Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Points of View

Sunday I happened to be driving when NPR's "Speaking of Faith" was on. Ms. Tippett rebroadcast a 2008 interview with the writer John O'Donohue, recorded not long before his death. The topic was beauty, and Mr. O'Donohoue remarked that starvation of beauty is one of the things that kill us in the modern, industrialized world.

Perhaps so, for some definitions of "kill" and "beauty". Yet humanity is tough, and numbers of us live to great ages in dreary settings. I found myself thinking of a story from Iris Origo's memoir Images and Shadows, about her grandmother and an uncle, members of the old Protestant Ascendancy at the beginning of the 1900s, the uncle an enthusiast of "Young Ireland" and Irish lore:
As for my grandmother, he did not concern herself with much with these matters, but interpreted what came before her eyes with realistic and kindly common sense. One day (the story is told by my mother in her reminiscences) she had diven down the straggling, poverty-stricken street of a neighbouring village. "The need poetry, poetry and music," said Uncle Dot as they drove away. "Perhaps," said Gran a little doubtfully. "What they seemed to me to need most, though, was buttons and teeth."
Perhaps I did not listen long enough to hear Mr. O'Donohue's argument fully developed.

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