The Clever Quill – READ. LEARN. INSPIRE.

An Educated Mind ~ Come Along On My Quest to Finish 1350 Great Works

Day 9 – Beauty’s True Colors

Posted by Amanda Jane on April 23, 2015

Selected Readings Goal: 1350 | Started: 1 | Finished: 0 | Remaining: 1350

Currently Reading: The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

Today’s Reading: The Squire’s Prologue, The Squire’s Tale, The Words of The Franklin, The Franklin’s Prologue | Pages: 443-462

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Beautiful rendition of “Belle” by Mike Kupka

Not long ago I had an experience which taught me about judging beauty.  I was walking down a mountain path and saw a shimmer in the distance, the sun reflecting off a lovely little pond in a quaint bucolic setting.  I felt a little shiver of delight at having discovered such a dainty pool in the middle of nowhere.  I wanted to see it better, to observe it closely.

As I neared the pond, it became clear that it wasn’t what I thought it was.  Instead of a little pond, it turned out to be a large puddle leftover from a recent rain which campers from nearby campsites defecated in, toilets not being present in the middle of the woods.

I learned then that beauty can be deceiving.  I think it works the other way as well, like in those pictures you look at that seem dizzying and grotesque, but that once you press your nose up to it for a bit and pull back a bit, you can see with more clarity, and find the beauty amidst the chaos.

Likewise, people soon bemoan the folly of trusting the symmetry of a graceful visage and deeming it beautiful.  We find that true beauty indeed comes from within.

Chaucer’s heroines are always fair of face, as famous heroines are wont to be.  Canace, in The Squire’s Tale, is no different.  The Squire describes her gracefulness poetically:

“…up rose lovely Canace to dress, /as ruddy and bright as is the warm young sun…

…And forth she sauntered at an easy pace,/Arrayed according to the season sweet,

Lightly, to play and walk on maiden feet;” (453).

On the day of her walk, Canace comes upon a falcon in throes of agony.  The falcon is bloody, swooning, and shrieking.  Canace owned a magic ring that allowed her to understand the language of animals and be understood by them, so she asked the falcon what was wrong with her and offers to help in whatever way she can to ease her pain. The falcon sees Canace has compassion and empathy for her pain, so she tells Canace her story so that perhaps others may be instructed by it.

She tells her tale of meeting a tercelet (male peregrine falcon) and how he seemed to be everything that was good and true.  She describes him thus, in great foreshadowing style:

[He] seemed the well of every nobleness;/ Though he was full of treason and falseness,

It was so hidden under humble bearing,/And under hues of truth which he was wearing,

And under kindness, never used in vain,/ That no one could have dreamed that he could feign,

So deeply ingrained were his colours dyed/ But just as serpent under flower will hide

Until he sees the time has come to bite,/Just so this god of love, this hypocrite

With false humility for ever served/And seemed a wooer who the rites observed

That so become the gentleness of love (456).

In short, this tercelet won her love, swearing to be true.  One day a kite flies by and, because “men love, and naturally, newfangledness,” he changed his mind about the falcon that now drips blood on the tree.  She describes how he betrayed their love:

“So are they all newfangled of their meat,/And love all novelties of their own kind;

Nor nobleness of blood may ever bind…Though he was gently born, and fresh and gay,

And handsome, and well-mannered, aye and free,/He saw a kite fly, and it proved a she,

And suddenly he loved this she-kite so/That all his love for me did quickly go,

And all his love turned falsehood in this wise;/Thus has this kite my love in her service” (459).

What was Canace’s response to this?  This is what she did:

“…Canace home bore her in her lap,/And softly her in poultices did wrap

Where she with her own beak had hurt herself./Now Canace dug herbs more rich than pelf

Out of the ground, and made up ointments new/Of precious herbs, all beautiful of hue,

Wherewith to heal this hawk; from day to night/She nursed her carefully with all her might” (460).

Canace’s compassion and gentleness with this pitiable creature demonstrate a measure of her true goodness and inner beauty, far beyond the gracefulness of her person, and only add to her charms and prove that she is beautiful through and through.

By contrast, the tercelet, whose fickle heart has brought the falcon to the depths of despair, is also thought beautiful and noble, his dyed plumage feigning an ingrained nobility.  But when the test of his beauty comes about in the form of a test of loyalty, he shows his beauty was superficial and selfish.

So what is the difference?  One had real beauty, and the other, only the appearance of it.  There is a quote from La Rochefoucauld that I muse over from time to time that says,

“There is no disguise which can hide love for long where it exists, or simulate it where it does not.”

I would add to that wisdom my own version:

There is no disguise which can hide real inner beauty for long where it exists, or simulate it where it does not.

How many of us have not been fooled by someone who turned out to be wholly different than what we first believed him or her to be?  We can empathize with the falcon’s pain at the deception.  She who had given her loyalty and every trust to this tercelet, even bending her will to his in righteousness, defending him, standing with him through all, was betrayed and made to feel like a trusting fool for having believed he had the beauty of a character of integrity.

True beauty rules the life of the truly beautiful, in their grace, their kindness, their sweetness, their patience, their temperance, their humility– It is not something that can be feigned for long because people will see through the façade the moment their guard is let down.  True beauty is inspiring–refreshing–and gives those of us who wish to develop that height of character something to aspire to.  Beauty is not always seen with the eye, but rather, can discerned with the heart.

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