JPII’s Poem for the Lonely

In addition to excelling as an actor, outdoorsman, polyglot, and philosopher, Blessed John Paul II was a poet.  He penned the following poem about a woman’s loneliness for love.




Girl Disappointed in Love

With mercury we measure pain
as we measure the heat of bodies and air;
but this is not how to discover our limits–
you think you are the center of things.
If you could only grasp that you are not:
the center is He, and He, too, finds no love—
why don’t you see? The human heart–what is it for?
Cosmic temperature. Heart. Mercury.

It’s difficult to decipher the meaning of this poem.  I’m still working on the ‘mercury’ part.  But these lines cut me to the core:

You think you are the center of things. If you could only grasp that you are not.  The center is He.  And He, too, finds no love—why don’t you see?

As a single person, this is not terribly consoling—a far cry from the usual platitude, “Don’t worry, there’s someone out there for you!” Instead, when I lament, “I cannot find love,” Christ says, “Neither can I. I thirst”.

At first it feels like mistakenly confiding in that one friend.

Yet at a second glance, Wojtyla’s words challenge us to re-center ourselves in Christ and make our loneliness fruitful.   Jesus felt the loneliness of the human heart (temperature, mercury and whatnot) so that even our loneliness for love finds a home in Love.

I imagine offering Jesus our loneliness is a way to pray with him during his Agony in the Garden. He begged, “My soul is sorrowful even to death.  Remain here and keep watch with me” (Matt 26:38).  I am vigilant when I lift the cries of my heart to the wounded heart of the Lord.  I sleep, like the apostles, when I fall into self-pity.

I don’t know what all this means.  I don’t know what will come of it.  And it certainly doesn’t make loneliness feel okay.  But I trust the Guy knows what he’s doing.  For, cometh the Resurrection.


Read more about John Paul II’s poetry by visiting PBS Frontline’s Interview with Lynn Powell.

Jane Sloan


B. Jane Sloan is a writer and high school theology teacher from Atlanta, GA. In addition to blogging for Catholic Exchange, she has been published in Our Sunday Visitor, Notre Dame Magazine and the literary journal Omnibus. Jane graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 2007 with a B.A. in theology and philosophy. In 2009, she graduated with an M. Ed. from Notre Dame's Alliance for Catholic Education. In 2009 Jane made a 500-mile pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in Spain. She spent summer 2010 as an intern planting vegetables and baking bread at the Abbey of Regina Laudis OSB in Bethlehem, CT. In 2011 she was present among the millions at the beatification of Blessed John Paul II. She is currently working toward her M.A. in Theology. Follow her on Twitter @CE_SundayBrunch. Follow her other blog on all-natural eating at

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  • You have a gift.

  • Jane

    Likewise, friend!  Thanks for reading.

  • If it helps, i believe JP II was referring to mercury because it was likely in the thermometers used at that time.  He was definitely an eloquent man, with insight (through the grace of God) at a young age.  It is interesting to see how this early work showed glimpses of the future saint’s mysticism.  

  • Jane

    Thanks Michael, I had thought that as well, but the first line still puzzles me, “with mercury we measure pain”.  I assume he is referring to the pain of loss or loneliness, but we decidedly don’t use instruments (thermometers) to measure those.  Is he commenting on modern man’s tendency to dwell on physical ailments (pain) that may be masking spiritual ailments (loneliness)?

  • Mydaed

    I also believe the measure of pain refers to a mercury sphygmomanometer, or blood pressure meter, used extensively during the 1930’s and 40’s.

    “With mercury we measure pain
    as we measure the heat of bodies and air;”

    With mercury we measure pain (mercury sphygmomanometers), as we measure the heat of bodies (mercury thermometers) and air; (mercury barometers).

    The association between the level of pain and the the rise of blood pressure is well recognized in the medical community.

    Nice article.

  • JPII really knows how to dispel one’s mind.
    Beautifully written article.

  • Jane

    He is a master!

  • Jane

    Thanks, that sheds some light on the context.

  • Pargontwin

    I think I do get the “mercury” part.  Mercury is fluid, and so is pain, rising and falling with our situation.  Also, our devotion is mercurial, sometimes intense, less so at other times.  Mercury is a very apt characteristic of the human heart.