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Beauty & Truth

October 24, 2015

Part Four: Time and Eternity

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I DIED for beauty, but was scarce

Adjusted in the tomb,

When one who died for truth was lain

In an adjoining room.

  

He questioned softly why I failed?

“For beauty,” I replied.

“And I for truth,—the two are one;

We brethren are,” he said.

  

And so, as kinsmen met a night,

We talked between the rooms,      

Until the moss had reached our lips,

And covered up our names.
 

 

Emily Dickinson, without doubt, earned her title as one of the Masters of Literature. From the hundreds of poems she wrote throughout her life, even if she stored them secret in her desk drawer, comes the life of poetry, the spirit of art, the inspiration of writing, and the eternal aspects of Beauty and Truth.

“I died for beauty” is poem full of spiritual, artistic, and humanistic allegories which transcend time, space, and even death. Although there are many interpretations and analysis for this poem, the words contain a deeper meaning that will always reflect to the Reader a broader perspective.

It is clear that Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886) could have been inspired by John Keats’ poem “Ode to a Grecian Urn,” which published anonymously in January 1820. Such poem, at the end, connects to the spiritual aspects of Beauty and Truth in the lines:

 


 “When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou sayst,
“Beauty if Truth, Truth Beauty,” – that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

 


As you may see, it resembles to Emily Dickinson’s poem in reference to “old age” in symbolism to death, the eternity in how we “shalt remain, in midst of other woe,” the connection to a conversation in “a friend to man,” and the epic conclusion of Truth and Beauty.

(Please feel free to read “Beauty is Truth” & “Truth Beauty” to expand the perspective about these important universal themes)

 

I DIED for beauty, but was scarce

Adjusted in the tomb,

When one who died for truth was lain

In an adjoining room.

 

In the poem, there seem to be two characters: I and He. If a reader interprets the “I” to be Emily Dickinson herself, then we would have a woman and a man. In the beginning, we would understand that: “She died for Beauty” and “He died for Truth.” For now . . . This interpretation opens the possibility to think that Emily presents them as the feminine and the masculine, the moon and the sun, the animas and the animus, the square the and the circle (from Da Vinci’s The Vitruvian Man) and if we take this symbolism further into philosophy, we can interpret it as Reason and Feelings, Logic and Intuition, or as Raphael’s School of Athens represents:

 

Truth as Apollo, God of Truth and Prophecy, Music, Poetry, Art, Medicine, Light and Knowledge

Beauty as Athena, Goddess of Law and Justice, Mathematics, Civilization, Strength and Wisdom

 

As you may see, allegories in reference to universal themes like Beauty and Truth extend beyond the symbolisms we interpret throughout generations. However, let’s look at the details of the first stanza first.
 

I DIED for beauty, but was scarce

 

The word “for” can be interpreted as “in the cause of” as if, the “She” died for it; we will continue with this point further on. But for now, we understand that “She” gave her life for Beauty, but was scarce, insufficient, and then:

 

Adjusted in the tomb,
 

The word “Adjusted” has definition of something been “altered or moved in order to achieve a desired fit.” As if, the insufficiency was caused by something or someone which made her be in the tomb.

The nature of this poem transmits an irony that such ideals for artists, poets, philosophers and prophets in regards of Beauty and Truth are never achieved because of forces that oppose to them. It would be common to link this analogy to many icons throughout civilizations and cultures that presented ideals in the name of “Beauty” and “Truth.”

I have my own personal list in the religious, political and artistic spectrum; however, you might have another.

Anyway, continuing in this first stanza, the other “character” died for Truth, in an adjoining room.
 

 

I DIED for beauty, but was scarce

Adjusted in the tomb,

When one who died for truth was lain

In an adjoining room.

 

 

Notice that Emily uses “When,” which causes the reader perceive that both died at the same time, one for Beauty and one for Truth. From the beginning, the writing starts building a relationship between the two. Within these letters, notice the irony Emily portrays when the one died for Beauty “was scarce” and the one who died for Truth “was lain.”
 

 

He questioned softly why I failed?

“For beauty,” I replied.

“And I for truth,—the two are one;

We brethren are,” he said.

 

 

Following the pronouns of the first stanza, the character “I” says she died for Beauty, and “he” died for Truth. Now, the first line of the second stanza can play a trick in the first person and third person point of view:
 

He questioned softly why I failed?

 

This sentence can be read as “He” is questioning the other character: “I,” to which “I” replies “For Beauty.”

or

This sentence can be read as “He” is questioning himself “Why I failed,” to which “I” replies: “For Beauty.” In this interpretation, the reason of the characters’ death can exchange, presenting the meaning of the same meaning of the stanza: ‘The two are one.’ However, this is only one interpretation due to the fact that the interrogation sign is not "necessary," unless you want to create this merging effect:
 

He questioned softly why I failed
“For beauty,” I replied.

 

He questioned softly why I failed?

“For beauty,” I replied.

 

It is in the second stanza where the two participants are relating more deeply, as well as Truth and Beauty, which, as the poem suggests, two are one.

 

We brethren are,” he said.

 

The third stanza emphasizes on the ideals both participants died for, using “Brethren” and “Kinsmen” to express that they were both fighting for the same ideals.
 

And so, as kinsmen met a night,

We talked between the rooms,

Until the moss had reached our lips,

And covered up our names.

 

The characters were already dead, yet they kept on talking between rooms, which could be interpreted as ghosts, ghost from the past who fought for Beauty and for Truth; a tribute to icons whose knowledge and wisdom still resonates today,  and whose words (in the theme of Beauty and Truth) still talk in the presence of the reader.
 

Until the moss had reached our lips,

And covered up our names.

 

Until nature, or the natural cycle of death (as the moss of the ground takes on the buried bodies) reached their lips, and covered up their names. The last line presents a theme of identity, which could be inclined to make the reader think that nature itself continues the cycle of life and death, regardless of who we are; however, it can also refer to the idea that even though they are kinsmen, fighting for Beauty and Truth, it does not matter who they are, who they were, what matters is what they lived for, what they died for.

Many interpretations say Emily expresses her fear in the last stanza, in reference to how tragically we’d be forgotten through nature’s cycle, even if we fight with our lives for Beauty and Truth. However, that is a matter of opinion and interpretation; I don’t think Emily is expressing her fear just because there are many poems where she does not rely on her identity, and, with the fact that she left all her poems hidden in her desk drawer.

To conclude, let me go back to the point where one died for Beauty, and one died for Truth, as if they were different, but yet, the same.

“Beauty” can be naturally referred to the aesthetic of something beautiful, which gives pleasure; however, it is a subjective experience. Therefore, the phrase: ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ can be considered true, but perhaps not everybody would agree. When one perceives something beautiful, one can identify it as such by the subjective experience of it, why? Is there a way to see Beauty objectively? There are “synonyms” for Beauty which can expand the perspective of what has beauty and what has not. For instance, Grace is a virtue which can be much linked to Beauty, yet it depends on what kind of Grace we are focusing on. The “Sublime” is a certain kind of Beauty which is not fully understood or comprehended, yet it is not “Beauty” per se, but something more of grandeur, of power and meaning.

Furthermore, taking this interpretation in the matter of Art, one can bring forth the question “How can you identify Beauty in Art? If the perception is subjective, why are there people who admire the same Beauty? Is there an objective angle “Beauty”? Perhaps . . .

Now, take this as lightly as you wish: the spiritual aspect of Art lives inherent not only in the result or the process, but also in the experience of the creator. When an artist prepares a canvas to paint, a page to write, a music sheet to compose (etc) he/she delivers with his/her imagination, knowledge, experience, skill and/or talent the virtues of oneself. For example, if a painter wants to paint a castle which transmits fear to the viewer, the creator analyzes thousands of factors in order to create that “Beauty” which transmits whatever essence the creator is trying to present. However, that “essence” of fear can be portrayed with common parameters viewers can psychologically perceive as “fearful” or  it can also be portrayed by the natural experience of “Expressing” fear in the process or/and experience of creating that Art.

There are infinite ways to look at Art, and none is a right o wrong way to see it. However, to understand and comprehend our connection with the creation is to be more in tune with the creative process. The spiritual aspects of Art (for the creator) could be found in the process/experience of the creator itself, yet it does not mean the viewer will also find it in the result, or even in the process/experience. Hence, what we are dealing with here is Communication, the bridge between the pure and perfect vision of the Artist in his mind/heart/soul in regards to the essence presented and the perception of the viewer to receive it through what is presented (or even in the process) to define it as “Beauty.” 

Now, in the humanistic level of the beautiful, one can see the difference between the aesthetics of Beauty and the “soul” of Beauty. However, this is the subjective perception. For instance, a perfect balanced, clean and radiant pair of teeth can be defined as “Beautiful” in its aesthetics, yet it is truly the soul of a smile which radiates beauty, per se. It is in the combination of those two factors which transmit purely that “Beauty;” in one hand, there is the composition, the structure, technique, the symmetry and balance, the logic or reason (perhaps even the ‘Result’) and in the other hand, there is the soul, the intention, the purity, the heart and feeling of it (perhaps even the ‘Experience.’) Here is where I make my points in regards to harmony and balance between the objective mind and the subjective mind, the male and the female, the sun and the moon, the giving and the taking.

Research had led me to understand that the more intensity the balance of the two opposite forces are contained in their togetherness, in regards to the language of Art, the more it would radiate that in which what we call “Beauty.” Nevertheless, the element of “Truth” also takes an important role in this equation.

 

“Truth” is such an abstract term that has been impossible to define it, especially with the limiting yet expressive understanding of words. “Fact” is objective evidence anyone can confirm in regards to records and history; however, the term “Truth” is more linked to philosophy as well as religion, spirituality and the perception of the Mind (conscious and subconscious). The definition and interpretation of the theme of “Truth” can be a vast and broad, depending on what schools of thought and/or feelings one is coming from. However, there can be an objective and a subjective angle to the theme, which I believe both are needed to comprehend the “incomprehensible.” The objective angle could be perceived as the “fact-based” Truth, which is the reflection and understanding on the reality we human concur to live. The subjective angle could be perceived as the profound, even “spiritual” Truth, which is the reflection and connection of oneself to that which we call “Truth.”

In order to understand the parameters of the term “Truth,” one can understand its opposite: lies. Lying is action that takes place when a person presents a reality, an illusion, a fictitious perspective, which is not aligned with what is “known” to be true. If a person observes the color red on a canvas and perceives it as red in all his/her “truthfulness,” then choosing to say: “this color is blue,” would be considered a lie (for those who know the “Truth.”) So, if a lie is an alternate choice to what is considered “Truth,” then what is Truth?

In the term of Art, an Artist can be considered a magician. A magician is one who uses imagination to create. From the artist’s mind, the creation he/she will be creating does not actually exist until created, hence, it can be said that the artist creates illusions in his mind until he manifests them and makes them “real.” Here, we go back to the experience or process of creation; for example, if an artist creates an art piece, then the creation would have the essence of what he tried to capture, present, express. This “essence” that the art piece presents can have “Beauty” in regards to the aesthetics and the intention of the artist (as I pointed before), but how does Truth relate? If we keep on trying to understand John Keats and Emily Dickinson’s connection between Beauty and Truth, from where does Truth come into the picture?

The spiritual realm is just a hard one to understand clearly nowadays, because there is no “official” set of definitions that can make people understand what is spiritual. The word “Spirit” of something can be very closely related to the “Essence” of something; the “soul” of something which radiates from the something itself. The complication comes from the fact that each and every one of us has a unique perspective on things, so even if I say an apple represents ‘knowledge,’ for example, someone would have to ‘experience’ the apple to agree or disagree with me about what it represents. However, the apple can radiate what I believe it represents by the parameters of what I know about ‘apple’ and ‘knowledge’ from my past, or the known human past, and the other person could concur if he/she knows about these parameters and experiences the radiating essence of the apple. The same thing can be said about the future, but let’s stay on topic. The true spirit of things endures because it carries its essence in its existence, regardless what eyes are observing, unless we get into quantum physics.... Then, we can say the “spirit” is timeless, it lives in the present, always. A mind can remember the past or imagine the future, but the spirit of what the mind is “capturing” is still alive in that beating moment when the mind still imagines it or remembers it. Time is important to discuss within these themes because something “beautiful” and something “true” can change through time depending on the mind, just because of the ‘subjective’ perspective of it, but yet, not in the objective perspective. What Keats and Dickinson refer is “Beauty” & “Truth” in reference to an eternal spiritual Beauty & Truth.

However, one can read and/or experience in a poem the ‘essence’ of an apple and the reader can assimilate to that essence or experience. Therefore, the essence of the apple can be timeless when it is “captured” in a poem; the essence of the apple (in regards to what the artist created) lives through that poem, and any reader would have access to experience it as it is being read. However, a poem (the result) could never be classified as an eternal “Beauty & Truth” because, again, there will always be that subjective perspective, unlike the process.

I believe this “Beauty & Truth” Keats, Dickinson and many others speak, is alive in the timeless present of the Artist; it beats in his/her heart and soul as he/she does not only uses the balance of aesthetics and intention to communicate Beauty, but also, is true to his own nature, to his own nakedness, to his own Truth to express it. This “Truth” in Art, takes place in the experience of the Artist, not in the manner of performing or expressing a creation (or manifesting an ‘illusion’) but rather, exposing oneself, without illusions. I think the best example to understand that eternal “Beauty & Truth” is at the presence of a singer at the present of his/her song. A singer not only achieves Beauty in his/her song (which is the “illusion” the artist created) but also in her presence while singing, the bridge between the artist and the audience which merge into an eternal bliss that connects them deeply in their core; it is in that moment where one perceives an eternal experience of Art, of purity, of human expression, and values it throughout time, it is in that moment where one perceives that the artist is singing his/her “illusion” as if it were true, or perhaps it is completely true, especially when an artist is improvising.

Perhaps those Artists who improvise are more in tune with this eternal “Beauty & Truth,” because they are exposing themselves Truthfully, with their nakedness, flowing with the risk of the presence with their expression, not the illusions of the worlds they imagine or remember in their minds, but the Truth of that human expression in their hearts, in their souls, in that present, in that moment, regardless what the Artist is trying to present; it is Beauty & Truth in the experience of living.

O kinsmen, Master of Literature who are still alive in those letters read, I understand. This “Beauty & Truth” Artists have been trying to communicate is not something that we create, it is not something to achieve outside of ourselves, but inside; it is something we hold inside in each and every one of us, and it is an unveiling of ourselves, it is human expression, it is the exposure of our true selves in front of the others so they can recognize themselves through us. It is a mirror. There dwells the pure human connection between Spirituality & Art.

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Truth Beauty

May 17, 2015

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