What Makes a Mountain Beautiful?

Putôrugtoq near Tasermiut

Books are essential items for expeditions. I would like to say I remember all the books I read on the expedition but I don’t. Six books are mentioned in my diary. One, “The Poetry and Prose of Gerard Manley Hopkins” was lent to me by John (I think). Gerard Manley Hopkins was a nineteenth century Jesuit poet and the few verses of his that I have read are very seriously religious and uninspiring. However some of his prose interested me. “On The Origin of Beauty: a Platonic Dialogue” being one. I do not recall all the dialogue but I do remember that it began by examining whether a six-leafed chestnut tree fan was more beautiful than a seven-leafed fan. The seven-leafed fan was seen to be more handsome even though it was less symmetrical than the six-leafed. So was beauty some complex mix of symmetry and asymmetry or in more general terms regularity and irregularity? Perhaps. The subsequent long dialogue emphasized how important the composition of the object under consideration was and also stressed that the beauty of an object is related to the balancing of ‘masses’ within the object. The sense of beauty it seems involves a comparison.

We young male expedition members had oft discussed beauty but not in a Platonic dialogue! Nevertheless we were in the wilderness with little entertainment, so it is not surprising that armed with ideas gleaned from this essay, some of us entered into a dialogue on what makes a mountain beautiful. Unfortunately (some might say fortunately) my diary offers little detail on what was said. We agreed that a mountain’s beauty was not simply in the “eye of the beholder”, but what else was uttered is lost in the mist of time. This was the only time such a discussion occurred. We were more intent on challenging ourselves on the mountains than analysing why they were beautiful.

Now that we are old and retired we do have time for a long Platonic dialogue. Anyone interested?

Just kidding!



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