Keats open his poem Endymion with these famous lines:
A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness, but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health and quiet breathing. Keats worshipped the principle of beauty in all things and to him Beauty was Truth and Truth Beauty. But where is this Beauty to be found on this old earth, full of misery and sufferings, with scars of unhealed wounds round her body? In this miserable human life with its agony and strife, with its inhuman dearth of noble nature, where is the beauty to be seen and appreciated? Each night the stars keep a sient watch over the tormented sleep of man, who crawls upon this earth, whipped on by hunger and desire, as he is engaged in an endless strife. The sun shines over his puny existence indifferent to his sufferings on earth. Where among this catacomb, this heap of broken hearts, desolation and death would one find a place for beauty?
Yet beauty in this very suffering world lives among men. Though a handful of dust, man was created in the image of God. Man is always greater than the sum-total of sorrows and sufferings on earth. Man is compounded of fleun and spirit. And this spirit sutains him above the oppressing load of misery and leads him on his quest of the Beautiful. “Some shape of Beauty moves away the pall of our dark spirits.” And in moments of revelation, we feel our oneness with the ultimate reality in our contemplation and enjoyment of Beauty.
All the colour and sunshine in the world create the sensation of beauty as they leave their impress on the south. The silent stars twinkling at a distance, the moon, the setting sun with its crimson glory, the grandeur of its rising, the blue sky, the play of colours in the fleeting clouds, the mountains, rivers, hills, hills and dales and green mantle of our Mother earth, song of birds, beauty of form and shapes of things, living and inanimate or earth, human figure, dignity of human thought, art and literature and crafts of man, are all beautiful, creating in us, as we have the power to appreciate them, a joy that is eternal. We have only to open our senses in joy and the alchemy of Beauty will turn our souls into gold. Ultimately this principle of Beauty in all things will so enrich our souls that in moments of ecstasy, we shall be able to see into the very life of things. This is achieved for Keats by the mere intensity of sense impressions that Beauty can create in a sensitive soul. And that is the highest happiness that soul can reach on earth-“in the fellowship with the essence till we shine, full alchemized and free of space.” This fellowship with the essence is also the cry of Wordsworth. In the preface to his famous poem Excursion, Wordsworth acknowledges his debt to Beauty.
“Beauty, a living presence of the earth,
Surpassing the most fair ideal forms
Which craft of delicate spirits hath composed
From Earth’s material-waits upon my steps
Pitches her tent before me as I move
An hourly neighbour.”
This conception of Beauty as leading to Godhead we find also in plato who saw in his vision the world of “eternal and immutable ideas” containing veritable things of experience like Eternal Justice and Eternal Beauty-“which is the same, yesterday, today and for ever.”
Now what is this beauty? What is its substance? What are the ingredient that go to make beauty? Beauty in nature, beauty in arts, the beauty of human form, wherein lies their essence? Is it a subjective experience only in the beholder of beauty or has beauty an independent and objective reality of its own? If so, what is the expression of beauty? What is ideal beauty? These metaphysical speculations on beauty will at once plunge us headlong into the deep waters of Aesthetics.
It was Baumgarten, a German philosopher, who in his speculation of the beautiful, came to the conclusion that our sense perceptions alone form the basis of all our contemplative enjoyment of Beauty and then facetiously advised poets seeking inspiration to ride on horseback, to drink wine in moderation and to look on beautiful women!
Appreciation of beauty moreover consists in the exercise and cultivation of our feelings sustained by pleasure reaching its height of intensity in a calmness which is akin to what Milton found in the catharsis of Greek tragedies-“Calmness of mind, all passion spent.”
So aesthetic enjoyment is reduced to a subjective experience dismissing the form, quality and expression of the objects of Beauty as only stimuli to awaken the mind to the ideal realm of aesthetic pleasure. As Hume has observed, “Beauty is no quality in things themselves, it exists merely in the mind which contemplates it.”
In the beginning of the twentieth century, Benedetto Croce, the philosopher of Naples, offered to the world his great theory of. Expressionism. He tried to convince us that Beauty is intuition. Intuition is the unity of the perception of the real as it exists in time and in space. It is the first perception, “anterior to reason,” which binds matter with sensation. Beauty, according to Croce, is the immediate apprehension of the image, but it is not merely a presentation, it is also its expression.
Besides Croce, there is another view of aesthetic enjoyment. It is the theory of Einfuhlung. The germ of the theory is in the writings of Herder. Herder believes that the essential feature of our aesthetic apprehension of the outward reality is a spontaneous projection of our sensations super-imposed by our real psychic feeling on this visible world! Thus the process involves the union of our personality with the object of beauty. When Einfuhlung is complete, our own personality is perfectly identified. Because the soul within us carries an inner divine pantheistic urge, which of itself seeks union with the spirit of the Universe.
Beauty thus becomes a material condition for the union of the soul of man with the soul of the Universe. All these lead us to this final conclusion.
“The Universe is blessed by the existence of beauty only at those rare moments when men and women are transformed into creative and contemplative artists.”