REFLECTION: Remembering Rhodora PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 18 June 2014 11:31



It must have been during my freshman or sophomore high school year when we had a new, bubbly teacher in English Literature who asked us to study a poem entitled, The Rhodora, by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

I, at first, like all the other boys in class, was hesitant to do the assignment because of the prevailing prejudice that subjects like Literature were more for girls than for boys.

But I did it just the same, draggingly, of course, but more to avoid trouble, since I was quite sure I would be asked to say something about it in class. Little did I know that I would fall in love with the poem. In fact, it was the first time I felt something special toward literature.

I was fascinated by its musical and lyrical tone, bewitched by its cadence and rhythm. More importantly, it delivered a strong message so appealing to both my mind and heart. It has since then become indelible in my memory.

It was a message that I did not expect after reading the first few verses that described what I thought were merely ordinary observations. I was told beforehand that the Rhodora was actually just a plant, an information that worsened my misgiving about the class assignment.

But now I realize that the element of surprise is part of the beauty of any literary piece. That was what happened to me. I was pleasantly surprised, and then somehow affected...quite deeply. The misgiving turned into a blessing. My misgiving actually set me up for a big kill in myself.

The verse that attracted me most was this: “Rhodora! / If the sages ask thee why / This charm is wasted on the earth and sky, / Tell them, dear, / That if eyes were made for seeing, / Then beauty is its own excuse for Being.”

In my adolescent mind then, I readily agreed to that statement. Beauty was a very precious and rare commodity. And I understood beauty as an exclusively physical affair. It was hard for me then to see beauty around. Back in the province, there must have been some pretty faces, but not one that sparked awe and fascination.

And so, I thought beauty could only be found in the movies, in the magazines, and in those occasional visits of movie stars and starlets during town fiestas. “If eyes were made for seeing...” kept ringing in my mind.

Years passed, and the scenario has altered quite significantly. This time, you see beauty in the physical sense in abundance. A worldwide industry of make-up and make-overs, plus the increasingly powerful supporting structure of networks, etc., has made that possible. But I also realize that these have somehow exposed the false character of beauty in the physical sense.

Beauty and human perfection cannot be confined in the physical alone. There is a lot of fiction, deception, and fantasy involved there. Neither can beauty be a matter of feeling good, or of being popular, etc. These ideas of beauty cannot satisfy the deepest longings of our soul.

Beauty has to be found in something more profound. It cannot be skin-deep alone. It has to correspond to a more complete set of criteria based on our true and ultimate dignity as persons and as children of God, created in the image and likeness of God. It has to satisfy our deepest expectations that definitely go beyond the material and the natural.

These days, we have to be wary of a thick, dominant culture that considers beauty almost exclusively in the physical sense only. We have to feel the need to transform that culture slowly but steadily. It’s an urgent task that has to be done if we want to avert a disaster much worse than a Yolanda or a magnitude-7 earthquake.

We have to recover the original and authentic nature of beauty, one that is organically linked to God and his commandments, and that goes far beyond satisfying merely material and natural categories.

We have to present in convincing terms, arguments and actuations that beauty should not be allowed to be hijacked by physical and natural criteria. It has to be understood as living out, for example, the beatitudes as articulated by Christ.

That’s where beauty really lies. It’s achieved when we  learn to love as Christ loves us, which means, loving even our enemies. That’s because that’s where our perfection is achieved.

For sure, this ideal of beauty is at the moment considered to be like a Rhodora, precious, rare, hidden. But it should be common in the future and in eternity.