“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” – that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
– John Keats (Ode on a Grecian Urn, Lines 49-50)
These lines are probably two of the most beautiful in English Literature. Written by John Keats, as the concluding lines of his poem, ‘Ode On A Grecian Urn’, they encompass all one needs to know on Earth. The purpose of today’s post is not to analyse said poem, but to elucidate how these lines can make life more beautiful on Earth.
Keats was one of the leading poets of the Romantic Movement in England, but received only posthumous acclaim for his work, having died at the young age of 25.
I saw a sunflower yesterday. It was facing the sun, seeming to smile at it with dazed eyes. That is all a sunflower knows on Earth: to face the sun and share in its beauty. This has been the universal purpose of sunflowers throughout the passage of time, and this truth is beautiful. It is merely a small example of how Beauty embodies Truth and the latter the former.
If I consider life at large, the truth may not always seem beautiful, rather it often seems bitter. Where is the beauty is in the cold, hard, bitter truth? Does it even exist, or is it the antithesis of beauty? Often, the latter answer is preferred. But herein lies a case of mistaken identity, for the truth only seems bitter due to perception and lack of comprehension. John Keats, a Romantic poet, may have embodied the title of, ‘Romantic’, in the above quotation, but this seemingly Romanticised opinion, is in fact what we call the, ‘cold, hard, truth’.
The lack of correct perception of a circumstance, human being, environment, or object may cause it to seem unpleasant. But this unpleasantness is caused only due to human judgement. The swiftness with which one of us is able to identify the flaws in something is equivalent to incorrect perception. This is the reason Keats’s words may confound us. He merely laid down the facts of life in print, leaving room only for comprehension and interpretation. Keats, when privy to the fact that he was dying of consumption, smiled at the sound of an ordinary nightingale. He recognised its tender beauty, even in the truth of his grave situation. Furthermore, the only reason he could probably appreciate the beauty, was because he knew the truth.
“Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder”, is a common maxim. The truth is only as true as the beholder chooses to perceive it as. If I choose to perceive any situation as beautiful, that beauty will be true in my eyes. This will then become my guiding principle in life, making it all I need to know. Indeed, it is all I know. It is only the perception for which I have a choice.
The relationship between truth and beauty also speaks of a sensation essential for any activity in life: love. Without possessing love, one cannot perceive even the most opportune circumstance as beautiful; love makes one see the beauty in truth.
It is this aspect of Keats’s work which I admire most. It portrays the truth in a Romanticised way, but this Romanticism is the truth. Beauty lies not only in words, but also in the perception of ordinary truths we encounter in life.