Wednesday, June 19, 2013

"Patterns You Desire to See Again'

An earnest and nervously anonymous reader tells me her sole mission in life is to “make beautiful things and share them with the world.” Commendable, surely preferable to making ugly things, the mission of too many contemporary artists, but perhaps a little high-minded. Based on the poem she includes in her note, her resolve is sincere but premature. “Needs work,” as a newspaper editor I once worked for invariably wrote on raw copy. Beauty calls for more than good wishes and a longing to please. Guy Davenport said Marianne Moore’s “triumph is that she has found [beauty] where few have before.” One of Guy’s lessons as writer and teacher is the conviction that goodness, truth and beauty are not incompatible, that “every force evolves a form,” in the old Shaker formulation. Claudia Gray restates the notion in “Beauty”: 

“Only prepare the soil and bury seed
in patterns you desire to see again
enrobed in color's riot. Only then
look up and hope the sky will meet their need,
your need, for what your plan was all about.
For if you say its name, there may be drought.” 

Tuesday marked the twenty-third anniversary of my only meeting with Davenport – not counting letters, telephone conversations and books -- at his home in Lexington, Ky. His house on Sayre Avenue and its contents embodied beauty in the home-grown American sense of a clean, orderly, well-lit space. Davenport found beauty in Melville’s description of the mating and birthing of whales, in thistle, in the prose of Ruskin, Doughty and Beckett, in Arthur Golding’s translations of Ovid, in Shaker furniture. He deemed Love’s Labours Lost the most beautiful of Shakespeare’s plays. He would, I think, have agreed with Aquinas who defined beauty as id quod visum placet – “that which being seen pleases.” 

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