The cathedral is an enormous candle
reaching and dripping at once—
a kind of beauty only sorrow knows…
Those lines are part of a poem I wrote almost thirty years ago when Peggy and I visited the Strasbourg Cathedral. I have no idea where they came from except, I do remember having a dream my body turn into the shape of a gothic church. Peggy went on to make a construction box out of it which included my poem.
These words were recently brought back to me by a friend who plucked them from a book of poems titled Along These Lines comprised of Peggy’s poetry and mine. The kind of beauty only sorrow knows feels particularly apt these days.
Keats was on to something when he related truth with beauty, even devastating truth, the reality you might want to turn away from. For Rilke beauty is but the beginning of terror / we are still able to bear. Beauty is not the word that comes to my mind but it certainly enhances the senses and concentrates the mind.
The Dutch knew this when they rendered magnificent still-life paintings with a withering petal in the bouquet or a fly on a leaf signifying decay.
We flock to New England in adoration of the spectacular foliage dying in their reds and rust. Leaves with chlorophyll were to be admired but without its green even more so. The sycamore was never more beautiful than in its sorrow.
There is a certain clarity in grief, something cleansing which could be called truth. Qualities of symmetry and elegance we usually associate with beauty are replaced by a state of vulnerable open-heartedness. There is a special authenticity in confronting the truth of mortality. Yeats called it a terrible beauty.
Looking back brings me to the beauty of our life together, a celebration even now in the midst of sorrow. A candle reaching and dripping at once.