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In his essay, Joyas Voladoras Brian Doyle explores what it means to be alive, more specifically how the end of life relates to the human experience. He does this through the lense of looking at the hearts of hummingbirds. This, however, is not uncharted territory for writers. Many writers deal with this issue, and Doyle uses the literary device of pace to guide his audience and offer a fresh new perspective on this topic. He uses pace to lead the reader to the central idea in Joyas Voladoras, Doyle explains to readers succinctly that hearts, like people, are vulnerable, and just like life, are flimsy and must end. Doyle spends more time in Joyas Voladoras writing about joyas voladoras (or as we know them, hummingbirds) than anything else, while methodically changing pace throughout the essay.
Right off the bat Brian Doyle begins hinting that this essay is more than just an ode to hummingbirds and their hearts. After a long and winding sentence that takes up two-thirds of the opening paragraph, he offers up three sentences that slow the reader down. “Each one visits a thousand flowers a day. They can dive at sixty miles an hour. They can fly backwards.” Each sentence is shorter than its predecessor, which makes them akin to a literary speed bump, they slow the reader down. It’s Doyle’s first instance in using pace to control how his audience reads this essay. As he continues, he speeds up and makes his audience begin to fly through, then suddenly he slows it down again, Doyle says “each mad heart silent, a brilliant music stilled.” Once again, though not with individual sentences, but with two phrases broken up with commas he slows the reader down. These two phrases read almost like a heartbeat, a heart that is ceasing to beat. Doyle’s use of pacing here shows the beginning of his message of the vulnerability of the heart. Doyle’s next hint is not subtle at all, he all but screams at the reader “this is the key!” Doyle warns of the danger of flight and how expensive it is to fly. “You burn out. You fry the machine. You melt the engine,” he says. Here he does not hide the message, Doyle is telling us the overarching theme, that the heart is vulnerable. Even the hummingbirds’ well-oiled machine of a heart, one that is designed and built to withstand and promote the hummingbirds’ fast-paced life, will burn out, even the most efficient heart, has its weaknesses.
At this point in the essay, Doyle pivots hard and changes the subject, turning from the miniscule hummingbird to the gargantuan blue whale. However, he continues with the same subject. The heart. However, this time he spends less time explaining the science of the heart and more time on its emotions. After rehashing how little humanity knows about blue whales he offers up this nugget “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.” Explaining that these majestic behemoths don’t exist on their own rather they travel in pairs, they have companionship. This idea of companionship is one that Doyle refutes in humans when he tells us that “We are utterly open with no one in the end — not mother and father, not wife or husband, not lover, not child, not friend.” Going back to the whales, he paints a rather melancholy picture of their companionship, while they are together, in pairs, his phrasing and his expressions are in stark contrast to the bright and vibrant description of his Joyas Voladoras. Doyle has once again used pacing to slow things down and paint a picture, by making the reader read his words at the pace which he wants them to.
The final two paragraphs of Joyas Voladoras are what cement Doyles intentions for this essay; by changing his pace, Brian Doyle hammers home his central idea. In the penultimate paragraph, he explains that every living thing as a “liquid interior,” this differing from being to being, but for the most part that would be our blood, and the thing that keeps that blood pumping? The heart. Doyle’s writings seem to revolve around the heart and its significance to our lives. Doyle describes bricking up “your heart as stout and tight and hard and cold and impregnable as you possibly can” As he lists all of the many ways in which those walls can fall, he explains that no matter how closed off you try to stay, someone or something will eventually penetrate the even the most impenetrable walls and tear them down. Doyle deals with how flimsy life is. This is so easily seen in the ending of this essay, each paragraph in it has a similar ending, a long sentence, then a few short ones or short phrases to end it. However the last paragraph, the end of the essay, ends abruptly, it feels like something else is coming, but nothing is. Doyle ends with the reminiscing on the “memory of your father’s voice early in the morning echoing from the kitchen where he is making pancakes for his children.” There are no closing remarks, it just stops. It is the perfect way to encapsulate his theme of the flimsiness of life. Life doesn’t have a nice bow at the end of it, it ends, and often it ends rather abruptly as though there was more left to be said.
In Joyas Voladoras, Doyle uses the tool of pace to create a piece of literature that masquerades as an ode to the wonders of the heart. However, beneath that facade it tackles a more significant subject matter, one that is not unique to just his writings, but that he manages to conceal within this essay. Through pace, he guides the reader to find this meaning by leaving a breadcrumb trail of pace. By controlling the speed, Brian Doyle manages to lead the reader to the true meaning of his essay in the same way that a horse is led to water. However, it is up to the reader to drink. The message Doyle gives the world is that life ends, it does not last, and that is what gives it beauty. It is that beauty that led the first white explorers to declare that hummingbirds were flying jewels, that beauty comes from the acknowledgement that life is ultimately temporary. Doyle uses pace to lead all those who intently read to that conclusion. Doyle’s masterpiece is not in his words but in his ability to dictate how his audience reads those words. That is the true crowning jewel of Joyas Voladoras.
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