A Life of Beauty

National Poet Gallery, London

National Portrait Gallery, London

After another failed round of attempts in life and love, the paramount question must be asked, “What do I want?”

Just a tip: “I don’t know,” is not the right answer. Even when you can’t readily perceive your deepest desires, they are in there somewhere.

Still, I’ve always admired people who know intuitively what they want. Even if they go about it unscrupulously, their possession of strong desires and the courage to pursue them appears somewhat attractive to my somewhat muddled state.

The truth dawned on one such as me, anyway. I don’t remember the specifics, but I was reading my favorite poet, John Keats,’ “Endymion” prelude. There is something about the poem’s power to life my mood in sad or anxious situations. Even better, I discovered just what I wanted out of life.

“A thing of beauty is a joy for ever,” The poem begins. It continue by explaining what these things of beauty are (primarily nature) and the healthful effect they has on us, especially to counteract the negative aspects of life. I realized that this was what I wanted. I wanted a life of beauty, a life filled with the beauty of nature, the beauty of love, the beauty of poetry, and the beauty of meaningful work. I wanted a meaningful life, filled with appreciation for all that the wonderful Earth had to offer me.

I know what you’re thinking. This all sounds like a bunch of fluff. But if you know anything about John Keats you would know that he was no sentimentalist. Don’t let the slightly archaic Romantic language fool you; he was ‘bound to the Earth.’ His eyes were open to the darkness that accompanies the journey of each human individual. He speaks of “despondence, of the human dearth/Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,/Of all the unhealthy and o’er-darken’d ways/made for our searching.” It is against these common distresses of mankind that Beauty fights, whether its poetry, nature, love, or some other personal meaningful object.

Poetry is not escapism. It’s probably the biggest accusation thrust against poets, but it isn’t true. We actually have to live in this world; we have to understand suffering and pain in the deepest sense before we can appreciate all of the good things in life.

That is the life I want. The knowledge that great, beautiful things lies behind the pain and suffering of everyday existence. This is my natural inheritance as a human being.

So, how do I translate this to a concrete desire? I make time for the important things in my life. If I’m a writer, I write. If I am out driving, I take the time to listen to the birds, watch the sky, feel the humidity in the air or the cool breeze, see the trees wave and twinkle at me. I’m there for my friends. I laugh at the silly things my students do. If I have a dream, I work hard to achieve it. I make a difference. And if I fall into despair, I let myself feel it and remind myself that I will get through it.

Beauty lives with us or we die, Keats says. His words has always lifted my spirits. Then, it gave me a life purpose. What about you? Has a poem, novel, or work of art ever influenced your view of life?

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