On Human Heart

on human heart

“The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it?” ~ Holy Writ

It does not take much to make two hearts beat faster than one.

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The heart can deceive itself when it cannot deceive another.—Which will be cold comfort to some lovers, though it may console others.

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To admit a sacred visitant into the inner recesses of the human heart, those recesses must be neat indeed.  Remember, too, that you can Never expect an angel to act as a charwoman; the sweeping must be done by the owner.  Lastly, Unless each heart is permitted access to the other, their union is fictitious, perhaps perilous.—Explain these tropes who can.

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No man can tell to whom a woman’s heart belongs; not even the man who calls the woman “his”.  And Let no man imagine that when he has won him a woman, he has won him a woman’s heart.  Since, Sometimes a woman will give her heart to one man and her troth to another.  Besides, Many a heart is hard to read—especially if it is a palimpsest.  Indeed, many are illegible to their owners.  Nevertheless, That the woman should not know her own heart (as so often happens) terrifies the woman as much as it exasperates the man.  Yet, That must be a curious love that causes the heart to hesitate.  And yet, Many a man has debated for months whether to propose or not; and sometimes a woman will accept on a Friday the man that she refused point-blank of a Tuesday.  But perhaps, Where the heart hesitates, it is not so much a case of love as a case of convenience.  For, An overwhelming love leaves the heart of either doubt or debate.  But alas, The human heart seems to be an anatomical engine of such intricate and delicate mechanism that its workings are uncontrollable even by its owner.

Is a constant heart as hard a thing to manufacture in the world of life as is an immobile thing in the world of matter? And matter, so they say, is immobile only at absolute zero—when bereft of even molecular motion: a thing impossible to produce, and which to produce would require incalculable pressure and almost incalculable cold. (Is there no chemical formula for fixing the impression of the heart?) Who really held Burns his heart in thrall, Nelly Fitzpatrick or Mary Campbell or Ellison Begbie or Margaret Chalmers or Charlotte Hamilton or Jenny Cruikshank or Anne Park or Jean Armour or Mrs. Whelpdale or Mrs. Agnes McLehose? and who the heart of Goethe,–Gretchen or Kitty Shonkopf or Frederica Brion or Charlotte Buff or Lily Shonemann or the Countess Augusta or Charlotte van Stein or Bettina Brentano or Mariana von Willemer—or his wife, Christina Vulpius?

However, whether it is a provision of Nature, or whether it is due to the perversity of Man, probably the feminine heart is far more constant than the masculine, and perhaps any one of Goethe’s or of Burns his inamoratas would have clung to him had he been faithful to her.  And yet, Would you have had Shelley stick to Harriet Westbrooke? and how shall one interpret his feelings for Amelia Viviani?  What would have happened if Keats had lived and married Fanny Brawne—she who flirted with somebody else while he was sick and did not even know that he was a poet? Yet she was an inspiration to Keats, as Mary Godwin (and Amelia Viviani) were to Shelley (1). Ought Byron to have said ‘No’ to Claire or Lady Caroline Lamb or the Countess Guiccioli or any one of the many maids and matrons that besieged his heart? Could anything have kept Rosina Wheeler and Bulwer Lytton side by side,–Rosina Wheeler to whom, before marriage, Lytton could find write, “Oh, my dear Rose! Where shall I find words to express my love for you?” and to whom, after marriage, he wrote, “Madam, The more I consider your conduct and your letter, the more unwarrantable they appear”?

God in heaven! what a pitiful game it all is! And alas! as George Sand says, “All this, you see, is a game that we are playing, but our heart and life are the stakes, and that has an aspect which is not always pleasing.” (2)

(1) See the Dedication of “The Revolt of Islam” (and see the “Epipsychidion”).

(2) Letter to Alfred de Musset.

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Many a man’s heart has been treated as a football.  Yes; but many a woman’s heart has been treated as a shuttlecock.

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Human beings there are—both men and women—out of whom, at a mere touch, virtue seems to go: converse with them is stimulating; contact enthralling.  And yet, Powerful as physical or as mental attraction may be, permanently to retain the attracted object requires a profounder force.  Perhaps, though, Beauty and grace and brilliancy may attract; it is only something far more deep-seated that retains.  In other words, Charm of body and mind may appeal to body and mind; only the heart appeals to the heart.  Those who know not this, and they are Many, permit the heart to leak through the senses; with the result that, when demands are made upon the heart, that cistern is found to have run dry.  So, To philanderers and to flirts, when a great and true love comes, they do not comprehend it, and they cannot appreciate it. Wherefore, Would-be lover, keep thy heart intact until it be required of thee.

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You need not imagine that, because you have once been permitted to see some way down into a human heart, that you will necessarily ever again be so permitted.

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Hard words break no bones.  But they often break hearts.

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Drink is too often the refuge of the masculine, and a rich husband the refuge of the feminine, broken heart.

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Extreme youth thinks the world is a toyshop—where anything may be had for the asking; old age regards it as a museum—where nothing may be touched.

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No heart, under repeated temperings, can remain forever keen.  And As a little body sometimes has a very big pain; so an aching heart wonders that it can bear so much.   And What takes place in the quiet deeps of a troubled heart, who shall know?

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The way to the heart is not through the head: Between heart and heart, there are many channels.  But three are in universal use: the eyes, the lips, and the finger-tips.  Now the greatest of these is the eyes.

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The masculine heart will never wholly understand the feminine, nor the feminine the masculine. (O the pity o’ it!) And yet, after all, The human heart is much more the same, whether it beats under a cuirass or under a corset. Between the masculine heart and the feminine, perfect frankness is perhaps of questionable import.  But why? It is difficult to say. Perhaps because The aspirations and desires of the human heart are infinite and unappeasable.  To attempt to formulate them is to frustrate them.  For It is as impossible for any two human hearts,  as it is impossible for any two material things, to occupy the same space.  Especially when we remember that Between the masculine heart and the feminine is a great gulf fixed.  Nay, rather From youth to age, each human heart seems unwittingly to build about itself a high and ever higher-growing wall, impenetrable, indelapidable, not to be scaled by the look or speech or gesture. Never can heart coalesce with heart.  And yet The absolute and intimate coalescence of heart with heart—is not this, after all, the consummation that every lover seeks? To attempt that consummation by mere speech, it is this that is of questionable import.

Since Between heart and heart, speech is the paltriest of channels. What a thin—yet what an invisible and impenetrable—film separates those two worlds: the one, that of the visible, audible, and tangible, the world of chatter and laughter, of convention, often of make-believe; and the other, the world of deep and voiceless emotions, of the feelings which know not how to give themselves utterance, of affections which crave so much and are so impotent to say or to seek what they crave! It is like a layer of ice separating the hidden and soundless deeps from the aerial world of noise and motion.—What would not one heart give to break the icy crust and see and know what was really passing in another?

And how often we drown if we do break through!

The isolation of the individual human heart is complete.  It is the most pathetic past in the universe, and it is that against which the individual human heart rebels most.

There must be some profound and cosmic problem underlying this fact which no philosophy—and no religion—can solve.  That it is pathetic seems to prove it temporary, earthly, a matter of time and space;  but, when will the individual human heart coalesce with the Heart of the Universe— which, perhaps, is the goal of all Life? For It may be that these little terrestrial human individuals which we call men and women are after all only tiny and temporary centers of conscious  activity in an ocean of infinite consciousness; as atoms are but tiny and temporary centers of energy in an ocean of infinite ether.  Could we see the sum total of Supreme and Infinite Consciousness at a glance, perhaps individual men and women would dissolve into a mighty unity, could see and comprehend the whole of the luminiferous ether.

Well, perhaps Love is the only known means by which the individual heart can make any expansion whatsoever beyond its own bounds.  Yet, alas!  Nothing seems to break down the barriers of sense.  The human heart beats its ineffectual wings in vain against the walls of its fleshly tabernacle.  Will nothing unite the Boy and the Girl? Will nothing bring the Man and the Woman really together? Yet the Boy thinks that, were the Girl wholly his, he and she would be happy; and the Man thinks that, were the Woman and he to share every thought and every emotion, he and she would want naught else.  Is the amalgamation impossible? Is the coalescence of thought and feeling outside the bounds of human possibility? What, then, impels mankind to crave it, to attempt it, to sacrifice so much for it?–There is a cosmic puzzle here with which nor philosophy nor psychology nor religion has yet attempted to grapple.

After all, pitiful as it may be, lamentable as it may be, it is true, and it must be said, that this human heart of ours goes through life hungry, very hungry and unappeased.   For what it hungers, what it has missed, whereto it looks for sustenance, it itself does not know.  Thus, This feminine heart sighs without ceasing for because that other masculine heart upon which it staked all its all, and an all that meant so much, proved callous and indifferent; That masculine heart ceases not to curse itself for resorting to such hasty and violent methods by which to obtain for itself an ephemeral and passing pleasure; This feminine heart eats out its life with remorse for because it gave itself so unthinkingly when asked;  though of a survey it thought that asking was a thing prompted by impulses as noble as they seemed divine; and That masculine heart, when the tidal wave of heated passion has subsided, wonders how it was led captive by lures so deceptive and untried.

M regrets, and regrets in vain, that he did not await a purer and more permanent passion; and N chews for a life-time the cud of persistent remorse for an hour’s poignant pleasure.

Ach! this human heart knows nothing of itself nor anything of its fellow beating hearts.  If it follows its bent, it is cracked; if it holds itself in leash, it aches.  If it calls reason to aid, its soaring hopes are dashed, its romance spoiled, and it itself reduced to the level of a machine that calculates.  If it acts on impulse and, meeting a heart that beats, so it thinks, in unison, unites itself with it, often enough that other soon palpitates to a different rhythm, or itself cannot keep time, and all things go awry.

Poor aching, beating, human heart! It cannot reason; it cannot count the cost.  To it seems that impulse, divine and mighty impulse, is the sole law of the earth; in time it learns that impulse, the mightiest, the divinest, though it may be law in heaven, is sometimes a veritable nemesis on earth: it gives freely, gladly, without compunction; it finds the gift rewarded by consequences too pitiful for tears.

Alas, this human heart! Can no one advise it Is there no advice will help it? Must it always go wrong, and always suffer?–Well, If one loves, one dare not reason; if one reasons, it is difficult to love.

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There seems to be something cosmic, something transcending the bounds of the visible and tangible universe, in the desires and cravings of this same human heart; this little human heart beating blindly beneath a waistcoat or a blouse.  Its owner is little bigger than a beetle or an ant, and the habitat of that owner is a speck in space; a pygmy in comparison with Sirius or Arcturus, and invisible from the ultra-telescopic confines of vision.

What it makes the desires and cravings of this human heart more important, more importunate, to its owner than the measuring of the vastest space? Why is it that the longings, the hopes, the disappointments, the desperate aspirations, and the passionate loves of little human hearts should cause to their possessors such prepotent commotions, such poignant qualms? Rigel and Betelgeuse and Algol rush through space, and about them probably circle numerous planets inhabited by countless and curious beings, each and all, perhaps, possessing hearts as perturbable as our own.  And yet, if our own little earthly Jack cannot get our own little earthly Jill, what cares Jack what happens to Vega or Capella or to the great nebula in Orion? Jack wants Jill; and that want is to Jack the only thing in the sidereal heavens that matters.

The curious and perhaps semi-comical but wholly-pathetic thing about the whole matter is this: that though undoubtedly our little planet is part of and has a place in this great sidereal universe, and consequently all our Jacks and Jills are related to all the Jacks and Jills everywhere else, yet each little human heart behaves as it were the only heart in the sum-total of created things: if it enjoys, it calls upon all that is, to congratulate it; if it suffers, it cries aloud to high heaven to avenge its wrongs: it comports itself as if it and it alone were the only sensitive things in existence.—That is curious.  That it wrongs may have been wrought by itself; that is fate may have been determined in the reign of Chaos and Old Night, or ere even cosmic nebulae were born, it does not dream: if Jill is indifferent or Jack morose,–either is enough to cause Jack or Jill to curse God and die.  Is there some archetypal and arcanal secret in this the extreme, the supernal egoism of the human heart?

Of all of which, what is the moral?–Humph! Frankly, I do not know what is the moral.  Only this I see: that each little heart creates its own little universe: the bee’s, the that of its hive and the fields; man’s, that of his earth and the stars.  What may be above or beyond the stars, man no more knows than the bee knows what is beyond the fields.  The heart—be it man’s or a bee’s—is the centre of its self-made sphere.  Some day, perhaps, man’s sphere will extend as far beyond the stars as today it extends beyond the fields.  Then—who knows?–perhaps unlimited senses and an uncircumcised intellect may find themselves commensurate with this high-aspiring heart, and an emancipated and ecstatic Jack unite with a congenial Jill.

That there is a Universe, is apparent; that it is one and complete, we suppose; that there are in it Jacks and Jills, is indubitable; that these Jacks and Jills crave mutual support, sympathy, love, friendship, wifehood, sistership, companionship, brotherhood, is also indubitable.

If therefore the whole scheme of the Universe is not a farce, what does this craving of Love for Lover mean? And yet, It is quite impossible to conceive of a Universe of Love, in which all the claims of Heart and Soul and Senses shall be eternally and infinitely satisfied? Nevertheless, on this little earth, perhaps Ill betides the heart that leans overmuch on another. For, alas! Not even the entire immolation of one heart for another will satisfy that other.—Indeed, indeed, In this life, would one seek comfort and solace, one must seek it—in one’s own self, or in one’s God.  For Only one of two things can comfort: To put the world under one’s feet; or, to keep a God over one’s head: only He who is “captain of his soul”, or he who commits his soul to God, can rise above fate.

There is a vacuum in every human heart.  And the human heart abhors it as much as nature. What will fill this cardiac void no mortal to this moment has found out.

Art cries, “Beauty”, and tries to depict it; Philosophy cries, “Truth, and strives to define it; Religion cries, “Good”, and does its best to embody it; and numberless lesser voices in the wilderness cry, “Power”, or “Gold”, or “Work”,–which is a narcotic, or “Excitement”,–which is an intoxicant; and a many-toned changeful siren with sweetly-saddening music cries, “Love”.  And one pursues a phantom, and another clasps a shadow, and a third cloaks his eyes with a transparent veil, or steeps his senses in floods that will not drown.—No, what the human heart wants it does not know.  And, what is more, Pathetic problem amongst problems pathetic, often it puzzles this human heart to distinguish between the things which it is right and proper to seek wherewith to fill that void, and the things which are wrong and improper.  Furthermore: How apt is the heart to seek in the illegitimate for the satisfaction which the legitimate fails to give!–Problems ancient as Eden.

What does it want, this human heart, what does it so earnestly desire, so strenuously seek? All about it and about are beauty, friendship, mirth, and gladness; the sea and the earth and the sky; color and music and song; and to each, if he wills it, wife, or husband, and children and home.—Wanting is—what?–Ah!

One lesson this human heart has to learn, so easy to put into words, so difficult to carry out by deed; is this: To get, the human heart must give.

The heart eats out itself; causes its own emptiness; creates its own void.

The selfish and egoistical life breeds always the vapid and vacuous heart.

Would you appease your own hunger? Feed the hungry hearts around you.

Do you crave fullness of joy? Give joy to the joyless.

Would you fill your own cavity, satisfy your craving, attain your desire, find what you seek? Give—give—give.  The more the better, for The greater the donation, the greater the repletion. Nature gives, gives lavishly, wantonly, unquestioningly.

Every atom of soil, every drop of sap, goes to produce flowers and fruit and seed: root and branch and leaf are but carefully constructed means by which to transmute sunshine and soil and flower and fruit and seed.  No tree lives for itself.

Shall, then, this human heart live for itself; gather and store up for its own delectation, for its own good?

There is no such thing as one’s own good:

Goodness is mutual, is communal; is only guided by giving and receiving.

Wherefore O frail, weak, human heart, seek thou out carefully constructed means by which to transmute sunshine and soil and showers into flowers and fruit.