Notes on the Testament of Beauty

Notes on the Testament of Beauty

Notes on the Testament of Beauty

Notes on the Testament of Beauty

Excerpt

The Title . For along time, while engaged upon his great poem, Robert Bridges used to speak of it as his D.H.N. (i.e. De Hominum Natura), with allusion to the famous philosophical poem of Lucretius, De Rerum Natura. He could not find a title to his mind, until one day he came down to breakfast and announced that he had got it -- the name was to be 'The Testament of Beauty'. There is no doubt about the felicity of the title, which is itself a bit of poetry, a jewel four-words-long (to vary Tennyson). About the precise meaning of the phrase there is more doubt, as there is apt to be about such phrases. It is safe to say that there is a reference to the fact that the poem is the 'last will and testament', as it were, of the poet of over eighty years of age. With a full sense of responsibility he leaves to posterity this high and serious statement of his philosophy of life, his religious faith. And the purport of this statement is 'of Beauty'. It concerns Beauty; nay more -- and here comes in another stream of association to make part of the meaning of the title -- it is also the testimony of Beauty, the witness borne by Beauty to the truth that reality is good or, in the traditional language of Christianity, that God is Love. For, although the O.E.D. may be justified in saying that 'testament' is 'erroneously' used as a synonym of 'testimony', nothing can rob the word of its derivation from the Latin word for 'bearing witness' and the associations of that meaning. And no one can read the poem through with any degree of understanding without realizing that such is its purport. It is throughout the poet's witness to his faith, which faith is founded on Beauty's witness to the love of God. And indeed the other ideaassociated with the word 'testament' is not entirely absent, that of 'covenant'. Beauty is the sign and symbol of God's covenant with man; and again, as the poet says (IV. 1123):

This hankering after lost Beauty, in sickness of heart
a disconsolat sentiment, is the remnant grace
of nature's covenant, the starved germ athirst for God
ev'n for the living God.

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