Take Heart (Notes on Henry Miller’s Nexus, Chapter 11)


Henry Miller falls asleep and has a dream, and that dream becomes a vision. He awakes to see the world with new eyes.

It begins with one of those lucid dreams where anything is possible:

“Nothing I wished to do required the least effort. If I wished to run, whether slow or fast, I did so without losing breath. If I wanted to jump a lake or skip over a hill, I simply jumped. If I wanted to fly, I flew.”

But this pleasant state of absolute freedom is soon transformed, to be replaced gradually with a frightening vision.

He realises he is not alone. There is a presence at his side. “My guardian angel, most likely.” He finds that he can communicate with everything he comes across – animals, plants, rocks – with the presence at his side enabling him to understand and be understood. This would be something to enjoy, but Henry has a feeling of foreboding: he is being “escorted” to some “realm”, for a purpose he cannot understand.

He becomes slowly aware that he is wounded and bleeding, from head to toe. The one who is with him tends to his wounds, but Henry is afraid. Is he about to die?

He looks for the first time to the one tending him. He is reassured by the look of compassion on her face. He begins to have no concern for the world: if he is going to die then he will accept it. “A feeling of peace invaded my being, and again I closed my eyes.” His acceptance of fate gives him “a new vigour”.

But with this new vigour he notices, in contrast to the power he feels in his new body and mind, that there is one place he is still lacking: his heart. Placing his hand there he realises: “To my horror there was a deep hole where the heart should have been. A hole from which no blood flowed.”

It is here that he sees the vision proper: his whole life flashing before him, in a way “no man should be permitted to see until he is ready to give up the ghost.” He sees what a villain he has been, so afraid of getting his heart broken that it shrank and shrank and “dwindled from disuse.”

Without a heart, Henry was invulnerable. But at what cost? “The sense of the utter emptiness of existence overwhelmed me. I had achieved invulnerability, it was mine forever, but life – if this was life – had lost all meaning. My lips moved as if in prayer but the feeling to express anguish failed me. Heartless, I had lost the power to communicate, even with my Creator.”

And then the Angel restores Henry’s heart, holding it before him until it grows full of blood again. “My transgressions had been forgiven; I was free to sin again, free to burn with the flame of the spirit.”

Free to sin again. Knowing he is a sinner he can let himself go and follow his instincts, knowing that his guardian angel watches over him. “What joy now possessed me! What complete and absolute trust!”

Henry Miller had thought his heart was broken – it turns out it had merely shrunk. It shrunk so that it might be safe from breaking. He had made it small and invulnerable. He had made himself invulnerable, by hiding his heart away.

When you’re invulnerable you have no need for a heart. And all meaning in life is lost. Inhuman and heartless. Waking from his dream, Henry Miller is now glad to be human and vulnerable. A madman, shouting at passers-by: “Take heart, O brothers and sisters! Take heart!”

Miller will go through many of these transformations, shrinking and growing and shrinking again. Like a bad pupil he never learns his lesson for long, and starts to shrink again – but fortunately for him he is a man to whom visions come easily, his guardian angel always ready to set him on the path again. One of the reasons Miller can be so inspiring is not so much that he was a great writer, but that he was a weak individual, who was ready to confess his weaknesses, and who succeeded by the grace of God.

(Image is from Pixabay)

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3 Responses to Take Heart (Notes on Henry Miller’s Nexus, Chapter 11)

  1. Therese says:

    I like that imagery of the heart shrinking to keep it safe from breaking. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

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