Finally, though, however it happens, by whatever complex, forbiddingly imprecise, dauntingly imperfect means, art is created, and beauty manifested. All over the world, if not every day then in every age, beautiful paintings and poems and pieces of music and buildings are generated: one can almost imagine little flaring lights on the surface of the earth, like those seen in photos from space, though they are much more sparse and scattered than the illuminating devices that bespeckle our globe. And then over time these embodiments of the beautiful are harvested, amassed, collected in books, in museums, in concert halls, to be distributed into the lives of individual human beings, to become crucial elements of their existence. Often, our experience of beauty will be the first hint of what each of us at some point will dare call our soul. For don’t those first stirrings of that eternally uncertain, barely grasped notion of something more than mere mind, mere thought, mere emotion, usually first come to us in the line of a poem, a passage of music, of the unreal yet more-than-real image in a painting?
And isn’t it also the case after all that beauty is the one true thing we can count on in a world of insufferable uncertainty, of constant moral conflicts? I’ve wondered sometimes if humans invented gods to have something appropriately sensitive, grand, and wise enough to appreciate these miraculous modes of beauty that are so different in material and quality from anything else in the world. Might gods have first been devised not to assuage our fears and hear our complaints and entreaties, but for there to be identities sufficiently sublime to understand what those first painters and sculptors—and surely, though the words and tunes have been lost, those poets and singers—had wrought?
- C.K. Williams, from "Solitary Caverns: On Globalisation and Poetry" in the March 2009 issue of POETRY. You can read the whole thing, again mysteriously retitled for the web version, here.