The link between beauty and eros is powerful. My entire life I have loved beautiful things; now, only recently, have I come to understand that in the fullest sense. Beauty is intoxicating. Beauty is inspiring. Beauty can be soul ennobling. Beauty has the power to make our lives more bearable, to bring us small and great pleasures, and even fill us with hope. And the loveliness of erotic beauty is most powerful indeed.
William Styron, the award winning novelist who died in 2006, wrote in his memoir dealing with his battles with depression, Darkness Visible, that he had reached such a point of suicidal despair that he had actually planned the act, written the note and was prepared to complete his intentions. Then, one frigid winter night as he ready to cross that line, alone in his home, he heard some music by Brahms and the sound of this music, the beauty of this music and the memories it induced pulled him back from that the final edge of darkness. It is worth quoting, from his December 1988 Vanity Fair article.
“Late one bitterly cold night, when I knew that I could not possibly get myself through the following day, I sat in the living room of the house bundled up against the chill; something had happened to the furnace. My wife had gone to bed, and I had forced myself to watch the tape of a movie in which a young actress, who had been in a play of mine, was cast in a small part. At one point in the film, which was set in late-nineteenth-century Boston, the characters moved down the halfway of a music conservatory, beyond the walls of which, from unseen musicians, came a contralto voice, a sudden soaring passage from the Brahms Alto Rhapsody.”
“This sound, which like all music—indeed, like all pleasure—I had been numbly unresponsive to for months, pierced my heart like a dagger, and in a flood of swift recollection I thought of all the joys the house had known: the children who had rushed through its rooms, the festivals, the love and work, the honestly earned slumber, the voices and the humble commotion, the perennial tribe of cats and dogs and birds, “laugher and ability and Sighing, / And Frocks and Curls.” All this I realized was more than I could ever abandon, even as what I had set out so deliberately to do was more than I could inflict on those memories, and upon those so close to me, with whom the memories were bound. And just as powerfully as I realized I could not commit this desecration on myself. I drew upon some last gleam of sanity to perceive the terrifying dimensions of the mortal predicament I had fallen into. I woke up my wife and soon telephone calls were made. The next day I was admitted to the hospital.”
I can understand what he is saying. When life seems dark and dismal, beauty can gives some sense of hope, it can lead us to something greater than ourselves, something beyond our complete understanding, yet something still living deep within ourselves. Beauty has the power to spark things in ourselves that we have long thought dead or extinguished, beyond the hope of redemption. As Muhammad said, which I have already quoted before but still love to carry around with me: “God is beautiful and loves beauty”. If only the Christian bible contained such a quote! I know the sentiment is there, but I have yet to find a comparable quote. Whatever the source, there is something fundamentally good in what is beautiful which for me means that beauty is truly a divine thing, a thing from God and part of his creation.
Whether it be in art, music, nature, literature, or whatever, the experience of beauty can be transforming, as Styron’s life shows, in both small and profound ways. The simple sound of beautiful piece of music changed, and ultimately saved, his life. The pleasure of beauty is something to be cultivated, at least for me. And one thing I love I particular is feminine beauty.