“In many mortal forms I rashly sought
The shadow of that idol of my thought.
And some were fair – but beauty dies away”
from Epipsychidion – Percy Bysshe Shelley
Beauty is momentary and lasts only in memory.
The perfection of form – being handsome/ pretty/ attractive – is a more common thing, lasting and yet more transitory. It is gifted by fate or genetics, sometimes with seeming randomness and abandon. Form can be grafted and crafted; pinched, plucked and tucked to create an image. Easy on the eye but appealing only to the cheaper senses.
Age can wither it, and custom will stale its infinite variety.*
Beauty is not a mundane thing of structures and symmetry. It is an energy, a crackle of lightning that can take any face, however pleasing or misshapen, and in the moment lift it to something instantaneously striking. It is the product of a rare and perfecting set of circumstances in conjunction: a febrile mood in which the mind is receptive to influence; a connection that understands: for a breath, a moment, the subject and object are in perfect harmony; a catchlight in the eye; the reflective properties of skin; the sudden breeze that plays with an errant hair.
It is the piece that for a heartbeat fits seamlessly into the puzzle. It is an ache of loss to realise what is missing.
And then it is gone, all that is left is the recollection and a sense of abiding affinity. The moment is lost but the memory remains. From then to the end of life and time the person retains in your head that stain – indelible, neither age, care or privation can change that sudden shift in perception.
It is the fertile ground in which love can grow.
* A deliberate misquote from Anthony and Cleopatra 2:2
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4 thoughts on “On Beauty – For Emily”
Interesting thoughts. Not all beauty is transient – I was serenaded by our resident Robin as I hung out the washing yesterday. Not the same Robin as last year… I fear she has moved on or passed on… but a new songster claiming the territory for the first time. Yet, although I recognise that the song is as different as the individual singing it, it is still a sound of beauty that will endure with me beyond it’s presence.
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I kept thinking, as I read, that this was about love, not beauty per se; the one, as you point out being the ground for the other. I used to make sculptured heads for bread and butter. As I became closely familiar with the features of any individual, I would feel a form of love.
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What a great job to have. I think it would be difficult, inhuman perhaps, to have that closeness and intimacy – a tactile relationship with their features – and not not to feel a little drawn to them.