A Tiny, Sentimental Old-Man Essay on Beauty

Dallas Downtown Sunset

Dallas Downtown Sunset

It slipped out yesterday in class.

I was doing what has to pass as my lecturing (I don’t have a clue). The challenge was to help my classes understand an article on the Gettysburg Address, an article that goes on for 14 pages in this style.

The narrative of national creation is austere, its only concession to embellishment being the natal metaphor. . . . The moribundity of the metaphor prevents its being experienced as an embellishment; its inconspicuousness as a stylistic decoration is compatible with the spartan character of the first paragraph. That quality of barrenness in the style of the first paragraph is characteristic of the enunciation of first principles. . . (1).

What a crock! It’s not, I hope, typical “scholarly” writing. Or is it? I assigned it because it’s the only article I (or Rebecca Graff, my favorite reference librarian at SMU’s Fondren Library) have found that attempts what it does.

It slipped out. A student asked a question to which my answer was, “I’ve been doing this for 68 years, and I still don’t get it.” Buzz! The momentary, “Oh my God, did you hear that? 68!” passing from student to student was palpable. I laughed. “Got you, didn’t I?” And a girl dared to say, “You can’t be that old.”

Greek Revival Trees?

Greek Revival Trees?

Yesterday I asked myself the old-man question, “If I get a newer iPhone, will it take better pictures?”

Lately I’ve been finding things I think are beautiful, ordinary stuff that you, dear reader, wouldn’t even notice.

A sunset I saw a couple of days ago walking on St. Paul Street on my way to my inamorato’s apartment from the train. One gold building standing out in the sunlight in the distance, with wispy red-tinged clouds floating above it. OK. Corny.

Dallas Hall at SMU, a three-story Romanesque (or is it Greek revival?) 100-year-old brick building on the National Register of History Places. But it’s the trees in front that should be on the Register. What amazing living things, planted soon after the Hall was built.

The iPhone was invented for sentimental old men. Everywhere I go, I can record the beauty I see, whether you think it’s worth the picture or not. I hold onto things in a way I did not until very recently. In high school I read poetry by Edna St. Vincent Millay with the jaundiced eye of youth, thinking it was ridiculously sentimental. Now I understand. I’m not holding on, simply holding.

God’s World
By Edna St. Vincent Millay

O world, I cannot hold thee close enough!
Thy winds, thy wide grey skies!
Thy mists, that roll and rise!
Thy woods, this autumn day, that ache and sag
And all but cry with colour!   That gaunt crag
To crush!   To lift the lean of that black bluff!
World, World, I cannot get thee close enough!|

Long have I known a glory in it all,
But never knew I this;
Here such a passion is
As stretcheth me apart,—Lord, I do fear
Thou’st made the world too beautiful this year;
My soul is all but out of me,—let fall
No burning leaf; prithee, let no bird call.

Moon over Parkland DART Station

Moon over Parkland DART Station

______(1) Black, Edwin. “Gettysburg and Silence.”  Quarterly Journal of Speech 80 (1994): 21-36.

2 Responses to A Tiny, Sentimental Old-Man Essay on Beauty

  1. It _is_ old-man stuff. And precious, no? I pity young folks impatient with the ordinary, unexciting world around them, when a universe of fascinating activity is going on there invisible to them — except for those lucky enough to be “old” before their time.

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