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The meaning and origin of the expression: Be still, my beating heart

Be still, my beating heart

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What's the meaning of the phrase 'Be still, my beating heart'?

'Be still, my beating heart' is an expression of excitement when seeing the object of one's romantic affections.

Originally, it was used with the swooning earnestness of women's poetry of the Romantic period. Now, it is more often used ironically, about suitors who are indisputably unsuitable.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Be still, my beating heart'?

Be still, my beating heart'Beating heart' has long been used to denote breathless excitement. John Dryden used it with that meaning as early as 1697, in The works of Virgil:

"When from the Goal they start, The Youthful Charioteers with beating Heart, Rush to the Race."

'My beating heart' was a stock expression for 18th century novelists and poets. It is first recorded in Nicholas Rowe's Tamerlane, a tragedy, 1702:

"My beating Heart Bounds with exulting motion."

The earliest citation of the full 'be still, my beating heart' comes from William Mountfort's Zelmane, 1705:

"Ha! hold my Brain; be still my beating Heart."

The expression, and the comic manner in which it is now delivered, were brought to a wide public in Gilbert and Sullivan's opera HMS Pinafore, 1878:

Aye, even though Jove's armoury were launched at the head of the audacious mortal whose lips, unhallowed by relationship, dared to breathe that precious word, yet would I breathe it once, and then perchance be silent evermore. Josephine, in one brief breath I will concentrate the hopes, the doubts, the anxious fears of six weary months. Josephine, I am a British sailor, and I love you!

Sir, this audacity!
(Aside.) Oh, my heart, my beating heart!
(Aloud.) This unwarrantable presumption on the part of a common sailor!

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

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