How New York Breaks Your Heart: A Photographic Elegy for the City of Electric Beauty with an Edge of Sorrow

“First, it lets you fall in love with it…”

How New York Breaks Your Heart: A Photographic Elegy for the City of Electric Beauty with an Edge of Sorrow

“A poem,” E.B. White wrote in his timeless 1949 love letter to New York, “compresses much in a small space and adds music, thus heightening its meaning. The city is like poetry.” The poetics of any city, but especially of this city, springs from its glorious, unmetered humanity. The New York poem is sometimes a serenade to loneliness, sometimes an ode to unsung heroes, and always an elegy in the classic poetic sense of celebration and lamentation welded together. That electric beauty with an edge of sorrow comes alive in How New York Breaks Your Heart (public library) by Bill Hayes.

After his stirring memoir of Oliver Sacks and New York, Hayes — himself an elegant science writer as well as a photographer — turns his sensitive, sympathetic lens to the human poetics coursing through the streets of the iconic city at all hours of the day and night, across every social stratum, every age, every feeling-tone. From the hipsters and the homeless and the protesters and the lovers — oh so many lovers — emerges a chorus of humanity singing the siren song of New York.

Accompanying Hayes’s expressive photographs are his minimalist words — a kind of spare, lovely prose poem, nestling into the larger portrait of this tessellated city his own story of love and heartbreak.

First, it lets you fall in love with it.

And lets you think it loves you back.

You begin to forget the sorrow that brought you to New York in the first place and the love you feel for the city becomes the love you feel for another man.

But then, when he is taken from you late one summer night,
there is New York — right there, outside your window.

Complement How New York Breaks Your Heart with Hayes’s splendid prose counterpart, Insomniac City, then revisit Walt Whitman’s sensual ode to New York.

Photographs courtesy of Bill Hayes

donating = loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes me hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner.


Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s most unmissable reads. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.