"A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness;"
So wrote Keats in one of those self-fulfilling prophecies that often dog poets.
He never lived to hear a nice word about his work -- expect perhaps from his pal Shelley. As far as his critics were concerned his poems simply were not "a thing of beauty."
My friend Jordan and I were discussing the notion of "beauty" when applied to art. We had just viewed Michelangelo's Pietà -- a work often labeled as "beautiful."
I have always admired the artistic skill so evident in the piece. The contrast of Mary's eternal youth with the lifeless body of her son. The soft flows of Mary's clothes -- carved from marble.
But it has never struck me as beautiful. Certainly not in the same sense of Donatello's Mary Magdalene. Donatello’s Mary has found an inner peace through her suffering. What Euripedes called "being of one's hour." Or what the Quakers call “peace at the center.”
I thought of that conversation on my trip back to Mexico. My check-in line was held up while a couple took their merry time with the counter clerk. Papers changed hands. Credit cards appeared and disappeared. Five minutes stretched into twenty.
But the time is not what struck me about them. They were of The Beautiful People. She was at least six feet tall with one of those figures that make people stop and stare. And she knew it -- with her choice of white pants that could have been airbrushed onto her legs.
When she turned, I recognized the face from some ad or other. It turned out she was a well-known super model and her companion was the owner of a model agency.
I do not encounter many people with the type of good looks that oozes entitlement. Their stance at the ticket counter was one of nonchalance. As if their transaction holding up the line was our problem not theirs.
The ticket clerk was in awe of them. When I walked up, it was almost as if I had broken a magic spell. As if an evil troll had entered her life.
The same phenomenon happened on the airplane. The flight attendant stood and talked with them for at least half of the flight -- ignoring the rest of her cabin charges.
It was interesting to watch. What is it about superficial beauty that attracts people? I say superficial because I could hear the conversation. It was the type of pedestrian nonsense that often causes me to nod off in mid-sentence. But the flight attendant was as rapt as a cobra in a mongoose's stare.
Maybe this attraction to pretty faces is nothing more than our worship of the unattainable. For the same reason that my liberal friends went all gaga about a royal wedding in Britain. As if we had backed the wrong horse 235 years ago.
And I must admit I did my share of staring. She was a beautiful woman.
But my last sight of them sums up my thoughts on such fading qualities as face beauty. While they were waiting for their luggage, they decided to sit down far from we common, plain folk. There they sat like aliens from some elven planet.
Separate. Alone. As the rest of the world went about its every day business. Paying them little heed.
Sometimes a thing of beauty is not for ever.