also Surah of the Ants

18. At length, when they came to a (lowly) valley of ants, one of the ants said: "O ye ants, get into your habitations, lest Solomon and his hosts crush you (under foot) without knowing it."

God does not gamble according to Einstein. However patterns exist in life. Like in "Leon""the Professional" after becoming an orphan as a little girl litterally a new door opens for her (she knocks) so knowk your own door after a dramatical event in your life (the just one) and it shall be opened upon you. (Revenge is hers like in Pulp Fiction)
Roeland - Milan, Italy
Some gamblers, play to keep mind in peace, far from hardness of living.As a meditation, is perfect to me. Not for the money: very right.
I like this song: it shows the sensibility of some men (or women)
angie
Angie - Vi
He deals the cards to find the answer - for me the song only makes sense in connection with the Tarot, but then it's quite clear that he's referring to it. In the traditional Tarot, the spades are swords (meaning the element of air - thoughts), clubs mean the wands (fire - spirit), diamonds are coins/pentacles (earth - related to money, home and earthly things in general), hearts are cups (water - feelings, emotions and so on). He may conceal a king in his hand - kings stand for people who have mastered their lifes in some kind and understand the world.Gernot - Graz, Austria
I noticed that this fact is nowhere to be found online: The lyric "He may lay the queen of spades" is a refference to the Alexander Pushkin fictional short story, "Queen of Spades" which is about a gambler.
Also note in the Police song, "Don't Stand So Close To Me", Sting mentions "that book by Nabokov" (Loloita).
Anyone who knows a little about Sting can tell you he is a very cultured guy and here are two closely related factoids I noticed.
Philip - Dagsboro, De
And to Alpheous: You are good in decoding some parts of the lyrics, but never feel sad for the man as he is in cloud 9 with such powerful joy. He is still the dealer, that is why he may conceal a king in his hand (having the power to call a stop to the game that he plays out with all his true heart), while the memory of it fades (lost promises and commitments, and he remorses over it). His intentions are definitely not the ones of a king, but from a totally lost soul in love. You are right on the nose to say that a lady was the cause of an inner war to him! Great read!Thomas - Vancouver, Bc
Never believe what Sting said at the interview, at least not fully on its face! It is a song involving three people: the writer(dealer in the relationship who is truly and proudly in love), his devoted wife and his beloved mistress (who may partly be into the the man's name and fortune). Note each time he confuses: "If I tell you (/her) that I love you" at some concerts. How ironic, as that may be directed at one of the two women depending on which one happens to be sitting in front ! You will find all the tell-tale signs in each line of his lyrics. I bet they wore a smurk on their faces when they wrote it, believing no one will decode the confession, and if people ever do, they may easily disclaim it. But Alas! and how utterly sad that in each soul-shaking experience of beauty there hoards such uncertainty and bitter risks. The man is lost and doesn't want to end it, nor start anew. Once that arrow shoots through your heart, do you want to ever get out from it while knowing its danger and risks?
-Thomas, Vancouver, B.C.
Thomas - Vancouver, Bc
In my opinion this song is about finding the answer what is the most valuable thing in our world. Is it a prosperous life, war or maybe to be happy we just need to have a bit of good luck? That is not the right answer. The most precious thing is love. Love is what we need to care about, leave out all the rest.Oksana - Kiev, Ukraine
I believe the song is about love. The speech at the end of the film "A beautifull mind" seems a nice supplement to this song and especially to Stings own interpretation to me.
http://www.americanrhetoric.com/MovieSpeeches/moviespeechabeautifulmind.html
Anonymous
This song is about a James Bond type spy who is totally dedicated to serving his country. First and foremost, he doesn't PLAY cards, he DEALS cards. That is, he plays with people to get information from them. And the people don't suspect a thing. He may even come to lay with a queen, or play the prince, or kidnap a politician (a king). He realizes that some soldiers go and fight as soldiers with hand combat, or weapons of war. He also realizes that he can get paid a lot of money for what he does (millions). But that's not the shape of his heart (neither combat fighting, nor making a lot of money for spying).
The people that talk too much will find out that their giving away of information will cost them. And people who curse their luck constantly or have fear, will never amount to anything virtuous such as himself.
He feels, however, that he must prove to the woman of his life that he is an honest and good man, even though he is a spy. He's not a man with two many faces, he tells her, he just wears a single mask (and that's only during work).
Jacques - Glendale, Ca
perhaps even the gods in heaven must obey the fortune. perhaps the cards are the gifts of Fortuna. who can tell?Bob - Zhuhai, China
This is just to add to the first comment from Monica and the comment from Scott. I agree with Monica with one exception and that is- in the song the card player is not trying to figure out a scientific/religious law, but rather he already knows this "law" and is secretly passing it on, hence "those he plays never suspect". For Scott, I think he is right with the reference to Tarot cards. In addition though, the card player is passing on the secret through these paying cards, which has meaning that goes with the Tarot cards like Scott said. Read the Da Vinci Code and you'll find there are a lot of references from that book in this song.Kyle - Philadelphia, Pa
I see in this song, concealed in it's lyrics, the cry of a man, questioning the rules that move the universe. The rules of chance.

Sting may say it is a song related to a poker player. But, no artist writes something that does not reflect his inner feelings, fears or desires.

"He deals the cards". Dealing the cars is many times defined as saying the rules, controling something, playing with some situation or with someone.
Dealing the cards must be, walking thru life, analising the choises made in the past.Only then can he deal the cards "as a meditation".

"He may conceal a king in his hand, while the memory of it fades" His intentions were the ones of a king. But now, even their memories fade....
Queen of spades...a lady that was the cause of an inner war to him.

Jack of diamonds....some guy that seems to always have all the luck?

Due to these inner battles, sttranded dreams and lost hopes, he is "not a man of too many faces", he learned that "those who smile are lost".

:)

That's y point of view. I always feel sad when I listen to the song. It reflets the life of someone that *feels" his life has long gone, and his days are over...and he just doesn't know why.
Alpheous - Gaia, Portugal
I have heard many people say this song has references to Tarot cards and fortune telling. Tarot cards have several symbols like playing cards: Swords/Spades, bow staff/club, coins/diamonds, cups/hearts
"I know that the spades are the swords of a soldier
I know that the clubs are weapons of war
I know that diamonds mean money for this art
But that?s not the shape of my hear"
Everytime I hear this song it makes me think of a cardplayer who playes to find answers to life, much like Tarot does.
Scott - Naf Atsugi, Japan
i think it's about a guy who uses his poker face too much.Dana - San Francisco, United States
What card game is this song about?Dude - Tx, Tx
Another beautiful song by Sting and Dom is Lullubye for an Anxious Child, a song on the single version of 'You Still Touch Me' along with another lovely little known Sting song called 'The Pirate's Bride'Rachel - Bel Air, Md
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