Sunday, July 9, 2017

Alicja Kuberska writes

Only a Letter

My heart had the shape of an envelope 
I mailed it to you.
 “It's only a letter” you said. 
You opened it and read hastily,
And then you put it on the desk
On top of the bills and ads.

My heart faded 
And turned into a piece of square paper.
A miniature in Thibaut's "Li romanz de la poire"-- the workshop of the maître de Bari


  1. The heart has long been identified as the center of the human body, the seat of life, emotion, reason, will, intellect, purpose, or the mind/soul, and as a symbol of truth, conscience, or moral courage in many religions. It is the temple or throne of God in Judeo-Christian-Muslim thought, the divine center (atman) and the third eye of transcendent wisdom in Hinduism, the diamond of purity and the essence of the Buddha, and the Taoist center of understanding. To the Egyptians the metaphysical heart ("ib")was formed from one drop of blood from the child's mother's heart, taken at conception, and survived death. Anubis, a god with the head of an African golden wolf, was originally an embalmer and a protector of graves but later supplanted Osiris as lord of Duat, the underworld. In the Hall of Two Truths, Anubis weighed the heart of a deceased person against the feather of Ma'at, the goddess of truth, which was depicted as an ostrich feather. If the heart was in balance, the heart's possessor could continue the voyage towards Osiris and immortality, but if the heart was heavier it would be devoured by the goddess Ammit the "Eater of Hearts," part lion, part hippopotamus, and part crocodile, and the soul would "die a second time" and be restless forever. (In some depictions Ammit stood by a lake of fire into which the unworthy hearts were cast.) Egyptians who were happy were "awi-ib" (long of heart) and those who were estranged were "xak-ib" (truncated of heart). In the Tanakh (an acronym, TaNaKh, of the first letter of each of the Hebrew Bible's three traditional subdivisions: the Torah [the first five books], the Nevi'im ("Prophets"), and the Ketuvim ("Writings"), "lev" meant the anatomical organ, the mind, and the seat of emotion, and was connected in function and symbolism to the stomach. Aristoteles and other Greek philosophers considered the heart to be the seat of thought, reason, or emotion. In the 2nd century Aelius Galenus advanced the theory of the Greek physician Hippokrates that health was determined by the four "humors" black bile, yellow bile, blood, and phlegm, and located the heart as the seat of emotions, the liver as the seat of the passions, and the brain as the seat of reason.(Publius Ovidius Naso had already described Cupid as infecting people with love by shooting them with arrows, but the familiar iconography of him shooting little heart symbols did not appear until the Renaissance.) In Chinese medicine, the heart is the center of "shen" (spirit, consciousness), is associated with the small intestine and tongue, and governs all six organs and five viscera. In the "Rigveda," the oldest surviving Sanskrit text, "hṛd" referred to the anatomical organ and the mind/soul. The Aztecs believed that the heart (tona) was the seat of the individual as well as a fragment of the sun's heat (istli) and was central to rites of human sacrifice. even now the Nahua consider the round, hot, pulsating sun to be a heart-soul (tona-tiuh). Since the 16th century Catholicism has strongly venerated the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

  2. The "heart-shaped" ideograph was often found in European art but did not represent a heart; usually it depicted fig, ivy, or water lily leaves. Its first (accidental) connection to romantic love dates to the 1250s in a miniature from the workshop of the maître de Bari that decorated a capital S in a manuscript of Thibaut's "Li romanz de la poire" in which a kneeling allegory of the lover's "douz regart" (sweet gaze) offers his heart to a damsel. However, the "heart shape" is the result of the lover's finger superimposed on an object, thus hiding its full shape. "La poire" means "the Pear," but in accord with medieval anatomical descriptions, the heart actually resembled a pine cone held upside down with the point facing upward. In 1305, in a painted allegory of Caritas (charity) handing her heart to Jesus in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padova, Giotto di Bondone also depicted the heart as an upside-down pine cone; this motif becane highly influential throughout the 14th century, particularly in Taddeo Gaddi's painting in Santa Croce, Andrea Pisano's bronze door of the Baptisterium in Firenze, Ambrogio Lorenzetti's work in in the Palazzo Publico in Siena, and Andrea da Firenze's art in Santa Maria Novella in Firenze. However, the convention of showing the heart point upward begins late in the century and the upside-down heart becomes rare during the first half of the 15th century. Francesco Barberino's miniatures in the "Documenti d'amore" (before 1320) introduced the heart's dented shape, which beame more pronounced in a manuscript found in a Cistercian monastery in Brussels. The heart's geometric shape and the convention of showing the heart with its point downward thus developed simultaneously, and the indented red heart was introduced on playing cards in the late 15th century. The Portuguese "(southern barbarians") introduced the symbol to Japan between 1543 and 1614, where it came to represent the heart of Marishiten, the goddess of archers. (Psychoanalytically inspired commentators have also suggested the heart's shape and association are inspired by a female's buttocks, pubic mound, or spread vulva.)


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