Kathleen Raine (on preference for ugliness, need for beauty)

“I have found myself wondering why the present age seems positively to shrink from beauty, to prefer the ugly, to feel safer, more at home with it; and I have come to realize that there is a reproach in the beautiful and the perfect; it passes its continual silent judgment and it requires perhaps a kind of courage to love what is perfect, since to do so is an implicit confession of our own imperfection. Can it be that the prevalence of the low and the sordid in contemporary writing is a kind of easy way, a form of sloth, an avoidance of that reproach which would call us, silently, to [aspire to] a self-perfection it would cost us too much to undertake? And yet it is in order to work upon us that transformation … that works which embody the beautiful alone exist. That is their function…”

Kathleen Raine (1908-2003) was an English poet and critic. I don’t know much about her, sorry to say. I believe this extract (the underlining is my emphasis, not hers) comes from a collection of her essays called Defending Ancient Springs (Oxford 1967). I ran across it in an essay by the Canadian poet Roger White, in a book called The Creative Circle: Art, Literature, and Music in Bahá’í Perspective, and can only think that this is more true now than when Ms. Raine wrote it.