John Keats wrote: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty. That is all we know on earth and all we need to know.”
Ranier Maria Rilke argues in “The First Elegy”:
“For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we are just able to endure, and we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us. Every angel is terrifying.”
When Soren Kierkegaard defines “dread” as the apprehension of the possibilities freedom offers, I believe he tells us why, as Rilke contends, every angel is terrifying. To Kierkegaard, “This dread is the dizziness of freedom which occurs when the spirit would posit the synthesis [the uniting of body and soul], and gazes down into its own possibility, grasping at finiteness to sustain itself.”
Angels terrify us and the dizziness of dread makes us flee from them, because they are reflections of God. The Old Testament holds that if we saw God we would surely die. Because God is more beautiful than he created us to bear. So he gave Christ, his appearance softened by his humanity, as our standard of truth and beauty.
Yet beauty doesn’t only reside in the divine and the good. Beauty also resides in great sinners, in blinding terror, in death, all kinds of darkness, wonder, and tragedy. It resides in all the places we dizzy writers are sometimes obliged to go, if we hope to write the truth.
From Writing and the Spirit. To read the whole book …