On Truth

On Truth December 5, 2020

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty—that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

—John Keats

This quotation is borrowed from the final two lines of “Ode on a Grecian Urn” by John Keats. Is it true that art defines truth through its beauty? Is beauty all we truly need to know? “Ode on a Grecian Urn” contains the most debated two lines in all of Keats’s poems. The precise significance and implication of these two lines remain disputed to this day. Here is one analysis that I found:

The assertion in Keats’ concluding lines is open to various interpretations. Keats might have wanted it that way in order to enhance the poem’s feel of artistic subjectivity. He does not explain precisely what this proclamation implies, probably because he is describing only his own sensory experience of the urn. He cannot know what it signifies to others, so he leaves the interpretation up to the reader. The assertion suggests that a facet in human consciousness exists that cannot be fully understood; it is something that is inherent in the human experience. This pertains to the whole ode, as well as the final lines.

If beauty is truth and vice versa, what about the well-known aphorism, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

If Keats is correct, then truth must also be in the eye (or ear) of the believer. If you look at the current political mess in the US, truth seems to be as fleeting and superficial as beauty.

I am skeptical about beauty as it pertains to people, unless it is carefully defined. I have known a few women who were beautiful to look at, but their actions and words betrayed their inner ugliness. Conversely, I have known many “plain Janes” who became radiantly beautiful when they smiled and spoke to me. Perhaps physical beauty is a curse…and that applies to men as well as women. I should feel fortunate that I am not afflicted with that curse…and I love the taste of sour grapes!

But back to Truth. Nicholas Goldberg penned an op-ed in the LA Times a few days ago that reflects on the meaning of truth in the media these days. A large part of our population is totally convinced by Trump’s statements that he won the election “in a landslide,” and it was stolen from him by corrupt Democrats. A majority of citizens probably view this as self-delusion, but as the writer points out, that’s too generous. It’s deception, plain and simple; the culmination of four years of constant and implacable assault on Truth. A major part of that has been his assault on truth in the media. He even acknowledged that in a conversation with Leslie Stahl, a CBS correspondent…off camera, of course. When she asked him why he attacked the press so regularly, he replied, “I do it to discredit you all and demean you all, so that when you write negative stories about me, no one will believe you.”

What is truth today? How can a rational person determine whom to believe, when some are saying that the election is a massive conspiracy to defeat Donald Trump, and others are saying, “Show me the evidence!”

First, I will state the obvious: There ain’t no beauty in this. This is ugly!

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

I do not see any beauty in what Trumpies are claiming.

Do you?



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