I’m really looking forward to seeing Bright Star, Jane Campion’s film about John Keats. He’s not my favourite Romantic poet but I do like the way Keats’ poems – unlike most – become less ornate and more alive with repeated reading.
My favourite writing from Keats’, though, are his letters, which reveal him to be one of those writers – Oscar Wilde is another – whose life itself was a work of art. A perfect tragedy of doomed love, poverty, genius and far too early death.
Keats, of course, is the writer of the famous couplet: “‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty’ – that is all/Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know”, surely two of the most discussed lines in the English language. (TS Eliot thought they ruined an otherwise good poem).
Modern mathematicians and physicists are proving Keats’ statement in all sorts of wondrous ways but what he was writing about was art. A grecian urn.
For me, his lines recognise that the throb at the heart of all art – even that which takes subject matter deemed “ugly” – is beauty.
Not conventional beauty but the daring beauty that is truth.
You and I may differ on whether an individual piece of work is art, or not, but however heated we get about the subject matter of the piece, or its treatment, in the end the argument rests on one thing only: on how the artwork makes us feel; on whether it induces in us that creative click of internal recognition.
Of truth seeing and knowing itself.
When that happens, it always beautiful.
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