Written by Dmitri Garlic, Texas A&M University
Plucked to eye level, Bright flower, reflecting God It wilts, task too great
As the epigraph hints at, I think that experiencing beauty is innately tinged with sadness. In a previous essay, I argued that a thing is beautiful insofar as it is good, radiant, and attractive. I also argued that, in addition to these three basic criteria, the most beautiful things clearly reflect something of transcendent value. Obviously, the most transcendent value in existence is God. Thus, things that most clearly reflect God to a particular person are the most beautiful.
In the poem above, I used the example of a flower as I think nearly everyone will agree that flowers are beautiful. Flowers are good, radiate this goodness, and attract us to them. They do all three of these things because they reflect the pure essence of God, the most Good, Radiant, and Attractive. However, the flower is not God. Thus, our experience of the flower is already tinged with sadness as the flower reminds us of God without actually being God, in the same way a picture of a lover can remind a lonely traveler of his beloved without actually being her. In addition to this sadness, the flower is also unlike God in that the flower will inevitably fade away.
God is eternal, but the beautiful things that remind us of Him are not. Furthermore, unlike the eternal newness of God, beautiful things can lose their attractiveness and radiance to us as we become accustomed to and forget the beauty that first struck us about them. A beautiful landscape will be worn away by time or be somewhere the person viewing them cannot visit again. A beautiful song will be forgotten entirely or become background music to our drive to work where it once grabbed our attention. A beautiful person will die or become someone we take for granted. Thus, beautiful things, if contemplated for a long enough time, will inevitably have, or come to have an air of sadness around them.
I would like to conclude with a caveat. This inevitable sadness should not be taken in a fatalistic manner, nor should it lead us to stop seeking beauty. Beauty need not become humdrum if we continually approach it in a contemplative manner and, regardless of how sad it may be, beauty is always good and reflective of the Good. We should not cut ourselves off from beauty just because we worry that we will eventually cease to appreciate it or because it is not the thing we are truly seeking. We instead should use this inevitable sadness as a spur to continue to seek God.