Cover image for Heart : a personal journey through its myths and meanings
Heart : a personal journey through its myths and meanings
Godwin, Gail.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : William Morrow, [2001]

Physical Description:
xii, 308 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
GR489.4 .G63 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
GR489.4 .G63 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
GR489.4 .G63 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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"The Italians have a musical notation not found in any other language: tempo giusto 'the right tempo.' It means a steady, normal heat, between 66 and 76 on the metronome. Tempo giusto is the appropriate heat of the human heart."

One of the preeminent literary artists of our time turns her attention, her profound insight, and her passion to humankind's most enduring, important, evocative, and provocative symbol:

What is heart? It is the muscle of life, sending our most vital fluid coursing through our veins to every striving hungry part of our being. It is what keeps us striving against impossible odds; that fortifying something that is the cornerstone of every triumph. It elates us when we discover love and pains us greatly when that love is lost or proves unrequited. It is a gentleness that colors what we give to others. It is a symbol that we see on greeting cards: a small, red shape that was drawn on the wall of a cave in Spain more than 12,000 years ago

In this truly remarkable work, acclaimed, bestselling author Gall Godwin takes us on a breathtaking journey of the heart that spans the entire history of human civilization, combining literature, myth, religion, philosophy, medicine, the fine arts, and intensely personal stories from the writer's own past to explore the full and complex character of that unique symbol. Brimming with intelligence and wit, Godwin's explorations and meditations brilliantly track themes of the heart in life, legend, and art -- from the first valentine to the first stethoscope, from Gilgamesh to Confucius, from the heart of darkness to wearing one is heart on one's sleeve.

Here is a gift of the heart from an eminent American writer at the pinnacle of her creative talents. It is a work of extraordinary power, creativity, scholarship, and passion. Lively and moving, Heart offers us a profound new look at where we come from and what has sustained us across millennia-in short, what it is that makes us human.

Author Notes

Gail Godwin was born on June 18, 1937, in Birmingham, Ala. and graduated from the University of North Carolina and University of Iowa. Godwin writes about strong women, a perspective she gathered from her own life. After her father abandoned her at an early age, she was raised by her mother and grandmother. Her father eventually returned on the day of her high school graduation and she lived with him for a brief period before he ultimately shot and killed himself.

Godwin worked as a reporter for The Miami Herald, and later as a travel consultant before achieving her fame as a writer. Godwin's novels are about contemporary women, frequently Southern, who search for meaning in their lives. In Glass People, the heroine is a beautiful woman who learns that her husband is merely obsessed with her beauty and unconcerned about her as a person. Other popular titles include The Odd Woman and The Good Husband. Godwin has been the recipient of several honors including a Guggenheim Fellowship and an Award in Literature from the American Institute and Academy of Arts and Letters.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

The heart has always been envisioned as the seat of emotions and home of the soul, providing a crucial balance to the head, a more pragmatic organ. This perception has given rise to a wealth of imaginative interpretations that are embedded in religious and artistic traditions throughout the world. In her first work of nonfiction, Godwin conducts a personal, highly spiritual, and wholly involving survey of these manifestations of the metaphorical heart. Although she doesn't neglect romance in her inquiry into how the heart became the emblem of intuition, compassion, and love, the concern with religious conundrums that shapes her fiction, most overtly in Evensong (1998), compels her to focus on "heart-oriented" spiritual teachings. Godwin plucks out and examines myriad allusions to the heart found in Sumerian myths, the Hebrew Bible, the Upanishads, Taoist texts, and the Koran. As insightful and enthusiastic as her exegeses on these traditions are, however, she can't help but approach them as an outsider. When she turns to the Christian tradition, she catches fire and writes with unmitigated passion about Saints Augustine and Teresa and spiritual writers such as C. S. Lewis. The most powerful of her musings involves the loss of heart, which she relates poignantly to her brother's violent death. Godwin also expertly explicates heart-illuminating passages in Ovid, Shakespeare, Joseph Conrad, and Elizabeth Bowen and finds paths to the heart in contemplation of friendship, hospitality, flowers, and the paintings of Paul Klee. This is a generous, graceful, and memorable read, kin to the spiritual writings of Kathleen Norris, Andre Dubus, and Thomas Lynch. Donna Seaman Adult Fiction

Publisher's Weekly Review

Well known for her many exquisitely crafted and bestselling novels (three, including Violet Clay and A Mother and Two Daughters, were National Book Award finalists), Godwin blends the scholarly and the personal in her first work of nonfictionÄa thoroughly researched study of the meaning of the heart in political and religious history, literature and poetry, philosophy, psychology and medicine. Beginning with the first known image of the heart, in a prehistoric cave drawing of an elephant, and the conception of the organ in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, which prescribes weighing the hearts of the deceased in judgment of their lives, she shows that heart lore is as old as humankind. Ancient myths and religions alike revered the heart as the seat of wisdom and the home of the soul, until, as Godwin explains, science gained ascendancy during the industrial revolution and assigned a lesser role to the heart than to the brain, as the locus of the mind. Godwin considers literature's representations of the heart's diverse properties, including heartbreak, descents into darkness, "changes of heart," as well as the coldhearted "invalids of eros" who lack any heart at all. Accounts of loss, depression and suicide prompt the author to ask, "Are some of us born with strong hearts, others with fragile ones?" She studies Shakespeare's sonnets as models for modern treatments of love, and the writings of Teresa of Avila and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin for their portrayals of religious rapture. Concluding with illustrations of people full of "hospitality of heart," Godwin brings the book full circle, proffering hope for "a coherent culture in which mind and heart are partners, not competitors, in perception." Agent, John Hawkins. (Feb. 14) Forecast: While Godwin's fans will appreciate her occasional references to her characters and the glimpses of her personal life here, her scholarly approach is unlikely to capture the fancy of most of the readers of her novels, despite the publisher's five-city tour and 15-city NPR campaign. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Respected novelist and short story writer Godwin (The Finishing School) combines personal meditations with poignant quotations from world literature to construct a penetrating diary of musings on the human heart's meanings and metaphors. Organized around three rather vague topics, her narrative draws on well-founded data and thought from traditional folklore, mythology, and religion as well as history, psychology, and the fine arts. Quotations from the likes of Shakespeare, Rilke, Bernard Shaw, and Herman Hesse support the text. The result, while intriguing, is a somewhat disconnected work of historical curiosity that wanders without firm definition. Recommended only where demand warrants. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 10/15/00.] Richard K. Burns, MSLS, Hatboro, PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Author's Notep. xi
Prologue: The Rhythms That Countp. 1
Part 1 The Heart Through Time
I. The Elephant with a Heartp. 19
II. Heart Shapep. 20
III. The Sumeriansp. 22
IV. The Egyptiansp. 27
An Ancient Boy's Heartp. 30
V. The Hebrewsp. 33
VI. The Hindusp. 43
The Upanishadsp. 43
Religious Heart/Romantic Heart: The Hindu Connectionp. 49
The Chakrasp. 53
VII. Siddhartha Gautama: The Buddhap. 55
VIII. The Chinesep. 61
Confuciusp. 61
Lao-tzu and the Tao Te Chingp. 64
Heart Ideas in Chinese Medicinep. 66
IX. The Japanesep. 69
Haikup. 72
X. The Greeksp. 73
The Durable Heart of Baby Dionysus Zagreusp. 73
The Heart Separates from the Head: The Fathers of Philosophyp. 75
Socratesp. 78
XI. Jesus of Nazarethp. 80
XII. Muhammad, Prophet of Islamp. 86
XIII. St. Augustine: The Autobiographical Heartp. 93
XIV. The Romantic Heart: From Courtly Love to Valentinesp. 98
The Troubadoursp. 98
Chretien de Troyesp. 102
The Heart of Heloisep. 104
The Valentinep. 108
XV. The Great Heart Split of the Seventeenth Centuryp. 111
William Harveyp. 112
The First Stethoscopep. 115
St. Teresa's Heart Preserved in Alcoholp. 116
The Nun Who Popularized the Sacred Heart of Jesusp. 117
Blaise Pascalp. 121
XVI. Hard Times and Where Is the Heart?
The Industrial Revolution to the Presentp. 128
A Recapitulationp. 135
XVII. Heart Signs in These Times?p. 139
Books with Heartp. 140
Open-heart Occupationsp. 142
Part 2 Heart Themes in Life and Art
I. Heartbreakp. 147
Terminal: My Brother's Storyp. 147
Avenged Through Art: George Bernard Shaw's Heartbreak House and Elizabeth Bowen's The Death of the Heartp. 159
Heartbreak Observed: C. S. Lewisp. 170
II. Absence of Heart / Heartlessnessp. 176
Invalids of Eros: Gilbert Osmond in The Portrait of a Ladyp. 176
Am I One?p. 186
Pockets of Heart-Absencep. 189
III. The Heart of Darknessp. 194
What and Where Is It?p. 194
Witness-Explorers of the Heart of Darknessp. 201
Inanna's Descentp. 204
Inanna, Marlow, and Kurtzp. 213
Safe Conduct out of the Heart of Darknessp. 216
"My Heart of Darkness": Personal Storiesp. 219
IV. Change of Heart / Conversion of Heartp. 227
Sudden, Violent, Dramatic, Radicalp. 227
"It's a Phrase We Use When We Don't Feel the Same Anymore": A Brief Etymologyp. 230
Lovers Who Stop Lovingp. 232
Heart Work: The Heart in Pilgrimage (Rilke, Yeats, Herbert)p. 235
V. The Heart in Lovep. 241
Shakespeare's Heart in Lovep. 244
Two Old Hearts, Still Entwined: Baucis and Philemonp. 250
Two Old Hearts Survive Swiftian Satirep. 253
Two Old Hearts, Evicted by Faust the Land Developer, Are Incineratedp. 255
Two Old Hearts Leave Us a Legacyp. 257
Holy Eros: The Mystic Heart in Love: Teresa of Avilap. 261
How She Changedp. 265
Completing Love's Guest List: Love of Selfp. 268
Part 3 Hospitality of Heart
I. Heather's Partiesp. 275
II. Toward More Consciousness of Heartp. 281
III. A Jesuit Scientist and His "Converging Hearts": Pierre Teilhard de Chardinp. 283
"The Heart Grows a New Skin"p. 288
The Heart of "the Heart of Things"p. 289
IV. An All-around Heart: Paul Kleep. 291
The "Heart Pictures"p. 296
Epiloguep. 299