You’ve probably never heard of Kenelm Henry Digby. You’ll be hearing more about him from me though. I’m currently reading a biography about him.
A while back, I added a slew of his works to the YIMCatholic Bookshelf. Back on All Souls Day, I shared one of his poems with you. Today I’d like you to read a few of Digby’s lines of verse about Art. I promise a post about Digby himself in the future (a fascinating conversion story!).
But for now, just these few lines from his poem Ouranogaia: Heaven on Earth, from Canto VI, and a bonus video featuring the work of an amazing child prodigy named Akiane Kramarik.
By Admiration (works of Art, Painting, And Music)
Great Nature’s works admired so, we said,
To fields Elysian men have often led.
But works of human art no less provide
A field for admiration truly wide;
Whether they would exactly imitate
Sweet Nature’s present and imperfect state;
Or striving to combine in one all parts
Of beauty, so as to inflame our hearts
By picturing an artificial whole,
Made up of parts, and no part copied sole.
While, on whatever pathway they would wend,
They all must seek this one essential end—
Of making the unseen to mind appear,
Without which nought that’s seen is ever dear.
For so all works design’d of human art
That with success would touch and move the heart
Must still by means that are well known to all,
From things unseen remove the present pall,
That the invisible may clearly be
Brought thus before the mind; that ever we
May see its sheen, and feel its cheering glow;
For nought else moves the heart on earth below.
‘Tis then that art will yield for mankind here
A foretaste of the bliss that will appear
In those fair, happy regions, where it may
Be not intended all to pass away.
The bliss of those who Nature will admire,
Descends no less on those who never tire
Observing Nature in men’s works of art,
Of which a view they equally impart;
So that we argue justly when we hold
That human works can Heav’n itself unfold.
In song, the thought and sentiment come first;
These reign and govern, and still will keep the heights;
In painting, howe’er purely artists thirst.
The workman’s hand will chiefly claim its
Yes, even when it seeks the pure ideal,
And shuns an imitation of the real.
But if with skill you weigh the mystic bond,
Connecting hands with the presiding soul,
Your thoughts disparaging will then prove fond,
If raising not more wonder at the whole;
Or else, unless the hand rebels, and then
You well may scorn Art’s democratic men,
Who seek but profit with much daily toil,
By eccentricity, or what is worse,
By agency the human mind to soil
And yield a bitter, and a cleaving curse.
Whereas it is Art’s office to supply
A path towards Eden to attract the eye,
Supporting and exalting human life,
As even Plato show’d in days of old,
Suggesting that its noble, endless strife
Should be in making age and youth behold
The inner nature of the good and fair,
To fan their temples with Elysian air.
You can read the rest of Digby’s canto here. And now, the evolution of the artistry of Akiane,