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7: Realisation of Beauty

Things in which we do not take joy are either a burden upon our
minds to be got rid of at any cost; or they are useful, and
therefore in temporary and partial relation to us, becoming
burdensome when their utility is lost; or they are like wandering
vagabonds, loitering for a moment on the outskirts of our
recognition, and then passing on. A thing is only completely our
own when it is a thing of joy to us.

The greater part of this world is to us as if it were nothing.
But we cannot allow it to remain so, for thus it belittles our
own self. The entire world is given to us, and all our powers
have their final meaning in the faith that by their help we are
to take possession of our patrimony.

But what is the function of our sense of beauty in this process
of the extension of our consciousness? Is it there to separate
truth into strong lights and shadows, and bring it before us in
its uncompromising distinction of beauty and ugliness? If that
were so, then we would have had to admit that this sense of
beauty creates a dissension in our universe and sets up a wall of
hindrance across the highway of communication that leads from
everything to all things.

But that cannot be true. As long as our realisation is
incomplete a division necessarily remains between things known
and unknown, pleasant and unpleasant. But in spite of the dictum
of some philosophers man does not accept any arbitrary and
absolute limit to his knowable world. Every day his science is
penetrating into the region formerly marked in his map as
unexplored or inexplorable. Our sense of beauty is similarly
engaged in ever pushing on its conquests. Truth is everywhere,
therefore everything is the object of our knowledge. Beauty is
omnipresent, therefore everything is capable of giving us joy.

In the early days of his history man took everything as a
phenomenon of life. His science of life began by creating a
sharp distinction between life and non-life. But as it is
proceeding farther and farther the line of demarcation between
the animate and inanimate is growing more and more dim. In the
beginning of our apprehension these sharp lines of contrast are
helpful to us, but as our comprehension becomes clearer they
gradually fade away.

The Upanishads have said that all things are created and
sustained by an infinite joy. To realise this principle of
creation we have to start with a division--the division into the
beautiful and the non-beautiful. Then the apprehension of beauty
has to come to us with a vigorous blow to awaken our
consciousness from its primitive lethargy, and it attains its
object by the urgency of the contrast. Therefore our first
acquaintance with beauty is in her dress of motley colours, that
affects us with its stripes and feathers, nay, with its
disfigurements. But as our acquaintance ripens, the apparent
discords are resolved into modulations of rhythm. At first we
detach beauty from its surroundings, we hold it apart from the
rest, but at the end we realise its harmony with all. Then the
music of beauty has no more need of exciting us with loud noise;
it renounces violence, and appeals to our heart with the truth
that it is meekness inherits the earth.

In some stage of our growth, in some period of our history, we
try to set up a special cult of beauty, and pare it down to a
narrow circuit, so as to make it a matter of pride for a chosen
few. Then it breeds in its votaries affections and
exaggerations, as it did with the Brahmins in the time of the
decadence of Indian civilisation, when the perception of the
higher truth fell away and superstitions grew up unchecked.

In the history of aesthetics there also comes an age of
emancipation when the recognition of beauty in things great and
small become easy, and when we see it more in the unassuming
harmony of common objects than in things startling in their
singularity. So much so, that we have to go through the stages
of reaction when in the representation of beauty we try to avoid
everything that is obviously pleasing and that has been crowned
by the sanction of convention. We are then tempted in defiance
to exaggerate the commonness of commonplace things, thereby
making them aggressively uncommon. To restore harmony we create
the discords which are a feature of all reactions. We already
see in the present age the sign of this aesthetic reaction, which
proves that man has at last come to know that it is only the
narrowness of perception which sharply divides the field of his
aesthetic consciousness into ugliness and beauty. When he has the
power to see things detached from self-interest and from the
insistent claims of the lust of the senses, then alone can he
have the true vision of the beauty that is everywhere. Then only
can he see that what is unpleasant to us is not necessarily
unbeautiful, but has its beauty in truth.

When we say that beauty is everywhere we do not mean that the
word ugliness should be abolished from our language, just as it
would be absurd to say that there is no such thing as untruth.
Untruth there certainly is, not in the system of the universe,
but in our power of comprehension, as its negative element. In
the same manner there is ugliness in the distorted expression of
beauty in our life and in our art which comes from our imperfect
realisation of Truth. To a certain extent we can set our life
against the law of truth which is in us and which is in all, and
likewise we can give rise to ugliness by going counter to the
eternal law of harmony which is everywhere.

Through our sense of truth we realise law in creation, and
through our sense of beauty we realise harmony in the universe.
When we recognise the law in nature we extend our mastery over
physical forces and become powerful; when we recognise the law in
our moral nature we attain mastery over self and become free. In
like manner the more we comprehend the harmony in the physical
world the more our life shares the gladness of creation, and our
expression of beauty in art becomes more truly catholic. As we
become conscious of the harmony in our soul, our apprehension of
the blissfulness of the spirit of the world becomes universal,
and the expression of beauty in our life moves in goodness and
love towards the infinite. This is the ultimate object of our
existence, that we must ever know that "beauty is truth, truth
beauty"; we must realise the whole world in love, for love gives
it birth, sustains it, and takes it back to its bosom. We must
have that perfect emancipation of heart which gives us the power
to stand at the innermost centre of things and have the taste of
that fullness of disinterested joy which belongs to Brahma.

Music is the purest form of art, and therefore the most direct
expression of beauty, with a form and spirit which is one and
simple, and least encumbered with anything extraneous. We seem
to feel that the manifestation of the infinite in the finite
forms of creation is music itself, silent and visible. The
evening sky, tirelessly repeating the starry constellations,
seems like a child struck with wonder at the mystery of its own
first utterance, lisping the same word over and over again, and
listening to it in unceasing joy. When in the rainy night of
July the darkness is thick upon the meadows and the pattering
rain draws veil upon veil over the stillness of the slumbering
earth, this monotony of the rain patter seems to be the darkness
of sound itself. The gloom of the dim and dense line of trees,
the thorny bushes scattered in the bare heath like floating heads
of swimmers with bedraggled hair, the smell of the damp grass and
the wet earth, the spire of the temple rising above the undefined
mass of blackness grouped around the village huts--everything
seems like notes rising from the heart of the night, mingling and
losing themselves in the one sound of ceaseless rain filling the

Therefore the true poets, they who are seers, seek to express the
universe in terms of music.

They rarely use symbols of painting to express the unfolding of
forms, the mingling of endless lines and colours that goes on
every moment on the canvas of the blue sky.

They have their reason. For the man who paints must have canvas,
brush and colour-box. The first touch of his brush is very far
from the complete idea. And then when the work is finished the
artist is gone, the windowed picture stands alone, the incessant
touches of love of the creative hand are withdrawn.

But the singer has everything within him. The notes come out
from his very life. They are not materials gathered from
outside. His idea and his expression are brother and sister;
very often they are born as twins. In music the heart reveals
itself immediately; it suffers not from any barrier of alien

Therefore though music has to wait for its completeness like any
other art, yet at every step it gives out the beauty of the
whole. As the material of expression even words are barriers,
for their meaning has to be constructed by thought. But music
never has to depend upon any obvious meaning; it expresses what
no words can ever express.

What is more, music and the musician are inseparable. When the
singer departs, his singing dies with him; it is in eternal union
with the life and joy of the master.

This world-song is never for a moment separated from its singer.
It is not fashioned from any outward material. It is his joy
itself taking never-ending form. It is the great heart sending
the tremor of its thrill over the sky.

There is a perfection in each individual strain of this music,
which is the revelation of completion in the incomplete. No one of
its notes is final, yet each reflects the infinite.

What does it matter if we fail to derive the exact meaning of
this great harmony? Is it not like the hand meeting the string
and drawing out at once all its tones at the touch? It is the
language of beauty, the caress, that comes from the heart of the
world straightway reaches our heart.

Last night, in the silence which pervaded the darkness, I stood
alone and heard the voice of the singer of eternal melodies.
When I went to sleep I closed my eyes with this last thought in
my mind, that even when I remain unconscious in slumber the dance
of life will still go on in the hushed arena of my sleeping body,
keeping step with the stars. The heart will throb, the blood
will leap in the veins, and the millions of living atoms of my
body will vibrate in tune with the note of the harp-string that
thrills at the touch of the master.

Rabindranath Tagore

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