Last week I was asked to define beauty as it pertains to English Renaissance love poetry, and as I was working I came to an epiphany. Earlier in the course we had been asked to examine artificiality as it relates to romance, and I just found the whole exercise, the paper itself, an act in futility. The intersection between beauty and artificiality is so complex, but obvious, that I found the prompt hard to answer.
It wasn't until the final paper on beauty, especially as I examined Robert Herrick's early modern poem Delight in Disorder, that I understood why the piece on artificiality had stumped me so badly. For the past couple of years I had been immersed in an environment based on false intentions and duplicity. Busy and distracted, the guilt of my association was running in the background of my life somewhat like a virus, but its effect on my health and mental happiness was slowly becoming an unavoidable truth. As this truth unfolded this summer, I became seriously ill. I think much of my illness was a reaction to the artificiality of my previous assignation. Now I do not mean assignation in the true sense of the word, but only in its shameful qualities, the fact I should have known better.
Today I scrolled through my social media feed to see what the captains of artificiality were selling this week, and lo and behold, some good old fashioned fakery is, of course, the rule of the day. Basically disingenuous and fluff without substance, the drumbeat remains the same. But Delight in Disorder is a poem about beauty that rejects its connection to artificiality and connects to its authenticity: A carelesse shoestring, in whose tie / I see a wild civility: / Do more bewitch me, than when art / Is too precise in every part (11-14).
Beauty is sincere. True beauty, the kind that inspires awe and promotes harmony, is authentic in its behavior and motives.
These lines from John Keats poem Ode on a Grecian Urn explains it best: