Beauty and Truth?

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Beauty and Truth? – 26 Apr 2006

Emily Dickinson’s poem I Died for Beauty reminds me of John Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn. I wonder if the last two lines of his ode inspired her to write her poem.

Here are those two well-known last lines from Ode on a Grecian Urn by John Keats (1795-1821):

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” – that is all
    Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

Unfortunately, Keats describes in glowing terms the entire scene depicted on an ancient urn, including the heifer being led to slaughter. (See my note below.)

This is Emily Dickinson’s entire poem I Died for Beauty:

I Died for Beauty
By Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

I died for Beauty – but was scarce
Adjusted in the Tomb
When One who died for Truth, was lain
In an adjoining Room –

He questioned softly “Why I failed”?
“For Beauty”, I replied –
“And I – for Truth – Themself are One –
We Brethren, are”, He said –

And so, as Kinsmen, met a Night –
We talked between the Rooms –
Until the Moss had reached our lips –
And covered up – our names –

I have mixed emotions about these two poems by poets whose work I admire. In the ode, John Keats tries with words to re-create and bring to life the scene depicted on an ancient urn. Reading the part describing the “heifer lowing at the skies” being led to sacrifice is disconcerting to me, and causes me to wonder how Keats might have felt about such sacrifices. Since it’s very likely that Emily Dickinson read the ode, I also wonder how she felt about the heifer “frozen in time” in the scenes depicted on the urn. I will probably never really know how these poets felt, but their apparent lack of empathy for an innocent animal being led to slaughter troubles me.  

Just as what was written many years ago is studied and read today, what we write nowadays may influence future generations. If, intentionally or unintentionally, we glorify the killing of an innocent animal, as Keats does in his ode, we perpetuate evil. Therefore, it is obvious that we ought to live and write as responsibly as we possibly can.
 


"Joyful Curmudgeon"
An oxymoron?
No! I see all the beauty of God's creation and I'm joyful.  At the same time, I see all the suffering and corruption going on in the world, and feel called to help expose and end it so that we may have true peace and compassion.

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