The Shyness of Beauty

The Shyness of Beauty

I think of a flower that no eye has ever seen,
That springs in a solitary air.
Is it no one’s joy? It is beautiful as a queen
Without a kingdom’s care.

We have built houses for Beauty, and costly shrines,
And a throne in all men’s view;
But she was afar on a hill where the morning shines.
And her steps were lost in the dew.

Laurence Binyon

I came across this poem in my graduate school research methods class. I was just hanging out in the library completing an assignment with my friends. That assignment was a sort of treasure hunt. I had to go through a bunch of old journals and find some piece of information, and what I found was this. I read it off to my friends giggling madly and, to be fair, one of them loved it. The other two were more along my line of thinking. Honestly, there was a bit more laughter than a library usually sanctions. Really, I asked, what would a queen without a kingdom’s care look like? Jewels pawned, lords mutinous, disheveled. Not beautiful, in my estimation.

My conductor friend took my glasses, put them way down on his nose and read it off in a hilarious faux posh British accent. To this day, all he has to do is say “SHYNESS!” for me to laugh and laugh.

Now here’s the thing. At the time I claimed I could do better. And I tried. I wrote so much and spent long hours (possibly in class….) going over what made me laugh at Laurence and why I was so sure I could do better. But I have not written a poem to rival this yet. I just rediscovered my notes on the matter and I wanted to share a handful of my thoughts and pose a question.

“I must be careful not to talk about love, instead of beauty. Nor get involved in real gentleness, though beauty is being gentle by hiding. If beauty is an attribute of God and God is too great for us to see, perhaps so is beauty. Is beauty too blinding and thunderous perhaps even too deadly and therefore must be careful or it would kill us. Since the Fall, it is certainly unattainable. Is it therefore too dangerous for us lest we idolize it (St. Augustine…)”

So what do you think? Is beauty shy? If so, dear ones, why?

(also, go read this poem in a posh accent. it really is hilarious. it’s the metaphors…and the odd metrical quality, I think.)

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One thought on “The Shyness of Beauty

  1. Hmm… I actually liked this, and I have, in general, a low tolerance for “sappy” poetry. It struck me, though. The only thing I tend to quibble with is the title. The poem does not show me that beauty is shy… it shows me that beauty is unaware of the admiration it inspires.

    “It is beautiful as a queen
    Without a kingdom’s care.”

    This makes me think of Eve… she was, I feel, a queen, and one unbound by the weight of what fallen mankind knows as a kingdom. To me, it speaks of a state of being we were meant for and have lost.

    “We have built houses for Beauty, and costly shrines,
    And a throne in all men’s view;
    But she was afar on a hill where the morning shines.
    And her steps were lost in the dew.”

    And this… I like the irony of it, and do not find it sappy, which may be why I like this poem. There seems to be a lot wrapped up in it, much more than I can unravel pre-coffee, but I see in these lines the indifference true beauty has for our admiration, and the way it permeates creation even despite the fall. It reminds me of the hidden beauty that is valuable for being largely unnoticed. I am reminded of a moment I had, in college, when I was walking to class and was stopped dead by a tiny buttercup. The light hit it, showing off its enamel-like petals and I was stunned that so many people were walking by, completely unaware of the jewel in the grass.

    And yes, the poem is hilarious in posh…

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