Beauty

I am Beauty’s butler: silent, observant, of service. I see her closely, perhaps too closely. I zip her up in back. Then I bow out.

There is a discretion I owe my mistress. How can I speak of Beauty behind her back? It is certainly not in my self-interest to reveal the secrets of my employ. Yet, if I sound coy, it is not my own doing, but my faithful reflection of her manner.

Once long ago chance threw me into her company. I was entirely naive and I had no idea of my place. To stand beside her and see — feel — every head turn! The glare was insufferable, and I could not long stay so close. But her terrible image has remained with me ever since. I say terrible, for no other word can cloak her so well. O Beauty! Your comely aspect draws one and all — but how awful and awesome the vortex of attraction you create! A veritable maelstrom of hidden power, to die for, and to be killed over, lies just beneath your glowing skin.

Thus one bows before beauty, takes rest to best enjoy it. One who claims it, properly stoops to do so. Possession is death in Beauty’s arms. Therefore, one who wants it, gives it away. The wise seek not to own Beauty, but to be owned by her. And to be an asset to art, one must serve Beauty. Then she will surround you with her self, and your riches will attest to your lowly status — as a slave.

This at least has been my long-term strategy. And look, I am already a footman! Once, holding her boots for her, my hand, almost by accident, touched her calf. Suddenly flush, I continued my duties as if nothing had happened. She grew still, but said nothing, so I knew it had been permitted. She misses nothing. I run out in front of her to make her way, the low signalling the high. So far, she permits me.

I come when I am called. I am always calling myself, to keep in practise, but only rarely do I hear her service bell. The old house is so lonely when she is away. And for long stretches, I only have my images of her all around me. But I keep attentive for a moment to serve, or to make labour for her. I know one person who was allowed once to brush her hair, long endless hours, while she softly sang. None of us admirers could survive a moment of her absence, were it not for her endless songs that everywhere fill the air, for those with ears to hear.

Beauty needs all the assistance you can afford. This goes beyond an arm to hang on, a shoulder to cry on, and a neck for her deadly stiletto heels. It’s the moral support that is so urgent. I mean, the cruel things people say! Out of the blindness of ignorance or the malice of envy, who can tell? Most hurtful to her personally, I know, is the aspersion of mere subjectivity. As if vision were not so widely and variously impaired! To be merely in the eye of the beholder — what a dreadful taunt! You try that on a date: Are you beautiful? Or is that just me? Yet people persist in saying it, as if trying to be inclusive. Beauty, I tell you, is very exclusive. It is kindness that is everywhere; and that even the ugly can manage.

One might as soon rip the God from a devout believer’s heart as slander Beauty by saying she exists only in her admirers’ eyes. Not only is it a sleight to her bounty and her magnanimity, but also it accuses us acolytes of delusions tantamount to hallucinations, of outright making things up. As everybody knows, artists have never created anything out of thin air, but always only from the breath that carries her song. It is she who signs every great work of art.

The insult that cuts most deeply is that she herself is only skin-deep. That is such a superficial saying. At least it gives her credit for her most alluring surface, though her lovers all know that the real joy comes from penetrating to her depths. Skin itself is misunderstood as the exterior only, whereas physiologically it is her living, feeling and most wholesome flesh. Her beauty is palpable, can be felt, and gave birth to movement and dance. None who have seen Beauty dance can deny that her muscles lend her skin those gorgeous contours. Inside, outside, she is who she is all the way through. O you slanderers! Close your eyes and see that Beauty exists within your skin, as well as without your eyes.

The charges of subjectivity and of superficiality are painful enough. A subtler indignity is offered by the claim that beauty is only relative. She is so manifestly incomparable, only the rudest ignoramus could suggest she is only relatively beautiful. “How do I look?” she asks. Only poetry is the appropriate reply. Instead she hears “not bad”, “better in Rome”, okay from here.” That relativistic nonsense is no way to treat a lady! Marvellous! Stunning! Breathtaking! There are your proper responses.

Her universal charm has lately been snubbed by being called average. It turns out that if one visually averages, pixel-by-pixel, pictures of innumerable faces, one obtains an average face, which passes everywhere for an ideal. The resultant average face is highly symmetrical, and is rated by viewers across cultures as more attractive than the original mugs on which it was based. Research continues as the methodology is spread to other domains, to see if the average smell, the average song, the average modern dance, and the average sculpture might also be the most beautiful. I only know that my Beauty has her quirks, all totally endearing, but she is sheer maximum, and no mixed average.

I think too much of her, I know. I see her in everything. I am lovesick, mad, I know, but I only redouble my devotions. I see her in the innumerable stars, in the auburn sunset with its great orange streaks and strange green cloud-bellies. I see her in the incessant shifting of the water’s surface, before her image is replaced by my own reflection. I see her in the valiant shoot, a new spring green, breaking through the impossible soil. I see her, eyes closed, in the dark of the meditation hall. She is in the gesture of mother love, a help to the helpless, a consoler of the shadows. She is half-shrouded, but you can feel her peeking out from behind the world-veil. She is kind to strangers. Ever-dying, she dwells with melancholy. Ever-reborn, she springs eternal in the playing child. Everywhere, but never spread too thin. This whole cosmos — but the flit of her eyelash. I live for a mere wink from her.

What’s that? Is that her bell? Then I’m off.
Do not ask for whom her bell tolls. It tolls for thee.
Come. You are needed. Beauty serves you philosophy.