Photo by M.E. Aguila, subject to this creative commons license
All these things have you said of beauty.
Yet in truth you spoke not of her but of needs unsatisfied,
And beauty is not a need but an ecstasy.
It is not a mouth thirsting nor an empty hand stretched forth,
But rather a heart enflamed and a soul enchanted.
It is not the image you would see nor the song you would hear,
But rather an image you see though you close your eyes and a song you hear though you shut your ears.
It is not the sap within the furrowed bark, nor a wing attached to a claw,
But rather a garden forever in bloom and a flock of angels for ever in flight.
People of Orphalese, beauty is life when life unveils her holy face.
But you are life and you are the veil.
Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror.
But you are eternity and you are the mirror.
In 1995 my wife and I spent two happy weeks in England and France. One morning we were strolling along a wide sidewalk in an upscale part of London. The weather was cool, but the patchwork sky splashed the city in occasional sunshine.
We had walked from a subway stop; I no longer remember where we were headed (or where we had come from). I do recall a row of clean stately buildings lining both sides of the avenue.
There was a constant flow of foot traffic coming from the opposite direction, but not enough to make us feel crowded. Most of the pedestrians were well dressed and appeared to be locals on unknown quotidian missions. Hardly any of them bothered to look at us, two obvious, swivel headed tourists from America.
I don’t remember which of us saw her first. She was impossibly tall, perhaps over ix feet. She was blond, with a perfect tan complexion. Lit by the mid morning sun, her unblemished face a mask of fearful symmetry. She strode toward us on long, elegant legs like some proud, ancient goddess, her mesmerizing movie star eyes staring directly at us for a single, exhilarating instant. I like to imagine she gave us the barest hint of a smile.
“My goodness!” Virginia exclaimed after the beauty had passed us, “she was so beautiful.” I was quite literally breathless. It took considerable willpower to keep from stopping, turning around and gawking at the woman .
In the everyday world if I see a beautiful woman I am both aroused and saddened As I surreptitiously look at her body and face, in that instant I feel a visceral desire for her yet also know I can’t possess her. She passes by; her mundane attractiveness soon mostly forgotten, replaced by the next pretty woman who, too, falls out of mind quickly.
With the unknown London woman I never felt desire or a yearning to possess her. Her beauty was so outrageous, so far surpassing anything I had ever seen, I was drenched in sudden and simple joy. In those few seconds she shared the sidewalk with us, and for a considerable period of time thereafter, I felt light and happy.
I have had the same joyful emotions when I have discovered a stunning natural vista or a marvelous painting or other work of art. The experience of such things overwhelm all thought and summon up selfless feelings of awe. One minutes life is its usual nondescript self, then the road curves and you are blasted by the glorious vastness of the Grand Canyon. That same instantaneous wash of joyfulness also overcame me the first time I saw the large original of Serat’s Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grande Jatte in the Chicago Institute of Art.
Sixteen years later that London Woman still summons lingering, mnemonic joy.
A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing…
FLICKR SEARCH: Beautiful Women London
My Gallery: Women from Britain
FLICKR GROUP: London Streets
Read all of VISIONS