Darker and darker, he said; farther and farther yet. Death takes the good, the beautiful, and the young – and spares me. The Pestilence that wastes, the Arrow that strikes, the Sea that drowns, the Grave the closes over Love and Hope, are steps of my journey, and take me nearer and nearer to the End.
At any time, and under any circumstances of human interest, is it not strange to see how little real hold the objects of the natural world amid which we live can gain on our hearts and minds? We go to Nature for comfort in trouble, and sympathy in joy, only in books. Admiration of those beauties of the inanimate world, which modern poetry so largely and so eloquently describes, is not, even in the best of us, one of the original instincts of our nature.
The woman who first gives life, light, and form to our shadowy conceptions of beauty, fills a void in our spiritual nature that has remained unknown to us till she appeared. Sympathies that lie too deep for words, too deep almost for thoughts, are touched, at such times, by other charms than those which the senses feel and which the resources of expression can realise. The mystery which underlies the beauty of women is never raised above the reach of all expression until it has claimed kindred with the deeper mystery in our own souls.
Boys are just boys after all, but sometimes girls really seem to be the turn of a pale wrist, or the sudden jut of a hip, or a clutch of very dark hair falling across a freckled forehead. I’m not saying that’s what they really are. I’m just saying sometimes it seems that way, and that those details (a thigh mole, a full face flush, a scar the precise shape and size of a cashew nut) are so many hooks waiting to land you.
Right. I look fine. Except I don’t,’ said Zora, tugging sadly at her man’s nightshirt. This was why Kiki had dreaded having girls: she knew she wouldn’t be able to protect them from self-disgust. To that end she had tried banning television in the early years, and never had a lipstick or a woman’s magazine crossed the threshold of the Belsey home to Kiki’s knowledge, but these and other precautionary measures had made no difference. It was in the air, or so it seemed to Kiki, this hatred of women and their bodies– it seeped in with every draught in the house; people brought it home on their shoes, they breathed it in off their newspapers. There was no way to control it.
Beauty! Wasn’t that what mattered? Beauty was hardly a popular ideal at that jumpy moment in history. The masses had been desensitized to it, the intelligentsia regarded it with suspicion. To most of her peers, ‘beauty’ smacked of the rarefied, the indulgent, the superfluous, the effete. How could persons of good conscience pursue the beautiful when there was so much suffering and injustice in the world? Ellen Cherry’s answer was that if one didn’t cultivate beauty, soon he or she wouldn’t be able to recognize ugliness. The prevalence of social ugliness made commitment to physical beauty all the more essential. And the very presence in life of double-wide mobile homes, Magic Marker graffiti, and orange shag carpeting had the effect of making ills such as poverty, crime, repression, pollution, and child abuse seem tolerable. In a sense, beauty was the ultimate protest, and, in that it generally lasted longer than an orgasm, the ultimate refuge. The Venus de Milo screamed ‘No!’ at evil, whereas the Spandex stretch pant, the macrame plant holder were compliant with it. Ugly bedrooms bred ugly habits. Of course, it wasn’t required of beauty that it perform a social function. That was what was valuable about it.
Summer sticks to her skirt sumptuously, in the shiny gray fabric hanging loosely from her curves. Her chestnut eyes, apparently hidden from strangers; her simple but graceful face, unpainted by Madison Avenue; and her straight black hair, parted down the middle without ego, all suggest a minimalist – almost pastoral – beauty that is oddly discordant with her fashionable attire, comfortable indifference to the crowds, and quasi-attentive perusal of the Time magazine unfolded over her hand.
Martin thought of the iron El trestles winding and stretching across the city, of department store windows and hotel lobbies, of electric elevators and street-car ads, of the city pressing its way north on both sides of the great park, of dynamos and electric lights, of ten-story hotels, of the old iron tower near the depot at West Brighton with its two steam-driven elevators rising and falling in the sky–and in his blood he felt a surge of restlessness, as if he were a steam train spewing fiery coal smoke into the black night sky as he roared along a trembling El track, high above the dark storefronts, the gaslit saloons, the red-lit doorways, the cheap beer dives, the dance halls, the gambling joints, the face in the doorway, the sudden cry in the night.