As long as we are at least partly receptive, when we encounter genuine beauty, in any of its forms, its power temporarily overrides our default consciousness (which is often only a rote semi-consciousness) and, for a period of time that feels halted, it reconfigures our perceptions, our emotions, our points of view, our intellect. It is as if some of the atoms of a beautiful form enter us and some of ours enter it in a transaction that creates a most personal, intimate experience.
When I think of beauty, I think of music. Mozart, Beethoven, Bach. That kind of music. Well, it’s been my day job for a long time. If I could write a poem that does what the opening measures of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande do, I would pay myself a million bucks. I spent fifteen years writing a poem called Goldberg-Variations that comes from the pov of a piece of music.
Aquinas, who had a gift for concise definition, once said that “We call that beautiful which pleases the eye.” It’s hard to improve on the simplicity of that. Pleasing the eye, which includes reading, has always been my goal, and aesthetics my primary value.
What can we do? Pay attention, look for beauty in all its forms, commit it to memory, let its luminosity seep into our bones. It will accompany us in darkness, urge us forward, and provide comfort and strength until we reach the other side.
When the form and content of creation match up or complement each other the unexpected happens—beauty. Every moment of aesthetic absorption changes our consciousness and alters ever so slightly the meaning and perhaps the future of human kind.
When I think of Beauty, it is the energy of form that comes to mind — a certain glimmer at the edges of perception. There is pleasure there, but also true insight, alongside the pride of subjectivity.
Beauty is arbitrary, subjective, and for all the banal and common stuff it’s made of, entirely irresistible. We aspire to it yet at the same time cannot bring ourselves to trust it. This is a curse of sorts because it would seem that the timing is never right, the universe filled with obstacles and excuses, and then all of a sudden, one morning we wake up, and it is too late.
In nature, art and writing, I become almost breathless. I want to keep looking at the scene or art that evokes that response. I need to re-read the phrase, the line, the stanza that elicits it. It’s a physical and an emotional reaction, not a thought-out rational response. How is it created? I have no idea.
Beauty is an art of finding comfort unexpectedly. It’s like the feeling of blowing warm air into cupped hands while being outside on a cold, fall evening. Less something defined than experienced, beauty provides that ease of absolute knowing.
I believe everything in this world is potentially luminous, and I want to study it. These poems began as lovely images: pansies, blue eyes, a wedding under a tree covered with snow, and two crosses rising in the evening sky.
I remember standing on the driveway when I was eight years old, looking up at the Pleiades stars and discovering the uncanny fact that if you look directly at them, they blur into a hazy clump of light, whereas if you look away and keep them in your periphery, they crystalize into vibrant individual gems. Beauty has a similar beguiling quality.