- For Keats, beauty was a highest principle
- Relationship between Beauty and truth
- Keats difference from his contemporaries
- Spirit of beauty Intellectual beauty
- Wider concept of truth
In his famous “Ode on a Grecian Urn” Keats has prophetically said:
Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty – that is all,
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know
Prior to commenting on this saying of Keats, it is essential to know that Keats was, above all other things, a poet depicting and expressing the outward elements of beauty, a true worshipper of Beauty. He had no religion, save the religion of Beauty, no God save Pan; the earth, according to him was “my great condoler and Beauty my consoler.” To Keats, a thing of beauty was “a joy forever”. His only mission in life, as he once wrote to his beloved Fannie Browne, “is to lie prostrate at your feet as you are the goddess of beauty”.
To Keats, each object of nature was beautiful for its own sake and for its magic, colour, sound, odour, and touch. In every object of nature, in everything, which he considered to be worth appreciating, he saw a spirit of Beauty – a spirit that has divine splendor. In other words, Keats saw God in the Temple of Beauty. He took Beauty as a principle – the highest principle, which “hath the power to sublimate man’s entire spiritual self”.
Thus, it is no small thing to have so loved the principle of Beauty as to perceived the necessary relation of Beauty and truth and both, again, with joy. According to Keats, “that which is beautiful in every sense of the term, will be found to be synonymous with truth; and truth, however ugly it may seem at first, or to some person, will be ultimately found to be beautiful. To the human mind, beauty and truth are one and the same thing – to see things in their beauty and thus to interpret these things inspired by beauty in terms of truth.
While Scott was merely telling stories; Wordsworth was reforming poverty or up-holding moral law, Shelley advocating impossible and wild reforms and Byron voicing his own egoism and political discontent of his time, Keats, lived apart from men and women of all political beliefs, worshipping, ‘Beauty’, like a devotee, perfectly content to write what was in his own heart or to reflect some splendor of the natural world as he saw or deemed it to be.
He had a simple and direct passion for natural beauty, just for its own sake – the beauty of the forest, of flowers and sky. He was in this happiest mood in the fields. The humming of the bee, the sight of a flower, and the glitter of the sun – all these seemed to make his nature dance with joy. For him, Beauty, coupled with Truth, produced everlasting joy.
Now we have to see how beauty produces joy, which is imperishable and undying. It must not, indeed, be the outward beauty, which is transient and unendurable. Flowers bloom only for a day and fade away the same night. Outward beauty is thus a mirage – a deception. What Keats means to suggest through the quotation is that it is not the material phase of the beauty of a flower that captivates or charms man’s heart, producing thereby an unlimited and imperishable joy; it is the essence or the spirit behind the concept of beauty. A flower may fade away; bright outward face may dwindle into oblivion, but the impression which the spirit of beauty has created in the heart, can never be wiped away: it is to live for ever, and this impression of the spirit of beauty shall ever inspire man’s heart with an eternal joy – a joy “that perisheth not, nor declineth with the passage of time”.
Beauty thus appeared before Keats as a spiritual principle of the highest type, which could immortalize man’s life on this earth. He found in Beauty something of a divine light of sanctity, which according to him, was capable of purifying the human mind. His concept of beauty was not of an ordinary man, to whom it is only a pleasing and charming diversion.
Again, there is one more concept of beauty – the intellectual beauty, which is also permanent and which also creates imperishable and inexhaustible joy in the minds of the people. Great and mighty scholars, poets, philosophers and artists of the world possessed intellectual beauty and though physically they are not living, yet their intellectual beauty still lives and shall live forever. The intellectual beauty of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Allama Iqbal, Kalidas, Shakespeare, Milton etc. has given joy to the mind of civilized men that is never going to diminish. To Keats also, beauty was something of intellectual inspiration. He derived his intellectual greatness from his cult of beauty.
By Truth, however, Keats does not mean merely something opposite to falsehood; his concept of truth is highly didactic, spiritual and ethical. By truth he means the truth of life the very reality in this world, the essence of the sublimity of soul and mind, in short, God. In other words, Keats took truth as the highest concept of the Supreme Being.
This mighty and most sacred thing, according to Keats, was allied to beauty. Again, we have to see that by the term beauty Keats means something far higher than what the ordinary people generally understand. It is the spiritual or intellectual bejuty that is, to Keats, the very essence of the Absolute and supreme truth.
In Fannie Browne, Kcats had seen this “Divine Beauty” and that was the reason why he sought to worship her instead of loving her. “In your eyes, I find the deepest well of beauty which is neither human nor physical – It is a picture of the perfection of Beauty, an angelic Beauty.”
We justify Keats’ conception of seeing God in truth and to search for truth in the highest form of intellectual and spiritual beauty. We must also seek to establish a divine link between the beauties of our soul, mind and heart and the highest truth that makes the vast universe look a glimpse of heaven. Indeed, we are one with the poet in his great discovery that one can establish the kingdom of Heaven on this earth by combining the two sublime principles of Beauty and truth.