What is Beauty?

Pied Beauty
Gerard Manley Hopkins

Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spáre, strange;
Whatever is fickle, frecklèd (who knows how?)
With swíft, slów; sweet, sóur; adázzle, dím;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is pást change:
Práise hím.

Michael Graves recites Pied Beauty


This week’s chapter of Booked is based on the poem Pied Beauty by Gerard Manley Hopkins. “Beauty is the splendour of truth,” observes Stephen Dedalus in James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and to explain his passion for beauty, Stephen draws upon the thoughts of Plato, Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, among others.  Metaphysics asks the question – “What is real?” and philosophy and literature have long since tried to answer.  What we call love at first sight is that mysterious moment when our eyes tell us we are gazing at something (usually someone) so beautiful it at once fulfills a longing in our hearts and answers questions we have no words to ask.

We think it is sexual, but there is a fine line between the longing beauty of art and the filth of pornography, but as Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said of obscenity “we know it when we see it.”  Our understanding of beauty always goes directly to our values.  Today we worry about the Unesco world heritage sites as ISIS destroys one after another.  I’m reminded of the day in 1972 that Michelangelo’s Pietà in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome was damaged by a vandal.  I thought of that event as I stood before the masterpiece for the first time and wondered how anyone could want to destroy something so beautiful, so magnificent, so obviously from the heart of God.

That was it – my moment of epiphany.  I looked past the marble and saw Mary holding her dead Son and I knew:

She was thinking the same thing.

 

IMG_0181Isaiah 33:17

Your eyes will see the King in His beauty; They will behold a far-distant land.