Beauty in the Commonplace

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In Jonathan Edwards’ essay “The Beauty of the World,” he presents the inexplicable beauty that is found in common, natural things. Edwards observes that though these things are by far the greatest, what makes them beautiful cannot be expounded upon in scientific terms, or organized systematically. The draw toward common things as objects of great beauty is a popular idea that has been contemplated by poets such as Gerard Manley Hopkins in his works “Pied Beauty” and “God’s Grandeur”. Beauty in everyday life, that may not be readily apparent in its loveliness, is the most profound and complex.

Hopkins, in describing beauty, points his readers to dimpled, dappled, freckled things, to the “stippled” backs of trout.  Hopkins takes on the task of declaring to his readers what is beautiful in God’s creation. He beckons his readers to look at the trout, and mottled skies, quilted landscapes and finches’ wings. They are beautiful because they are commonplace, because they are “pied”, as Hopkins describes, meaning“couple-colored”. They are beautiful because they are natural. Beauty such as this displays God’s magnificence. Edwards suggests that every man-made thing is easily identified as beautiful because it has singled out something its critics already find attractive.

Man’s recognition of beauty in nature is proof that he was made in God’s image. God created the world, and finding it good, saw that it was beautiful. Hopkins says, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” Often, men are driven away from this truth, and stray to look at other things in attempts to find beauty. They are attracted to surface beauty that catches the eye and is immediate and obvious in its worth, but this kind of beauty only has the allure of first impressions. There is no depth to this beauty: there is nothing to contemplate, nothing that slowly reveals itself as more apparent the more it is meditated upon. Both the ideas of Edwards and Hopkins harmonize with this: Edwards, when he says, “This beauty is peculiar to natural things, it surpassing the art of man.” The beauty he refers to here is a spiritual beauty, which is reflected in nature. He compares the planets revolving around the sun, aa physical and natural observation, to the universe revolving around God, a spiritual observation. In “God’s Grandeur”, Hopkins says, “And for all this, nature is never spent; There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.” He moves on to say that the sunrise springs up because, like a dove, the Holy Spirit is bent over the world. Again, the Godhead converges with nature in an intimate, truly beautiful, way.

Art – anything man-made – is only beautiful if the artist’s work reflects God and His creation. Imitating the Creator God is not a restriction or limitation that inhibits artists from creating truly beautiful art, but ensures that what is made will be beautiful. God’s revelation of Himself through creation has resulted in a beauty that is a tiny infinity itself: a beauty that is inexhaustible. The observer may not recognize the qualities that make something beautiful right away. The qualities of nature that make it aesthetically pleasing are unchanging. What these qualities are, as Edwards says, may be difficult to identify. Manmade beauty is simple to grasp: it is considered beautiful because it was made for man to consider beautiful. The way in which that plays out may change considerably, depending on era and current popularity, but the beauty of the object is easy to recognize. In nature, the closest a person may come to knowing anything about why creation is beautiful is acknowledging that God created the earth for His glory, and so what we recognize as beautiful in nature is what God considers beautiful. Nature and its attraction are complex, and reflect God in this manner. God’s handiwork is seen through the world, and it is beautiful. If we wish for our art to be beautiful as well, then we must be purposeful in following His designs.

 


Bibliography

Hopkins, Gerard Manley. “Pied Beauty”. poetryfoundation.org. Website accessed October 8, 2015. http://www .poetryfoundation.org/poem/173664

Hopkins, Gerard Manley. “God’s Grandeur”. poetryfoundation.org. Website accessed October 8, 2015. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/173660

 

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