Thursday, September 25, 2008


On Beauty

I spent last weekend replanting all the window boxes around my home with fall flowers and had a marvelous time doing so. Now freshly finished, they provide me with so much pleasure when I gaze at them through my windows filled as they are with their dwarf fir trees, purple lantanas, sweet alyssum, and emerald green moss. Soon the mammoth stone frog which rests in the flower bed out front will share his floral home with pale green cinderella pumpkins and giant purple cabbages. I can’t wait to see him ensconced in his autumnal landscape. In the grand scheme of things, are these projects important? What do they add to the betterment of my existence, or for that matter, to the world around me? I suppose how one answers that question depends on the importance of beauty in one’s life.
So often, especially in the current climate of this early 21st century, the simple pursuit and love of beauty is dismissed as something quite trivial and unimportant. How dangerous that is for the soul. Like Keats, I have always found Truth in Beauty and felt it to be as life-affirming and essential as the very air that I breathe. It is also a gift which the natural world affords in great measure, but a gift too often ignored and, I believe, ignored at one’s peril. When we no longer look up to stare at the harvest moon hanging low in the night sky, when we are unable to marvel at the verdancy of an English hillside, or stand awestruck at the majesty of a snow white polar bear crossing an icy landscape - when we cannot hear the glory inside a Saint-Saens symphony nor gaze in wonderment at the depth of feeling within a Van Gogh painting, then what is left of goodness in our lives? When the value of this beauty is only measured in the amount of money it may represent, have we not all been diminished?
I ponder these questions often in face of the stridency of modern life. I recently came across this most sagacious quote by the Swiss theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and found it to be a validating balm for my wonderings.

"We no longer dare to believe in beauty and we make of it a mere appearance in order the more easily to dispose of it. Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness, and she will not allow herself to be separated and banned from her two sisters without taking them along with herself in an act of mysterious vengeance. We can be sure that whoever sneers at her name as if she were the ornament of a bourgeois past - whether he admits it or not - can no longer pray and soon will no longer be able to love."

Hans Urs von Balthasar

Photograph Above: Hillside Near Lake Windermere, Cumbria, UK

46 comments:

  1. Lovely and so well worded...Keats is of my favorites, too. The photo is beyond beautiful.

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  2. Oops..I meant Keats is one of my favorites, too. :^)

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  3. Here, here! I am totally behind you! This post brough visions of George Emerson shouting his creed in "A Room With a View".

    Wonderful photo!!

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  4. I guess that should be spelled "hear" hehee.

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  5. I so agree. I have much beauty in my life. Today I'm awed by the sunny yellows and oranges of my aspen grove as they quake gently in the breeze.

    What a gorgeous place in the photo.

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  6. Lovely post, I was walking on those very fells last saturday !!
    When in the eye of the beholder beauty is tangable, and breathtakingly inspiring, it's facets are many and please all tastes, so I agree and I feel that our very souls might suffer without it.
    Have a beautiful week
    Hugs Lynn xx

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  7. Oh bravo Pamela! I stand up and applause! Thank you for your kind comment recently - hug to you and Edward.

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  8. I think the soul craves love and beauty. It's like air to the human body.

    Melissa

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  9. Oh I so agree! Surrounding oneself with beautiful things (not necessarily expensive things--just pretty things) makes such a difference in my life.

    I used to teach at a preschool where we'd put flowers on the tables and eat lunch by candlelight. It made a surprising difference in the children's behavior!
    Love this post, as always!
    Becky

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  10. I couldn't agree more! Beauty is so important and yet people seem to hold it in such low esteem. Every one needs as much love and beauty in their lives as they can possibly squeeze in!

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  11. So poetically worded. I love those giant purple cabbages...

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  12. Beauty makes our lives a little bit better. If we didn't have it, there would be no art, music, fashion, fiction, film, photography, or poetry. Or architecture. Or aesthetics. You get my point.

    I'm so glad we care.

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  13. Your writing is stunning Pamela. I spend hours just wandering around The Deenery admiring every plant and flower. No, you have certainly not wasted time doing your lovely window boxes. Gorgeous photo too.

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  14. Fabulous quote Pamela! Don't you find since blogging that the world has a new shine? I reflect and appreciate everything all the more.

    Is that you in the photo? Beautful picture!

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  15. A man should hear a little music,
    read a little poetry,
    and see a fine picture
    every day of his life,
    in order that worldly
    cares may not obliterate
    the sense of the
    beautiful which God
    has implanted in
    the human soul.

    ~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

    Dear Pamela, you write so thoughtfully and your reflections never fail to inspire me. Your blog could be published as a book! I'd certainly buy a copy!
    Blessings, Kalianne

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  16. Your words
    Exquisite
    and full of beauty
    Thank you

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  17. I love the way you have with words.

    We're a couple of hours south of Windermere and yes that whole area is real soul-food with it's beauty and the way it speaks of higher timeless things distant from the day to day scrambling for the next new thing.

    Beautiful pic!

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  18. I am definitely in a stop-and-smell-the-roses place in my life right now. It doesn't hurt that I'm living in England, I know. And WOW! I've been wanting to go to the Lake District, now I know I have to go.

    Lovely post as usual, Pamela.

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  19. And beauty is, of course, very often free...so long as one is blessed with the eyes to see it with.

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  20. Lovely post and photo too...thanks for adding a bit of beauty to my day today...

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  21. "A thing of beauty is a joy forever"

    Always thinking of beauty here at the house of Edward. He does take nice photography.

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  22. Two books you might enjoy are Gardens: on essay on the Human Condition by Robert Pogue Harrison and also On Beauty and Being Just by elaine Scarry

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  23. Wonderful landscape combined with beautifully written words. There is truth in beauty and I am finding it here in your pages.

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  24. Such a beautiful and inspiring post.

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  25. Without beauty there is only sadness and a false sense of hope. Beauty gives us the strength to hope. I stopped over to enjoy your post and the wonderful pictures! I'll be back again when I can spend more time. My pillow and my little dog Layla are calling me.

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  26. you are such a great writer. It's always a treat visiting your beautiful blog. Kiss Edward for me!

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  27. I love the photo. I thought it was a painting until I realized you were there in the middle.

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  28. Beautiful Pamela and I wish I had some Fall flowers, but I just don't have the time!

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  29. What a fun, lovely photo of you. I can feel your pure enjoyment.
    It is amazing what a little art/beauty will do in our lives!

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  30. Beautiful post and equally beautiful photo of our Lake District. Real atmosphere you have caught.

    So looks like you might be posting on Yorkshire in the future.

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  31. I marvel at the beauty and serenity of my surroundings every day p.t and e. I live in the Yorkshire Dales amid hills, green fields, stone walls and peace and quiet and these things fill my soul. I'm not too far from Windermere and have friends there, and that scenery does just the same for me. My tiny pup sends greetings to Edward - she would about come up to his knee I think.

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  32. People are just obsessed, really obsessed is the only word - with hearing the latest news and then hearing it again all day long, and then hearing the commenters on the news, just in case one can't figure it out by oneself. John Prine was right, 'blow up your tv, throw away your paper, move to the country' I think sometimes my friends look at me as out of touch, as uninformed because I don't pay day-to-day attention. But geez, there's just so much our systems can take. We need that beauty in all its forms to save us. People who are driving in heavy traffic with road rage, listening to talk radio (both lib and cons), eating junk food are not going to notice the sunset or ever hear music because they are listening to commentators and regular people who call in. Sometimes I think I'll explode with listening to everyone's opinions. Whew! This comment surprised even me. :<) This is a big reason why I love reading blogs such as yours. They are the best antidote to radio and tv and the ones who are keeping alive the important things in life. Thank you!

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  33. Lovely, lovely post, Pamela.
    Your window boxes sound lovely; Autumn/Fall is my favourite time of year.

    And I love the photo, too.

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  34. You have such a way with words. I find your writings to be a piece of 'beauty'. The thoughts you ponder in this post of kindred to my own. Like it says in Psalm 27:4 "...to behold Your beauty..." this is one thing I desire to do all the days of my life. I am a lovesick maiden beholding the beauty He envelopes us in. To be still, to gaze, to ponder, to behold...it is all life and leads us in paths of love.

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  35. Oh my... let us not forget beauty!!!.. it cheers a depth in our soul than is sometimes hard to explain.. but we surely feel it...

    Amazing, amazing, amazing view!!!!!

    Your post is very heartfelt!!

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  36. Pamela, I'm so glad you osted that. Beauty is the very breath of life to me. One may be surrounded by death and destruction and utter squalor as I have been, and first and foremost remember the quality of light, a blade of grass regenerating in a heap of rubble or a smile as you share your last crust with someone in greater need than yours. Beauty is the very essence on which life is built.

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  37. I am so behind in my blog reading but given my workflow as of late, I especially appreciate this posting. Someone at work recently shared with me that they were totally focused on simplifying their life. The comment seemed totally absurd in our workplace. After thinking about this a bit, I went back and suggested that finding the simple pleasures in our days might help all of us in keeping up and making our days most pleasurable. We can't always remove the many elements in a day but we can make our world beautiful while stopping to take note of the many treasures and blessings that compose our world. A beautiful post - and photograph.

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  38. Another inspirational post. Wonderful words and great photo. Thankyou:)

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  39. The question that bothers me is: Why does so much art make a denial of beauty? We are on ourown, I think, in any quest for it.

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  40. CS Lewis said something along the lines that the pusuit of beauty has probably done considerably less harm than the pursuit of goodness but is somehow not considered as valid. I suppose we feel it's somehow rather effete and self-indulgent or something, but I really think the world would be a bit better if we spent more time cultivating a sense of it, and it isn't necessarily all about getting and spending either.

    There's always plenty of it to be found here, anyway!

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  41. Just lovely...this blog is such an oasis. What did you plant in your boxes? We have mums everywhere here and there are daisies now sprouting right outside my doorstep.

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  42. I find much beauty in my daily walks at the beach with Miss D ... in the skies, in the rocks ...in nature. So much beauty all around us. A wink and a woof from Miss D to both Edward & Miss A, and of course to you too Pamela. xo, S.

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  43. "Oh yes, I believe that. It's a lovely idea."

    "But you can't believe things because they're a lovely idea."

    "But I do. That's how I believe."
    ("Brideshead Revisited.")

    I believe in empirical beauty.

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  44. Very well said...I am applauding in my heart. Beauty is incredibly valuable and we need to look for it and also reveal it wherever we can.

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  45. Cumbria...ahhh..one day I WILL go there.

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I love to read your comments! Each and every one! Though I'm always reading your comments, I may not respond in the comment section. If you want to write me directly, you may do so at pamela@pamelaterry.net. Thank you for reading!