I remember telling a friend a long long time ago, when I was just 13, that when I first started writing it was because of beauty. It was because of my otherwise inexpressible sense of beauty, of wholeness and beauty, the straining, tugging beauty that swelled within me whenever I heard the music. This was when I was nine or ten and tried to express this, somehow, capitalizing Beauty and trying, so hard, like a jib on a sail, to contain the wind that flowed through me.
And already at thirteen I felt loss, because what writing led me to was not beauty but angst, darkness, blackness, the deep heart of aching adolescence. The world is still in its adolescence, apparently, because nobody writes about beauty anymore. Because utopias are always stupid and plodding, nobody reads Paradiso, everyone loves the Inferno, because they can relate. You see the trouble with art is that it reflects reality. It tries to capture it, however fleetingly and distractedly. It tries its darndest, and what it comes up with these days is ugliness. Snatches of beauty yes, but only snatches. Anything that is drenched in beauty is silly, or genre, or kitsch. How did it come to be this way?
One day great art will be utopia, and it will not be tacky. I will be like the rain of petals pelting me now under the cherry blossom tree, utterly fresh, utterly real, utterly full and slight. I will never yearn for beauty again, because with beauty I will be one.
This morning I was talking with a friend at breakfast and she suddenly told me about her dream – her nightmare – last night. It was eerie, because it seemed like a dark reflection of what I had been reading the night before, Till We Have Faces from CS Lewis. She was kind of and was kind of not a girl who was lying ill in a house surrounded by farms … a man, who was in love with the girl, kept coming and weeping over her, bringing her flowers, bringing her little gifts. But she just slept. He was in love with her and would come every day. He brought her roses, and wept, and said that she smelled redolent, like of the roses. But then suddenly she looked at the room and realized that the girl was dead, and had already started decomposing, and that was the smell he spoke of – the smell of rotting flesh. Then in horror she looked around her and realized the room was in decay, falling apart, and that the man had mourned her for days after she had died and had slowly gone mad … And slowly he was tortured, and his fingers were cut off, and she started milling about in a crowd and a little boy came up to her, and he, too had his hand cut off … and she was put under house arrest and a man was set over her to guard her, and he was big, and tried to rape her… and she escaped with her sister into the crowd, ducking within doorways to evade capture.
It reminded me of the terror of apocalypse, that is, the apocalyptic vision of seeing what is really there … much like the poor princess Psyche in Lewis’s book, seeing a glorious vision when her sister sees nothing but a bare mountain. Heaven is like this – behind the veil. I was talking with Anne Goetz about heaven last evening too … it was one of the most blessed conversations I have ever had. Dwelling on heaven – dwelling on beauty, has never been so dear and sweet. To dwell in heaven! I think we dwelt in heaven for that moment.
We spoke of orchestras playing suddenly the songs of the composers we had never heard of, whom had not the opportunity, or the instruments, or the connections, to have their music heard – and then have Bach applaud them in heaven. We spoke of long, luxurious spring afternoons in the garden with teas (the most wonderful teas in the world) and conversations with a young, happy, witty John Donne … not a professor, not older or superior to us, but friends, the way we are friends, laughing at our jokes, delighting in each other’s company. And dear Herbert, sort of shy, dipping his toe in the river of clear water while he smiles at the bluebells. And Shakespeare himself, of course, strolling under trees in the distance. I can’t imagine what I would say to him now, but I’m sure I could say wonderful things to him in heaven. Some people I already feel are friends – CS Lewis himself, I feel, I could strike up a conversation with immediately. I dont know what I would say to Ezekiel, I hope he won’t have fiery eyes, as I imagine him to have – which is silly, of course, he is just a man like me. I want to sing songs with David, enjoy wine with Solomon. And none of it will be like schmoozing up to professors, none of it will be me knocking myself out in adoration, but rather we would be on a plane of equality. And all the unknown poets who are greater than all these, they will be there too … and all the men and women who have never known or cared for poetry in their lives will suddenly burst into song.
And there are so many beautiful places on earth I have never seen before, and they will all be there, all at once, more beautiful and complex and changeable than can be known. It will be just like the planet designers’ simulation in Hitchhiker’s Guide, except it will all be real. And all this beauty will point up, up, up into the true Beauty, the capitalized Beauty, the Beauty that exists and is forever and ever the glory. And He Himself, my beloved Jesus, he will walk among us. We will walk along his features like a landscape, his arms will make little valleys. We will tumble around in his hair as on a hill full of luxuriant grass, and he will laugh a warm, booming laugh that will take us centuries to hear or comprehend. And He will also be mine, and mine alone, and ours alone, and wholly the One and Only for every single saint in that blessed kingdom. He will be small enough to cup in your hand – He will be just the right size to keep pace with you besides you, walking along a little path in the mountains and talking with you of the beauties and the truths. And He is cloud and He is sky, and He is friend and lover and father and child. We will hold Him in our arms and love Him like Mary did, marveling at His innocence, His beauty, His purity. He will tumble over to us and we will laugh at him, He will astonish us by his beautiful voice, the extraordinary music that He lavishes upon us. Oh there will be time, there will be time …
And we will work, and we will not sweat (but only sweat when it feels sweet) – and we will see our work sprout into full bloom beneath our hands. The soil will be rich, and smell fresh like Spring … the seeds will be tiny and perfect, the trees luxuriant and full. We will eat of the fruit of our labour, and that will be no metaphor at all. And we will spin, and weave, and sing, and paint, and draw, and work on wood and steel and create lovely, useful, edifying things that we will offer continually to Him. And He will love the things we make Him, like a mother loves her child’s art and craft projects, and He will take them in His hands and bring them to life. And rest will be restful, and night will be pitch-black, or filled with stars. And cold will be ice-cold, and heat will flow through us like a monsoon. We will dance on icebergs and fall on flames, but they will not hurt us – we will laugh on them.