Friday, October 21, 2011

Beauty in Both

            One of the reasons I am glad to be back in the South is that Fall is my favorite season. Fall doesn’t really exist in certain parts of the northeast. Summer just dissolves into snow.
           Most people who like Autumn would tell you it’s because of the leaves. It’s a fairly odd reason when you stop and analyze it. People find beauty in dying foliage. The leaves discolor and die, and that’s what people find most beautiful for a quarter of the year.
Changing Leaves at Radnor Lake
            I looked out my window earlier, trying to figure out why people found so much beauty in such a morbid event. All the changing leaves really indicate is that the weather is about to be colder than you’d like for longer than you’d like. As I thought, my inner nerd took over and I remembered two quotes I had read over my years of art and literature studies.
        One of my favorite artists is Michelangelo, who once observed “beauty is the purging of superfluities.” The statement certainly seemed applicable. For the next few months the trees wouldn’t need their leaves, making them superfluous. At its core, the quotation really only implies beauty in simplicity, and there’s not much that’s simpler than a tree without leaves. It’s pretty much a big stick in the ground. The justification didn’t feel complete, though. The leaves are beautiful because they are suddenly unnecessary? Sure it seems philosophically profound, but I just didn’t believe that millions of people loved Autumn because the leaves were suddenly unnecessary.
             If you have read any Ralph Waldo Emerson, you may have come across the poem The Rhodora. I’ve copied a portion of it below, but you can view the whole poem here:

Rhodora! if the sages ask thee why 

This charm is wasted on the earth and sky, 

Tell them, dear, that if eyes were made for seeing, 

Then Beauty is its own excuse for being:

The last line I’ve copied is the heart of the poem, and provided my answer. I had been searching for a purpose or pragmatism for the beauty of autumn. As Emerson writes, however, beauty, in both man and nature, isn’t a measure of usefulness. Beauty doesn’t need an overarching cause. Beauty is because the eye can see it. Beauty simply is.
            Here’s to man, nature, and beauty in both.

1 comment:

  1. Your musings here remind me of the collection of Wilde's comments (reflecting his belief in Aestheticism) that was used in the preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray ( Granted, the collection of statements made by him aren't all relevant to your post, but they're still related in my mind. I don't know what you'll think of his perspective, but I figured it might inspire a reaction of some sort. On the other hand, I'm assuming you're already familiar Wilde's beliefs.