The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



On beauty

Cornelius Rogers | Monday, September 7, 2009

Many inside columns are like women’s skirts – long enough to cover the essentials, but short enough to keep you interested. They are often comical, slightly nostalgic, or sometimes self-referential. Past topics have included Batman vs. Superman, favorite pokemon and the ugly area in between the mod quad dorms. But I have decided to swim against the stream like the salmon of Capistrano. I have delivered you an inside column that involves a little more intellectual acumen. I am sure that as Notre Dame students and alumni your sharp minds are up to the task.

“‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,’- that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” Many have heard the words uttered by John Keats’ Grecian urn, but how many have really stopped to contemplate their meaning? Can all of mankind’s existence simply be reduced to this single axiom?

Nowadays the adjective “beautiful” is used to describe anything including films, songs, pets, cars, clothes and of course people. Perhaps the profuse use of the word today has diminished its value, but why do we even feel the need to use the word in the first place?

Perhaps we use the word because we all are looking for beauty in some way or another. A musician searches for it in her music. An author looks for it in his writing. A wayward Notre Dame student hopes to find it at an SYR. And the scientist seeks it out in rational truth. It looks like Keats’ urn hit the mark.

However, this concept of beauty seems entirely subjective. Surely, beauty cannot be just what everyone finds beautiful. Some poor twisted soul may think Crowley Hall is beautiful, but that does not make it so. Is there anything that is universally agreed upon as beautiful?

What most people find beautiful are things belonging to nature. Mountains, waterfalls, rainbows, flowers, etc. What is so special about these? For us, they are the closest thing to eternity that we will experience on earth. Mountains, valleys and seas have been here long before we were and will endure long after we are gone. Flowers may wither. Leaves may fall down and die, but both will come to life again and again. They are, in a word, everlasting. I like to think these things that are naturally beautiful are God’s way of giving us an infinitely small foretaste of the joys of heaven. And what is heaven, but the realm of all truth?

So I think Keats was onto something when he uttered those “immortal” words. Are beauty and truth all we really need to know? You are more than welcome to agree or disagree with me, but I hope at the very least you think about it.