Truth and Beauty, According to Poet John Keats – Values of the Wise

truth and beauty
Keats probably thinking about Truth and Beauty

What is a poem about? is a crucial question—one that gets at the main point of a particular poem. Its meaning is derived by thinking carefully, feeling liberally, and being willing to abstain from judgment until one has read it two or three times. Meaning can also be augmented (perhaps deciphered) by subjecting the poem to what English muckety-mucks call “close textual analysis.” Interestingly, a poem such as John Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn” has been worked on by hundreds of thousands of students, readers, professors, and critics for over 200 years, and it still causes us a bit of trouble determining “what it’s about”!

I don’t believe that the poem’s final lines—where the brilliant young Romantic-era poet briefly, cryptically mentions the values truth and beauty—can pass muster in one sense (the cognitive/rational/philosophical one). But, considering Keats’ concept of negative capability, we might still be able to glean insight, find inspiration, and fire our imaginations. Before getting to the truth and beauty lines, I will briefly summarize the poem.


The poem is composed of five stanzas of ten lines each. The poem’s rhyme and meter make it an artistic accomplishment of significance—even setting aside the content and the punch of Keats’ message. The meter is almost uniformly consistent at 10 syllables per line which is quite impressive when married to rhymed line endings! In the first stanza, rich phrases such as “unravish’d bride of quietness” and “foster-child of silence and slow time” are meant to convey that there sat before Keats one momentous day a Greek vase, and he perceived it to be very significant; timeless; static; evocative. The piece of art is a kind of historian which can tell a tale more even more beautifully than a poet can. The questions asked of the urn indicate that Keats is marveling over what the scenes convey about ancient Greece that is transcendent and universal, and can provide feeling and meaning to a perceptive and imaginative viewer—even two thousand years hence.


The second stanza indicates that music is “sweet, but those unheard are sweeter…”, and therefore he lightheartedly engages with the urn in a kind of “I-Thou relationship” (as put forth by theologian Martin Buber)—as opposed to a person who might walk by said vase in a museum and think, “Oh that’s nicely done; those Greeks were experts at pottery!” Indeed, the scenes painted in black against the dark orangish background (or vice-a-versa) tell a tale; it is a type of communication sent on down through the centuries not unlike myth, story, interpretive dance, epic, music, and legend. It takes a Greek tragedian a thousand lines to communicate what Keats is able to divine from mere imagery, and that makes him a genius—if he can communicate it to the rest of us. The vase is almost impervious to time, war, and looters now that it is kept safe in a museum, and thus a depiction of two lovers will be forever ensconced, but perceptible, in the present; in being. There is no sadness, love lost, or forlorn imagery portrayed—emotions Keats felt and would very soon in his truncated life feel much more poignantly—and no viewer can easily project those feelings onto the stimuli. Nor need one envision the collapse of the ancient Greek city states (which modern individuals know occurred). Indeed, the author may have been ill with tuberculosis, or fretting about the scenes of horror he must have witnessed when his brother slowly succumbed to the illness, but time essentially stopped in that beautiful, well-preserved piece of art when perceived by a true poet. I presume and hope that Keats found some solace in the urn. It definitely fired his imagination, and that is what a great piece of art can do when a co-participant is willing to do some of the work (mentally and emotionally) to feel the feelings and to reflect on the meaning evoked by said object. Humans have a marvelous ability to imagine, to project, or envision—and poets can do this better than anyone.


The third and fourth stanzas are more wonderful paeans to the life and the culture of ancient Greece. Infighting, disease, slavery, war, and the merciless flow of the tiny grains of sand through the hourglass of time may have turned the Greek civilization into an absurdly diminutive version of its greatness and glory, but such values as liberty, democracy, spirituality, communality, philosophy, and science are not dead if we, in the present, do not turn our backs on them.

The final stanza shows the author venerating the “Attic shape” (a rough term for “Greek pot”) which “tease[s] us out of thought/ As does eternity…”. It is as though Keats is going over and over the merits and weaknesses of Greek thought, ritual, culture, and such (perhaps sacrifices, or sheepherding, or the momentous Festival of Dionysus which was held annually). He wants to combine the beauty and femininity and order symbolized by Apollo, and the vigor, emotion, and primal urges Dionysus represented.

In this crucially important last part, Keats indicates that when time has run roughshod over Greece, and only fragments and influences remain (as well as some small minority of the cultures’ art)—“when old shall this generation waste”—even on into the future mankind will be potentially able to preserve and revere the culture and the values of the Greeks. Any mere vase that can teach us lessons “shalt remain…a friend to man…” and that is an amazing thing.


Then come the last two crucially significant lines. I will say that I have wrestled with what wisdom the author was imparting with those inimitable words (which he actually appears to be quoting) that have helped to give Keats, in the words of the late intellectual historian and protector of all things aesthetic, Harold Bloom, “…the most secure and uncontested reputation of any poet since the Renaissance….” As well, his extremely short period of artistic productivity (ages 23-24) went down in history (also per Bloom) as “…one of the most fecund ever experienced by any poet.” Anyone who was aged 24 or so when they penned such unabashed lines as the final two deserves to be taken very seriously. Thus, I speak of “wrestling” with the meaning of the lines that proclaim “beauty is truth, truth beauty…” because I feel as though the poem cracks in half at this point. That is, the author seems to take a hard left turn vis-à-vis the rest of the poem. Furthermore, as I find the lines somewhat inscrutable and vexing, I would have liked to see a different ending, perhaps the first draft of which being:

Embodying the sprit of both Dionysus and Apollo,

This silent, ancient urn speaks loudly of timelessness and time;

Of the enduring human emotions; of mortality and death.

Though the black figures, in their orange, static world

Cannot utter even a word to posterity, there is wisdom there.

I can hear them singing their song as if they were here now,

Eternally imparting their Hellenistic truth

A story as beautiful as it is challenging.


I have tended to study psychology—the art of psychotherapy as well as the science. I also have taken quite an interest in philosophy—especially aspects of moral philosophy, epistemology, and the like. I have less experience with aesthetics, and clearly that would help me in my perceived difficulty pinning down what was meant by truth being beauty, and vice-a-versa—and how that is all a mortal needs to know. These are (in the realm of philosophy) statements that would need an entire essay to flesh out; they constitute a complex and unambiguous claims on the part of one man—who then ends his poem! Though Keats is asking the reader to (in the words of novelist Henry James) “do quite half the work,” I suspect he is asking us to do 90% of the work with those almost cryptic quoted lines (Keats places them in quotes, as though he is quoting someone else he does not name). The lack of context, or evidence, in most poetry often seems to challenge or stymie me. I found myself wishing that Keats were as verbose and as given to prose (no rhyme intended!) as Montaigne or Voltaire was. I tend to feel that if one of those luminaries put quill to parchment on this exact topic—this philosophical and epistemological claim, as it were—I would perhaps not agree with them fully, but at least I would have a greater level of understanding of what they were getting at. Wisdom is the ideal outcome of a poem, and I think Keats should have either continued with his original trajectory, or given us more than a cryptic quote about two of the most elusive and transcendental values/phenomena mankind has struggled with. It might take ten-thousand words to substantiate a claim such as his, and yet he gives us twenty. One might retort that if Socrates and Aristotle didn’t figure out what Truth consists in, neither will we easily do so (especially with such an economy of words).


But this ode needn’t be subjected to the rigor and cognitivity (if you will) of philosophy, in that poetry (and beauty, and truth) are more subjective than they are objective; more culturally relative and tentative in meaning than “the thinking set” would prefer. There is no right and wrong when it comes to a claim such as beauty is truth, and that is all you need to know. Blaise Pascal said, “The heart has its reasons that the reason knows nothing of.” I personally do not have eyes for sculpture, architecture, or painting as much as I do a feel for musical lyrics, movies, prose, and some poetry. I tend to love the format of an essay when it comes to exploring those “higher truths” that artists such as poets have tapped into for millennia. I also am passionately drawn to quotations because of their brevity and their power. Certainly, Homer was writing in a beautiful style about the minutiae surrounding the Trojan War—and I believe Alice Oswald improved upon Homer in her Memorial: A Version of Homer’s Iliad. Clearly, when she writes that “this translation presents the whole poem as a kind of oral cemetery…”, she is extoling the beauty of what the ancient Greek bards did with that tale of woe, individuality, justice, barbarity, and human emotion. Homer and his fellow balladeers were trying to impart important truths (according to the culture) to the audience, in a way. Greek tragic plays have such force even today because they are looking glasses in which the ancient Athenians could reflect upon themselves (and sometimes when they viewed a play, they didn’t see the glorified image they probably would have preferred)(Athens put Socrates to death for perturbing orthodoxy and conservatism).


I can most easily attempt to validate and feel what Keats was illustrating in his last two lines by looking at them obliquely—as one should also do with an eclipse. A poem can best penetrate the human mind and heart when one is willing to do half the work; to relate it to oneself; to empathize and to imagine. So, to that end, I will share that Val Kilmer is a fine vehicle for comparison.

Kilmer is a modern actor with an extremely long and varied trail of experiences to his merit. Showing the potential of a Keats or Shelley, the young man earned his way into Juilliard. There, he excelled in his craft. His ability to embody a character was at times nothing short of amazing; with Tom “Iceman” Kazansky from the movie Top Gun the as-yet-unproved artist took a 2-dimentional character and added plentiful, in-depth backstory. Kilmer always longed for impact; he wanted to be more than just a pretty face. When I saw the sequel six months ago, I cried when Kazansky appeared for a mere five minutes—as Commander of the Pacific Fleet, no less. The fact that Kilmer was stricken with throat cancer resulting in a stoma (and an almost inaudible voice) added to the emotion I felt in that scene. I reflected back on my childhood memories of the astonishing movie featuring the over-the-top charisma of Tom Cruise, and I hurt for Val Kilmer. He was a shadow of his former physical self. Furthermore, in The Doors, everyone on set could attest to the fact that Kilmer embodied singer Jim Morrison to a frightening degree. His virtual embodiment of Morrison was literally the straw that broke the camel’s back in regard to Kilmer’s marriage finally ending in divorce. His portrayal of John “Doc” Holliday in the movie Tombstone is nothing less than awesome. I cry every time I see it.


Where I am going with this is that Kilmer helps me to see what Keats was probably, essentially saying with his nebulous final lines. In the three roles I mentioned—and others such as the character Kilmer played in the underrated movie The Salton Sea, or his astonishing portrayal of American hero Mark Twain in the play he wrote called Citizen Twain—he evinces both beauty and truth. Here is what I mean: When he gets a script, it’s essentially two-dimensional; it’s black type on white pages. Kilmer has an uncanny and virtuosic ability to bring the characters to life. Some of his movies are a bit “fluffy,” but the ones I referenced show acting performances that are tantamount to beauty. That is, he takes the screenwriter’s ideas, the director’s vision, and what he knows of psychology and human nature and crafts a character that evokes emotion and facilitates meaning for the viewer. Beauty in this context refers not to comeliness but to a kind of artful, compelling, insightful and revealing phenomenon. Beauty compels an interested, perceptive human being in such a way that two and two equals five. In fact, Pythagoras famously saw beauty in numbers—in geometry; in mathematics. In great movies, great plays, and great poems, there is Truth as well, which in this context does not refer to “honesty” or “correctness”, but rather something that gets at the heart of reality—of the human condition and of the nature of the universe. Something that is beautiful has the power to compel and fascinate its percipient, and something that is true is deeply accurate, relevant, and powerful. These timeless values are much of the reason why we perceive Conrad’s Heart of Darkness or James’ Portrait of a Lady or Bronte’s Wuthering Heights to be powerful and relevant even today. Every child has something to learn from Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and The Great Gatsby means to impart wisdom to the reader.


The writer extraordinaire Will Durant claimed that “The noblest Greek art was a union of two ideals—the restless masculine power of Dionysus and the quiet feminine beauty of Apollo.” That quote in and of itself is a compelling and pithy look at the place where beauty and truth come together. Plato and others have noted that capital-T Truth, capital-B Beauty, and capital-G Goodness are associated phenomena, values, or the like. They might be part of what philosopher Immanuel Kant called the noumenal. They are transcendent in nature. Associated values such as Justice, Temperance, and Wisdom are in the same category of the values/phenomena that Keats chose to focus on in those last two lines. These “things”, which were known of and appreciated perhaps to their highest degree in ancient Greece (and especially Athens) are indivisible in a way; perfect; upon high. Beauty and truth may technically and conceptually be distinct and discrete phenomena, but they are allied and complimentary—potentially inseparable from each other. A truth that is not beautiful is hard to fathom, and beauty that is false and misleading makes little conceptual sense. The two aren’t synonymous, but they do fit together like a puzzle created by the gods.


Interestingly, even Greek gods were not above these lofty principles and guiding forces in the history of humanity: wisdom is sought out and embodied; courage is demonstrated and “lived”; strength is exemplified and extolled. If a god does something unwise, or cowardly, or displaying poor character, they will face the consequences like human beings would (by Fate, or whatever force governs the universe and is superordinate to even the mighty gods of Greece). It is quite interesting that the ancient Greeks’ conceptions of the gods that they created are much more like super-humans than they are entities which are distinct from humanity; superior; omnipotent and omniscient, etc. (one thinks here of the God of the Jews and the Christians).


Brilliant artists such as Kilmer or Keats can/could get in touch with these noumenal, transcendent, almost otherworldly forces/values/phenomena. If one is not touched by The Muse, as it were, one will not enter that zone where dreams, myth, piety, self-sacrifice, love, and brotherhood exist. That is, if Kilmer does not love the script and become passionately engaged in virtually manifesting a character with vigor and dedication—a performance that strikes the viewer as multifaceted, compelling, and revealing—then the relationship between artist and perceiver will fall flat; it won’t evoke emotion or feel “authentic.” The feeling that one gets when one “loses oneself” in a movie, poem, play, or song is a testament to the truth that is being conveyed in a beautiful manner. The difference I feel when watching my wife’s “Hallmark movies” and when I am watching one of the best of Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes is the difference between listening to songs that remind me of my divorced parents and my wonderful/terrible childhood, and some dumb ditty done by Mylie Cyrus.

The reason why a poem just blows one’s hair back is because it touches on something timeless, abstract, meaningful, evocative—truthful. Indeed, philosophers can mentally labor for hours and bring a fierce rationality to the fore when trying to understand the abstract nature of truth (and other such things), and scientists can contribute to truth as well. But it falls to the novelist, the essayist, the lyricist, and the poet to creatively and compellingly bring beauty to the table. We tend to be moved by something that strikes us as both beautiful and true even decades later.


Truth and beauty cannot easily be separated, therefore. A scientist can discover or investigate or explicate truth—perhaps that human brains/minds tend to fall victim to a certain predictable set of cognitive biases, or that gravity is related to mass and time and energy in a specific way (and are lawful, predictable, immutable in the very fabric of the universe). A philosopher-psychologist can probe mental phenomena, ethics, aesthetics, human minds, emotional capacities, and the nature of the knowledge as unyieldingly and passionately as did Nietzsche, or as brilliantly as Bertrand Russell or Nicolo Machiavelli were able to. But at the end of the day, there needs to be beauty to the discovery if it is going to engage the human brain/mind. Einstein referred to his values when he said: “The ideals that have lighted my way have been kindness, beauty, and truth.” Therefore it is no surprise that physicists and astronomers and cosmologists like him (or Stephen Hawking, or Newton, or Carl Sagan, or Kepler, or Neil DeGrasse Tyson, or a thousand others going back centuries) hit on something that is true—real, actual, valid, timeless, immutable, omnipresent, and predictable. Yet, it is only beauty that can make that bit of truth compelling, lovely, revealing, meaningful, and powerful.

When Kilmer portrays Doc Holliday dying of tuberculosis—or when Keats writes a poem while suffering from tuberculosis for that matter!—it has the requisite power to create a compelling and rich emotional experience in me. If I “get” the character Kilmer is embodying (and if the story is deep and rich and relatable), then it moves me. And that has great meaning for me. If I fully empathize with what Keats is trying to convey when he hears that nightingale sing so beautifully, then the poem virtually jumps off the page. I experience the same thing with lyrics to songs that strike me as true and beautiful—for they combine the elements of the Apollonian with the Dionysian, if you will. I can list fifty of them—from Dylan’s “The Hurricane” to Neil Peart’s “The Big Money” or “Subdivisions” or “Closer to the Heart” to 10,000 Maniacs’ “Verdi Cries” or “These Are Days”—that fill me with curiosity and intrigue and wonder. Or emotions such as regret, amazement, and empathy. There is no conceivable reason why a Val Kilmer performance, or a Steinbeck novel, or a Rush song, or a Keats poem would have the potential to bring a tear to my eye if it weren’t getting at truth in a beautiful way. Movies such as Dead Poet’s Society, Life is Beautiful, American Beauty, Magnolia, or Pay It Forward strike deep into my heart and convey great meaning to me.


When Wordsworth’s heart leaped up and he communicated that adroitly to the reader, or when Shelley conveyed so gracefully what he did in “Ozymandias”, they felt emotion, yes, but they also believed they saw great truth. They then set out to write perfect poems that could, in mere words, convey to someone else across time and space what they were then experiencing. Only beauty allows a work of art to last for millennia. And as we know from the life and creative capability of Wordsworth, just because one has it doesn’t mean it will last I wrote a poem last month about that very phenomenon). Artists such as Leonardo and Michelangelo and Milton and Chaucer ask the readers to participate; to actively imagine and to employ empathy; to be in touch with the beauty and the truth that these readers also know in their very souls. Geniuses can do this kind of work. Perhaps God instills these things in mankind; perhaps it is the power and beauty of evolution. Regardless, a great poet can communicate in such a way that not only is pleasure evoked but also emotions that can be described as profound or amazing. Such is great art, and as novelist Henry James pointed out, “When the art is great, the reader does quite half the work.” A poet or a lyricist or a musician could create something astonishingly rich and full of potential, but if it is shown to a chimpanzee or a drug-addled criminal, it won’t translate. Emily Dickinson advised fellow poets to “tell all the truth, but tell it slant.” This refers to the fact that great art conveys universal, timeless, profound truths with an elegance, force, and relatability that is beauty, but one that is not exactly provided as if the artist were spoon-feeding the reader.


ASIDE: The quotes by Dickinson and James are truly compelling. I am a huge fan of quotations, and I think that the reason became clearer after contemplating Keats’ claim about truth and beauty. A quote, if really good, is like a little gem that can be looked at as if through a jeweler’s loop. When a human being becomes in touch with something that is in the realm of the noumenal, the true, the beautiful, the graceful, and/or the sublime, if he or she is perceptive and caring and diligent, they can convey in writing what they discovered. The word discover is revealing in that it refers to a type of uncovering; an unmasking; an unblinding. They discover truths, convey them beautifully to the reader, and then the reader needs to be capable of and motivated to access their own feelings and find the meaning. As in, when the student is ready, the teacher appears. This is how truth is apprehended and beauty is perceived. When someone as skilled as a Sappho, or an Ezra Pound, or an Aeschylus, or a Socrates mines or encounters a rich and meaningful enough thing—a truth—they can set it to writing and it might be preserved for others, perhaps even in the distant future. Interestingly, Socrates never did write anything!


It is a shame how little of ancient Greek writing, plays, or philosophy we still have. It is a Godsend that we have The Iliad and The Odyssey, and these works can somewhat compensate us for those treasures lost to time—or to the Catholic Church, or to Roman tyrants, or to Nazis. The West also has medieval monks and the Arabs to thank for much, as they effortfully kept many important writings alive when the forces of time, orthodoxy, and untruth sought to destroy them. Great works of art are truly treasures beyond measure. My mind races and “my heart leaps up” when I read a quote as beautiful as this, by Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran: “Keep me away from the joy which does not weep, the wisdom which does not want, and the greatness which does not bow before children.” Incidentally, another version of the quote is just as rich: “Keep me away from the wisdom which does not cry, the philosophy which does not laugh, and the greatness which does not bow before children.” Sufi poet Mevlana Rumi famously said: “Risk everything for love if you are a true human being.” Finally, Immanuel Kant wrote: “Two things awe me most: the starry heavens above and the moral law within.”


Wisdom such as this is allied to magnificent beauty and profound truth—which is why quotations by individuals such as Helen Keller have struck us and stuck with us for all these decades. She said, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.” And Antoine de Saint-Exupéry pointed out that “The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or touched; they are felt with the human heart.” And rather revealingly, this, by Keats: “What the imagination seizes as beauty must be truth.”


When I read certain works written by myriad authors from numerous civilizations throughout the vast period of time that has proceeded at a slow and steady clip since The Iliad, Gilgamesh, the Hebrew Tanakh, the Greek tragedies, and the writings of Enheduanna, I get the impression that capital-T Truth was one of the main values undergirding it all. The creativity, the dedication, the vision, the beauty is there if one has the ability to see it. In fact, I have thought a lot about truth over the years. On my wall I have a print of the wonderful, famous painting by Raphael, School of Athens. In it, many diverse and venerable luminaries are seen in ancient Athens, discussing and cogitating and probing the nature of all that is. I think of Thales, attempting to discern what the universe is made of; Aristotle is there motioning to the ground, since the material and the tangible were his foci; of course one of history’s most interesting men, Plato, is there pointing upward to the vast beyond where his (somewhat derivative of Socrates and Pythagoras, and completely radical) ideas dwelt. Yes, truth is in the foreground, and if one stares at it long enough, it leaps out off of the canvas.

Another Greek aspect of truth might have captured the attention of that young, pugnacious, visionary Romantic poet John Keats. The first exemplar is Cassandra. Legend has it that Cassandra, daughter of Priam, a priestess in service to Apollo who was fated (and who knows why the gods cook these things up!) to have the gift of seeing true prophecies—which she could communicate to others, but could never convince them of the veracity of her claims. It must have at times been absolute torture to have a grasp on the truth—in her case, what will come to pass—and to feel so alone; so spited. One has to admit, though, there is a certain perverse beauty to the curse/blessing in that she doesn’t just go and bet on the games of chance in the agora to while away the hours; her fate is to greatly desire to share the facts as she knows them—the facts as they are, in fact—and yet she is not taken seriously. It’s an absurd existence, but I think we all have felt misunderstood by others, and longed to be respected and seen. Van Gogh killed himself in large part due to this, and Nietzsche felt spurned by others despite his alleged vision and his obvious passion.


As well, the concept of the oracles is relevant here—and draws in even more truth and beauty. Since the time of the Mycenean civilization down to Periclean Athens, a seeker who braved the arduous path to Apollo’s temple in the faraway spot of Delphi would encounter one of the most harrowing and alluring places in humanity’s remarkable history. The head priestess, Pythia, would accept all comers, and was willing to hear their questions in her intoxicated state. As the website relates it, “Ancient Greece was a world dominated by men. Men filled the highest positions in society, men fought on the battlefield and men ruled the mightiest empires. However, all these men, from the lowliest peasant to the emperor himself, sought the council and advice of one person—and that person was a woman.” Yes, Greece was a highly religious, spiritual, superstitious, faith-based people—they would kill humans (at first, and then eventually animals) to propitiate the gods they made. So naturally, they absolutely venerated a woman who was allegedly the holder of Truth and sat spellbound when she revealed supposed wisdom. A visitor would be given a vision, a prediction, a prophecy that was true in the way astrology or tarot strikes us as true. Though the message was always cryptic and perhaps contradictory, no deviation was possible when it came to its denouement. It was as though Pythia could divine the nature of what the Fates had in store for the pilgrim who beseeched her—or at least if one believed then this was her power. Their supplication would not result in a straightforward, unambiguous truth; the “truth” from the mouth of Pythia was told slant. The most famous telling that survives today is that of the tragic king of Thebes, Oedipus. The Wikipedia entry for “Oedipus” recounts the legend succinctly:

Oedipus learned from the oracle at Delphi of the prophecy that he would end up killing his father and marrying his mother but, unaware of his true parentage, believed he was fated to murder Polybus and marry Merope, so left for Thebes. On his way, he met an older man and killed him in a quarrel. Continuing on to Thebes, he found that the king of the city (Laius) had recently been killed and that the city was at the mercy of the Sphinx. Oedipus answered the monster’s riddle correctly, defeating it and winning the throne of the dead king – and the hand in marriage of the king’s widow, who was also (unbeknownst to him) his mother Jocasta. Years later, to end a plague on Thebes, Oedipus searched to find who had killed Laius and discovered that he himself was responsible. Jocasta, upon realizing that she had married her own son, hanged herself. Oedipus then seized two pins from her dress and blinded himself with them.


One can see the truth operating here, but what is most interesting about the legend of the Oracle at Delphi is the beauty. I see beauty in the idea that there allegedly existed a portal between the Olympians and the Greeks, between the Fates and mankind, in that faraway place the gullible and superstitious Greeks considered sacrosanct. It is one thing to be told one minor aspect of the veritable truth, and yet it involves beauty, too, because one cannot foresee with mortal eyes and terrestrial imagination what will come to pass. Indeed, Fortune can be cruel, or it can be glorious, but it is never easily predicted and understood in advance of its unfolding. Twain: “History doesn’t repeat, but it rhymes.” It is only when one experiences their fate that they then see the beauty of how the Oracle phrased her foretelling of the future. It is as though that wily female, servant of the genteel but heartless Apollo, would tell her petitioners all the truth, but tell it slant.


Shakespeare was a master at showing throngs of theatregoers and readers throughout the centuries the truth, but in an extremely artful way. The Bard could take the coal of human nature, and of the way he perceived the universe to work, and using brilliant characterization compress it into diamonds. That was a great service to mankind since we pay attention to diamonds and ignore coal. In a similar way, Dickinson, centuries later, was virtuosic at taking a cooperative journey with her reader to a place where truth is inextricably entwined with beauty. Keats saw something in that fantastic amber and pitch black Attic urn one day, and he had the intellectual prowess—and the heart—to record for all time what exactly he experienced, and what he wanted the reader to learn/believe. Great poets can tell the truth, but beautifully.


However, Keats coined the term negative capability, and in so doing bequeathed to generations of readers a way out of the conundrums a great poem or story often creates in the searching mind of the careful reader: “… the capacity of the greatest writers to pursue a vision of artistic beauty even when it leads them into intellectual confusion and uncertainty, as opposed to a preference for philosophical certainty over artistic beauty” (Wikipedia).

Or, as Keats recounted it in a letter to his brothers before he met his cruel fate, that ineffable quality that “…Shakespeare possessed so enormously – I mean Negative Capability, that is when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason – Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half knowledge.”

As one website indicates Keats meant with that reference to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, another of the great group of Romantic poets that England somehow created in the span of less than a century: His fellow poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, he suggests, would do well to break off from his relentless search for knowledge, and instead contemplate something beautiful and true (‘a fine verisimilitude’) caught, as if by accident, from the most secret part (‘Penetralium’) of mystery. …Keats ends his brief discussion of negative capability by concluding that ‘with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration’.”


I also believe that scientists such as Einstein or philosophers such as Spinoza make common cause with the most gifted of poets when they actively and effortfully perceive—with great meaning and exhilaration—the nature of the universe. Isaac Newton ingeniously probed the universe that the gods or God set up for primitive human beings, but he also was endlessly fascinated with the mysterious: the Bible, alchemy, and other manifestations of the esoteric and ethereal.


The search goes on, and the “long conversation” continues from generation to generation, embodied by students, visionaries, and seekers. Wisdom is difficult to grasp and elusive and ever-shifting from situation to situation, but ultimately there is no deeper and more compelling value humankind has discovered (though, the theists have always enthusiastically competed with philosophers, poets, seers, shamans, scientists, mythologists, and psychologists for the vaunted position of ultimate enlightener of Truth). The extremely perceptive physicist Stephen Hawking alluded to Einstein’s view of the beauty and truth he could envision when he retorted, “Not only does God play dice, but … he sometimes throws them where they cannot be seen.” With “Ode on a Grecian Urn”, the young virtuoso Keats, who was not long for this world, bequeathed to future generations a glimpse of what he experienced while meditating on a Greek vase. Though his poem is sort of disjointed where the beauty/truth part begins, and though he doesn’t offer much in the way of validation or evidence for this claim, perhaps because of negative capability we are meant to ponder and ponder the nature of these two deeply significant human values/aspirations. Perhaps much like Hawking satirized Einstein’s and Spinoza’s conception of God, Keats threw the dice where we cannot clearly see them, and we must go searching after them.


I exhaustively searched for other quotations that could elucidate the nebulous relationship between truth and beauty, and they follow:


“But already it was too late: the Indians, no different in their psychological makeup from other humans, had succumbed to the easy lure of the trinkets of modern civilization and ceased listening to the quiet voices inside, which spoke of the modest pleasures of the community and the beauty of the empty canyons at dusk.” ~ Alain de Botton


“Beauty is unbearable, drives us to despair, offering us for a minute the glimpse of an eternity that we should like to stretch out over the whole of time.” ~ Albert Camus


“The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives.”  And  “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.”  And  “The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science.”  ~ Albert Einstein


“We are like ignorant shepherds living on a site where great civilizations once flourished. The shepherds play with the fragments that pop up to the surface, having no notion of the beautiful structures of which they were once a part.” ~ Allan Bloom


“Where should I turn for guidance? I appeal to those who have gone before, who have shown the Way. At first I love them for the beauty of their work alone and for a depth in it that draws me to them magnetically. I do not understand, but I love. Then as I gather the fragments of many pasts and piece them together and try to ponder the meaning of the events of my own life, I begin to understand that there is something to be understood that will help me; and then, what that something is.” ~ Anne Baring


“I don’t think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains. My advice is: Go outside, to the fields, enjoy nature and the sunshine, go out and try to recapture happiness in yourself and in God.” ~ Anne Frank


“Amazing, isn’t it, how some see the basket half empty and others see it half full? Some see life hopeless, some hopeful. Even when things are less than perfect, if you can think of the good, the beautiful, the hopeful, you’ll be more than sustained.” ~ Anonymous


“Wise people have an inward sense of what is beautiful, and the highest wisdom is to trust this intuition and be guided by it. The answer to the last appeal of what is right lies within a person’s own breast. Trust thyself.” ~ Aristotle


“The beauty of the soul shines out when a man bears with composure one heavy mischance after another, not because he does not feel them, but because he is a man of high and heroic temper.” ~ Aristotle


“The scenes of our life resemble pictures in rough mosaic; they are ineffective from close up, and have to be viewed from a distance if they are to seem beautiful.” ~ Arthur Schopenhauer


“It is so slow that we see the beauty inherent in every tiny act that makes up a sweater. So slow that we know the project is not going to get finished today—it may not get finished for many months or longer—and that allows us to make our peace with the unresolved nature of life. We slow down as we knit.” ~ Bernadette Murphy


“After the verb ‘to Love,’ ‘to Help’ is the most beautiful verb in the world.” ~ Bertha von Suttner


“Yet, by death, by illness, by poverty, or by the voice of duty, we must learn, each one of us, that the world was not made for us and that however beautiful may be the things we crave, Fate may nevertheless forbit them. It is the part of courage, when misfortune comes, to bear without repining the ruin of our hopes, to turn away our thoughts from vain regrets. This degree of submission to power is not only just and right, it is the very gate of wisdom.”  And  “The world of mathematics and logic remains, in its own domain delightful; but it is the domain of imagination. Mathematics must live, with music and poetry, in the region of man-made beauty, not amid the dust and grime of the world.” ~ Bertrand Russell


“Look around. Look at what we have. Beauty is everywhere—you only have to look to see it.” ~ Bob Ross


“A society without a grounding in ethics, self-reflection, empathy, and beauty is one that has lost its way.” ~ Brian Rosenberg


“After more than 2,000 years we are still puzzling about the meaning of beauty, courage, friendship, and other such ideas. Have we made any progress?” ~ Bryan Magee


“It’s not enough to weave beautiful rugs. You have to think beautiful thoughts while weaving them.” ~ Charles Loloma


“Robert Frost’s kind of meditation is neither passive nor meaningless. It is directed, tenacious and purposeful. He is able to take a word, or an idea, and hold his mind to it while he looks it over from all angles, turns it inside out, dissects it. By doing so, he sees new aspects, new meanings, new beauties, even in tired and time-worn phrases.” ~ Charles W. Cole


“Any fool can be happy. It takes a man with real heart to make beauty out of the stuff that makes us weep.” ~ Clive Barker


“Though Humanism looks upon reason as the final arbiter of what is true and good and beautiful, it insists that reason should fully recognize the emotional side of human beings. Indeed, one of Humanism’s main functions is to set free the emotions from cramping and irrational restrictions.” ~ Corliss Lamont


“If you can approach the world’s complexities, both its glories and its horrors, with an attitude of humble curiosity, acknowledging that however deeply you have seen, you have only scratched the surface, you will find worlds within worlds, beauties you could not heretofore imagine, and your own mundane preoccupations will shrink to proper size, not all that important in the greater scheme of things.” ~ Daniel Dennett


“The Florentines thought of themselves as recovering something that had been lost; that is, the classical worldview. This view included a devotion to the humanizing and humanistic arts and to a centered perspective on human nature and what is right for it. They thought what had been lost was all of the poetry and music and splendor of life — the great sculpture, the great orderliness, the great beauty.” And  “There is nothing in the physics of light that tells us anything about how the world appears to us. It’s tells us nothing about the perception of beauty.” And  “What the aesthetes concluded was that science in the wake of Newton had become mechanical, reductive, indifferent to the human condition, and depreciating of the human condition when it does consider it. What they would put in place is the truth of nature against the fabrications of the natural philosopher, a generous recognition of the creative power of genius, and the transcendent sources of beauty and wonder. The attribute of wonder is central to our humanity in the Romantic view.” And  “’Man is the measure of all things.’ What Protagoras is claiming is that judgments of any sort — right or wrong, true or false, beauty or ugliness — must have some grounding, and that grounding can only be the experiences of a lifetime. We cannot occupy an epistemic position external to our own human ways of thought and feeling. If there is a standard liberated from or independent from human nature, we couldn’t even comprehend it! To that extent, then, each man does turn out to be the measure of all things; it is you who will decide whether this is a sweet or sour substance, and what’s sweet to one [isn’t necessarily to another person].” And  “…perhaps Socrates was on the right track after all in contending that truth, beauty, and justice were not only real but, finally, the same.” ~ Daniel N. Robinson


“Do not seek to grasp such things as beauty, pleasure, and love. Enjoy them when they come and kiss them as they fly by.” ~ Dee Hock


“Modesty is the citadel of beauty.” ~ Demades


“Like a beautiful flower, full of color but without scent, are the fair but fruitless words of him who does not act accordingly.” ~ Dhamma-Pala


“If education cannot help separate truth from falsehood, beauty from vulgarity, right from wrong, then what can it teach us?” ~ Dinesh D’Souza


“They couldn’t love you, but still your love was true.

When no hope was left in sight, on that starry, starry night,

You took your life, as lovers often do.

But I could have told you, Vincent, this world was never made for one as beautiful as you.”

~ Don McLean


“Unlike Easterners, who are given to meditation, or Westerners, who have an inquisitive turn of mind, we of Africa, belonging neither to the East nor the West, are fundamentally observers, relying more on intuition than on the process of reasoning … With us, life has always meant the pursuit of Happiness rather than the pursuit of Beauty or Truth.” ~ Dunduzu K. Chisiza


“The silk worker may make beautiful things, fine shimmering silk. When it is hung up in the window of Altman’s or Macy’s or Wanamaker’s it looks beautiful. But the silk worker never gets a chance to use a single yard of it. And the producing of the beautiful thing, instead of being a pleasure, is instead a constant aggravation to the silk worker. They make a beautiful thing in the shop and then they come home to poverty, misery, and hardship. They wear a cotton dress while they are weaving the beautiful silk for some demi monde in New York to wear.” ~ Elizabeth Gurley Flynn


“I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody’s right to beautiful, radiant things.” ~ Emma Goldman


“Looks are one thing and facts are another.” ~ English proverb


“The manner by which the masses can see the beauty of justice is to teach them, by simple means, the results of injustice.” ~ Euripides


“That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.” ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald


I tell you, those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a grey place dares to dream. It was as if some beautiful bird had flapped into our drab little cage and made these walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free.” ~ Frank Darabont


“Youth is happy because it has the capacity to see beauty. Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.” ~ Franz Kafka


“The exquisite truth is to believe in something that maybe you know is a fiction, but you believe in it willingly.” ~ Roberto Benigni


“The enjoyment of scenery employs the mind without fatigue and yet exercises it, tranquilizes it and yet enlivens it.” ~ Frederick Law Olmstead


“The voice of beauty speaks softly; it creeps only into the most fully-awakened souls.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche


“Beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and Devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man.” ~ Fyodor Dostoevsky


“Truth is the same thing to the understanding as music to the ear or beauty to the eye. The pursuit of truth has been a long-standing, widely shared project of mankind. Now a lot of us seem to have abandoned it.” ~ G. N. Clark


“It seems to me we can never give up longing and wishing while we are thoroughly alive. There are certain things we feel to be beautiful and good and we must hunger after them.” ~ George Eliot


“Life is the gift of nature; but beautiful living is the gift of wisdom.” ~ Greek Proverb


“If seeds in the black earth can turn into such beautiful roses, what might not the heart of man become in its journey toward the stars?” ~ G. K. Chesterton


“Goodness is a special kind of truth and beauty. It is truth and beauty in human behavior.” ~ H. A. Overstreet


“I am ‘alogos’, averse to philosophy, since I first fell in love with the poetry of William Blake and Hart Crane. I do not read Hume and Wittgenstein except as a searcher for arresting aphorisms. I incessantly turn to Shakespeare in my quest for truth, power, and beauty.” ~ Harold Bloom


“Develop an interest in life as you see it — the people, things, literature, music. The world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls, and interesting people. Forget yourself.” ~ Henry Miller


“On my educational landscape, questions are more important than answers; knowledge and, more important, understanding should evolve from the constant probing of such questions. It’s not because I know for certain what the true and the beautiful and the good are that I call for their study. In fact, I distrust people who claim that they know what is true, beautiful, or good.” And  “And—if less decisively than the scientific disciplines—the humanistic and artistic disciplines also furnish information and knowledge. They add significantly to our understandings of the varieties of beauty and morality; they familiarize us with the multifarious ways in which individuals over time and space have conceived of themselves, their worlds, their options, their fates.” And  “In Confucian society, beauty and goodness were seen as fused: the notion that an object or person might be beautiful and yet morally corrupt could not be countenanced.” And  “Even in science, ultimate truth may be an impossible goal; and certainly conceptions of beauty and morality change, and will continue to change indefinitely, if slowly.” ~ Howard Gardner


“To be an artist it is necessary to live with our eyes wide open, to breathe in the colors of mountain and sky, to know the sound of leaves rustling, the smell of snow, the texture of bark. It is necessary to rub our hands all over life, to notice every beautiful and tragic thing, to cry freely, to collect experience and shape it into forms that others can share.” ~ Jan Phillips


“The poet’s job is to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, in such a beautiful way that people cannot live without it; to put into words those feelings we all have that are so deep, so important, and yet so difficult to name.” ~ Jane Kenyon


“Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You’ll learn from them—if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It’s a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn’t education. It’s history. It’s poetry.” ~ J. D. Salinger


“Falsity cannot keep an idea from being beautiful; there are certain errors of such ingenuity that one could regret their not ranking among the achievements of the human mind.” ~ Jean Rostand


“To sing is to love and to affirm, to fly and soar, to coast into the hearts of the people who listen, to tell them that life is to live, that love is there, that nothing is a promise, but that beauty exists, and must be hunted for and found.” ~ Joan Baez


“I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want to see. The longer I live the more my mind dwells upon the beauty and the wonder of the world.” ~ John Burroughs


“Every living thing owes its existence to evolution; thus every living thing is connected to other living things and to the world. So we are not strangers in this world, but products of it. Evolution has produced the human consciousness which seeks meaning, imagines the future, and which knows truth, beauty and goodness.” ~ John G. Messerly


“Every scripture has a realistic interpretation, but finding its spiritual interpretation is truly exciting. Sometimes, I’ll suddenly understand that something I’ve been hearing all my life has a deeper, more beautiful meaning than I’d ever realized. That’s a thrill, and more: usually at such moments I’ve just learned something new about how we humans are, and how to live in this world.” ~ Johnny Cash


“There is more beauty in the works of a great genius who is ignorant of all the rules of art, than in the works of a little genius, who not only knows but scrupulously observes them.” ~ Joseph Addison


“Fully to understand a grand and beautiful thought requires, perhaps, as much time as to conceive it.” ~ Joseph Joubert


“Yesterday we obeyed kings and bent our necks before emperors. But today we kneel only to truth, follow only beauty, and obey only love.” ~ Kahlil Gibran


“My study of the history of religion has revealed that human beings are spiritual animals. Indeed, there is a case for arguing that Homo sapiens is also Homo religious. Men and women started to worship gods as soon as they became recognizably human; they created religions at the same time as they created works of art. This was not simply because they wanted to propitiate powerful forces; these early faiths expressed the wonder and mystery that seem always to have been an essential component of the human experience of this beautiful yet terrifying world. Like art, religion has been an attempt to find meaning and value in life, despite the suffering that flesh is heir to.” ~ Karen Armstrong


“An incredibly beautiful tapestry of blue and white, tan, black and green seems to glide beneath you at an elegant, stately pace. But you’re actually going so fast that the entire map of the world spins before your eyes with each 90-minute orbit. After just one or two laps, you feel, maybe for the first time, like a citizen of a planet. All the colors and patterns you see—the visible evidence of the complex working of the natural systems that make our planet habitable—seem both vast and precise, powerful and yet somehow fragile.” ~ Kathryn D. Sullivan


“The primal experience of reverence also comes in the stories of human lives that move us with their courage, dedication to justice or beauty, and with their embrace of sacrifice for some larger good. It is found in the story of Harriet Tubman leading her fellow slaves to freedom. It is in the stunning mercy of Nelson Mandela leading South Africa’s reconciliation after generations of apartheid violence and oppression. It is in every mother who has gone hungry so that her children might eat; in every soldier who died so that his comrades might live; in every rescue worker who ran up the stairs of the World Trade Center on that awful day.” ~ Kendyl Gibbons


“Property is not essential. But happiness, a love of beauty, friendship between all peoples and individuals is life itself.” ~ Laurie Stockwell


“Poetry, in the most comprehensive application of the term, I take to be the flower of any kind of experience, rooted in truth, and issuing forth into beauty.” ~ Leigh Hunt


“Why do some people always see beautiful skies, and grass, and lovely flowers, and incredible human beings, while others are hard-pressed to find anything and any place that is beautiful?” ~ Leo F. Buscaglia


“It is amazing how complete is the delusion that beauty is goodness.” ~ Leo Tolstoy


“Only think: if all our imaginative resources currently employed in inventing new power games and bigger and better weaponry were re-oriented toward disarmament, what miracles we could achieve, what new truths, what undiscovered realms of beauty!” ~ Leonard Bernstein


“A tree is unique, beautiful, fractal, solid, flexible – and very much alive. It has no prejudices or opinions. It knows no terror. It takes root, and holds down the very soil. It draws water from the earth. It fashions a leafy canopy, sun-drenched above and shady beneath. It breathes. It harbors and shelters many other life-forms. Its sap flows. It bears fruit in its season. After benefitting its environment, it returns silently to its origins. It is wondrous to behold. Can any human being aspire to more?” ~ Lou Marinoff


“Far away, there in the sunshine, are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead.” ~ Louisa May Alcott


“To create something new, something that rings with novelty or beauty and harmony is a powerful antidote to a sense of meaninglessness.” ~ Ludwig von Beethoven


“Knowledge was inherent in all things. The world was a library and its books were the stones, leaves, grass, brooks … We learned to do what only the students of nature ever learn, and that was to feel beauty.” ~ Luther Standing Bear


“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.” ~  Marcus Aurelius


“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”― Maya Angelou


“Few and previous are the words which the lips of Wisdom utter.

To what shall their rarity be likened? What price shall count their worth?

Perfect and much desired and giving joy with riches,

No lovely thing on earth can picture all their beauty.”

~ Martin Farquhar Tupper


“We will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood…” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.


“He is happiest who hath the power

To gather wisdom from a flower.”

~ Mary Howitt


“But the joys of editing, for me, are in the editing; finding the ideal writer for a story, breaking a big investigative piece, overhauling an important but unwieldy story until it is wieldy, glazing the copy of the best writers, and then trying to present a whole issue that leavens urgency and truth with beauty and humor.” ~ Matthew Rothschild


“Beauty surrounds us, but usually we need to be walking in a garden to know it.” ~ Mevlana Rumi


“There is a beauty in the world, though it’s harsher than we expect it to be.” ~ Michael Cunningham


“All our efforts cannot even succeed in reproducing the nest of the tiniest little bird, its contexture, its beauty and convenience; or even the web of the puny spider. All things says Plato, are produced by nature, by fortune, or by art; the greatest and most beautiful by one or the other of the first two, the least and most imperfect by the last.” And  “Thus ease and indigence depend on each man’s opinion; and neither riches, nor glory, nor health has any more beauty and pleasure in it than its possessor lends it. Each man is as well or as badly off as he thinks he is. Not the man of whom it is thought, but the one who thinks it himself, is happy. And by just this fact belief gains reality and truth.” ~ Michel de Montaigne


“If you were all alone in the universe with no one to talk to, no one with which to share the beauty of the stars, to laugh with, to touch, what would be your purpose in life? It is other life, it is love, which gives your life meaning. This is harmony. We must discover the joy of each other, the joy of challenge, the joy of growth.” ~ Mitsugi Saotome


“The same problem arises in the case of truth and in the case of goodness and in the case of beauty. That is the question of their objectivity, the question whether these values are subjective relative to the individual judgment, relative to personal taste, or are they objective values, values concerning which one man might be quite right and another quite wrong.”  And  “The scientist is concerned exclusively with the pursuit of truth; the fine artist is concerned exclusively with the production of beautiful things, things of beauty. As opposed to both the scientist and the artist, the prudent man, the moralist or statesman, is concerned with goodness, the moralist with conditions of the good life, the statesman with the conditions of a good society.” ~ Mortimer J. Adler


“Some of the greatest poetry reveals to the reader the beauty in something so simple that you had taken it for granted. If that doesn’t drive you to poetry, it drives you to bask in the majesty of the cosmos.” And  “E=MC-squared is the most beautiful thing in science. That is awesome. …It’s simple, yet it accounts for hugely complex things.” And  “Not only are we in the universe, but the universe is in us! We knew that we are stardust at the middle of the 20th Century. Now, that is a profound gift. That connects us to the universe like no other fact. That’s beautiful.” ~ Neil DeGrasse Tyson


“While I remained ambitious, punctual, and hedonistic at home, [while on long motorcycle trips] I learned to better appreciate the timeless beauties and blessings of Nature, to value sincerity as a cardinal virtue and reject the Western reverence for affectation and hypocrisy, and to make my frantic life pause for sunrises, sunsets, and full moons.” ~ Neil Peart


“That which is striking and beautiful is not always good; but that which is good is always beautiful.” ~ Nino de L’Enclos


“Truth is not beautiful, neither is it ugly. Why should it be either? Truth is truth, just as figures are figures. When a man wishes to learn the exact condition of his business affairs, he employs figures and, if these figures reveal a sad state of his affairs, he doesn’t condemn them and say that they are unlovely and accuse them of having disillusioned him. Why, then, condemn truth, when it only serves him in this enterprise of life as figures serve him in his commercial enterprises?” ~ Owen C. Middleton


“I lost myself in the beauty of sport and made my family proud while passing through the silent eye of the storm that was my childhood.” ~ Pat Conroy


“Poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted.” ~ Percy Bysshe Shelley


“Our love of what is beautiful does not lead to extravagance; our love of things of the mind does not make us soft.” ~ Pericles


“Arguments for preservation based on the beauty of wilderness are sometimes treated as if they were of little weight because they are “merely aesthetic.” That is a mistake. We go to great lengths to preserve the artistic treasures of earlier human civilizations. It is difficult to imagine any economic gain that we would be prepared to accept as adequate compensation for, for instance, the destruction of the paintings in the Louvre. How should we compare the aesthetic value of wilderness with that of the paintings in the Louvre?” ~ Peter Singer


“Among all the meaningful values of the superorganic world there is the supreme integral value—the veritable summum bonum. It is the indivisible unity of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Though each member of this supreme Trinity has a distinct individuality, all three are inseparable from one another, like the members of the Christian Trinity of God-Father, God-Son, and the Holy Ghost. The genuine Truth is always good and beautiful; the true Goodness is always true and beautiful; and the pure Beauty is invariably true and good. These greatest values are not only inseparable from one another, but they are transformable into one another, like one form of physical energy, say, heat, is transformable into other kinds of energy, electricity or light or mechanical motion. Each newly discovered truth contributes also to the values of beauty and goodness. Each act of unselfish creative love (goodness) enriches the realms of truth and beauty; and each masterpiece of beauty morally ennobles and mentally enlightens the members of the human universe. (The same cannot, of course, be said about any sham truth, sham goodness, and sham beauty.) For these reason the main historical mission of mankind consists in an unbounded creation, accumulation, refinement, and actualization of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness in the nature of man himself, in man’s mind and behavior, in man’s superorganic universe and beyond it, and in man’s relationships to all human beings, to all living creatures, and to the total cosmos.” ~ Pitirim A. Sorokin


“The butterfly’s attractiveness derives not only from colors and symmetry: deeper motives contribute to it. We would not think them so beautiful if they did not fly, or if they flew straight and briskly like bees, or if they stung, or above all if they did not enact the perturbing mystery of metamorphosis….” ~ Primo Levi


“When I am working on a problem I never think about beauty. I only think about how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.” ~ R. Buckminster Fuller


“It is a wholesome and necessary thing for us to turn again to the earth and in the contemplation of her beauties to know of wonder and humility.” And  “A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us, that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood.” ~ Rachel Carson


“Turn therefore from the common themes to those which your everyday life affords; depict your sorrows and desires, your passing thoughts and belief in some kind of beauty — depict all that with heartfelt, quiet, humble sincerity and use to express yourself the things that surround you.” And  “Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke


“It is one of the beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.” And  “The beautiful fables of the Greeks, being proper creations of the imagination and not of the fancy, are universal verities. What a range of meanings and what perpetual pertinence has the story of Prometheus!” And  “Beauty will not come at the call of a legislature, nor will it repeat in England or America its history in Greece. It will come, as always, unannounced, and spring up between the feet of brave and earnest men.” And  “Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.” And  “We live in succession, in division, in parts, in particles. In the meantime within man is the soul of the whole; the wise science; the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related, the eternal ONE. And this deep power in which we exist and whose beatitude is all accessible to us, is not only self-sufficing and perfect in every hour, but the act of seeing and the thing seen, the seer and the spectacle, the subject and the object, are one. We see the world piece by piece, as the sun, the moon, the animal, the tree; but the whole, of which these are shining parts, is the soul.” And  “The world thus exists to the soul to satisfy the desire of beauty. This element I call an ultimate end. No reason can be asked or given why the soul seeks beauty. Beauty, in its largest and profoundest sense, is one expression for the universe. God is the all-fair. Truth, and goodness, and beauty, are but different faces of the same All. But beauty in nature is not ultimate. It is the herald of inward and eternal beauty, and is not alone a solid and satisfactory good.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson


“What’s the point of philosophy? What’s the point of literature? What’s the point of poetry? Did Shakespeare ever help anyone build a plane? This book series tells you exactly the ‘point’ of philosophy, poetry, history and literature: the liberal arts. The liberal arts are not meant to instruct one how to build a plane, nor how to cure an illness, but rather how to live and how to achieve your human potential; how to understand the beauty and suffering in life. These arts are key to help tackle the issues of the individual and the society. The sources of these disciplines are the refined knowledge and wisdom found in ‘the great books’ that the human species produced through its course in time, which in reality is one great conversation that people have been having with each other since the dawn recorded history.” ~ Rashid Saif


“So many people spend so much time ‘sweating the small stuff’ that they completely lose touch with the magic and beauty of life. When you commit to working toward this goal you will find that you will have far more energy to be kinder and gentler.” ~ Richard Carlson


“What is the source for the deep prejudice that the appreciation of art and beauty has nothing to do with knowledge and truth?” ~ Richard J. Bernstein


“The hours when the mind is absorbed by beauty are the only hours when we really live.” ~ Richard Jefferies


“Imagination reaches out repeatedly trying to achieve some higher level of understanding, until suddenly I find myself momentarily alone before one new corner of nature’s pattern of beauty and true majesty revealed.” ~ Richard P. Feynman


“When we experience beauty, reason and emotion operate reciprocally, conscious thought producing an emotional delight, which in turn impels it further.” And “…like gravity, beauty is a force whose existence is inferred from its apparent effects. You might even call beauty a kind of spiritual gravity, a natural force of attraction, cohesion.” And  “Fairness is beautiful because it suggests a symmetry between what people deserve and what they get.” And  Humor is beautiful, that is, when humor can convey elegantly and creatively things that are impossible to put frankly.” And  “Scientists and humanists alike should remember to elaborate not only the truth of their discoveries but the beauty of what has been discovered.” ~ Robert Grudin


“Truth, goodness, and beauty, singly and together, have been the focus of the age-old controversy concerning the absolute and the relative, the objective and the subjective, the universal and the individual.” ~ Robert Maynard Hutchins


“Such a path will not be for everyone, but some might seriously weigh spending their penultimate years in a brave and noble endeavor to benefit others, an adventure to advance the cause of truth, goodness, beauty, or holiness – not going gentle into that good night or raging against the dying of the light but, near the end, shining their light most brightly.” ~ Robert Nozick


“There’s gold, and it’s haunting and haunting;

   It’s luring me on as of old;

Yet it isn’t the gold that I’m wanting

   So much as just finding the gold.

It’s the great, big, broad land ’way up yonder,

   It’s the forests where silence has lease;

It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder,

   It’s the stillness that fills me with peace.”

~ Robert W. Service


“Death for a common cause is beautiful.” ~ Russian proverb


“One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.” ― Sigmund Freud


“In Book I of the Meditation, Marcus Aurelius laid out the beautiful genealogy of his personal values, which the worlds of both literature and philosophy have rightly judged to be exceptionally wise: from his grandfather, “the lessons of noble character and even temper”; from his father, “modesty and manliness”; from his mother “piety and bountifulness.” His serial gratitude goes on for several pages, and subtly makes the point that whatever wisdom we manage to achieve derives from genes, nurture, mentorship, culture, and, perhaps most of all, an openness to the possibility of continual learning and self-improvement.” ~ Stephen S. Hall


“What is the most beautiful in virile men is something feminine; what is most beautiful in feminine women is something masculine.” ~ Susan Sontag


“If we forget where the source of our power lies — our real power, based on an authentic life, a life in balance, a life of beauty, awe, integrity, compassion, and empathy — then how can we know liberty?” ~ Terry Tempest Williams


“Many persons are both wise and handsome — but they would probably be still wiser were they less handsome.” ~ The Talmud


“For the scientist, as well as for the mystic, beauty goes hand-in-hand with truth. The harmony of diverse elements transforms worldly dissonance into a unity that the soul recognizes like an old friend.” ~ Thomas J. McFarlane


“Duty does not have to be dull. Love can make it beautiful and fill it with life.” ~ Thomas Merton


“I have known the incredible beauty of the universe — that beauty that arises from and lies between the horrors of its creature’s suffering.” ~ Thomas Schenk


“Every person has a choice — he can love the world’s beauty and be happy, or he can hate its ugliness and be miserable.” ~ Unknown


“The beauty of the world has two edges, one of laughter, one of anguish, cutting the heart asunder.” ~ Virginia Woolf


“We are driven to conclude that the greatest mistake in human history was the discovery of “truth.” It has not made us free, except from delusions that comforted us and restraints that preserved us. It has not made us happy, for truth is not beautiful, and did not deserve to be so passionately chased. As we look on it now, we wonder why we hurried so to find it.” And  “…for once the philosopher and the poet lived in one soul; and he created for himself a medium of expression in which both beauty and truth might find room and play — the dialogue.” And  “It is a hard ethic, you say — this placing of duty above beauty, or morality above happiness; but only so can we cease to be beasts, and begin to be gods.” And  “The noblest Greek art was a union of the two ideals — the restless masculine power of Dionysus and the quiet feminine beauty of Apollo.” And  “Perhaps the Italians are wiser than the rest of us, and have found that truth is a mirage, while beauty—however subjective—is a possession and a reality.” ~ Will Durant


“Nobody is bored when he is trying to make something that is beautiful, or to discover something that is true.” ~ William R. Inge


“He who binds to himself a joy

Does the winged life destroy

He who kisses the joy as it flies

Lives in eternity’s sunrise.”

~ Blake, William


“Part of the beauty of prizing truth as a value is your ability to recognize the difference between fact and perception.” ~ Yvonne Bailey


“Cities must be beautified not with beautiful buildings, but with the virtues of their citizens.” ~ Zeno



More quotes about truth and beauty and thirty or forty other values can be found by clicking HERE.


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