An Excuse for Beauty


During breakfast this morning, I read Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem, “The Rhodora.” The last two quatrains captured my attention:

Rhodora! if the sages ask thee why
This charm is wasted on the earth and sky,
Tell them, dear, that if eyes were made for seeing,
Then Beauty is its own excuse for being:
Why thou wert there, O rival of the rose!
I never thought to ask, I never knew;
But, in my simple ignorance, suppose
The self-same Power that brought me there brought you.

Beautiful things do not need to have practical functions for people to enjoy them. Of course, many of them do — the male peacock wears garb fit for a prince in order to attract a mate; poison dart frogs show off their bold blues, yellows, and greens to alert would-be predators to their toxicity. But what purpose does a cut diamond serve, glittering in the light and casting rainbow flecks against nearby surfaces? Why does a sunset look as though someone has set fire to a Ruby Red grapefruit and hurled it into the clouds? And why does the fragrance of a garden send our thoughts spinning along pleasant paths (after all, pollinating insects can be attracted to vile-smelling flora as well)? If this universe were randomly thrown together, built on the back of “survival of the fittest,” I don’t suppose beauty for beauty’s sake would possess much merit. But if there is a God who has created the world to showcase His own splendor and loveliness, then yes, beauty can be its own excuse for being.


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