The Lament Question

Can anyone tell me why we perceive things that are sad and mournful as being beautiful?

It seems such a very odd perception.


  1. ask it in the singular, and the answer is: because you’re a four.

    you’ll have me playing the funeral ikos next.

  2. the other answer is about possibility being revealed in limits.

  3. Its not just me though, and not just fours.

  4. I think because sorrow touches the core of the human condition – we are mortal but can perceive immortality. “He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” (Eccl. 3:11)

  5. I understand Aristotle talks about catharsis and various philosophers have followed up on that idea.

    Perhaps it arouses sadness both from the art itself but also from our own sources festering within and allows us to let go. We feel better for the letting go, the lessening of our own internal sadness, and so perceive the art as beautiful.

  6. RosemaryHannah says

    Kimberly was there before me. However, even I, a nine, can sometimes see the beauty in sad things. For me they do two things (may be more but two are most obvious). The first is the catharsis thing. The second is to make me less lonely. Look, here am I weeping, but all around me people sit in the same sorrow. It is not just my sorrow – I am not alone.

    I have long thought there is another answer, one I do not properly understand but I have (I think – and who am I to think it). Deep in God there is a huge well of sorrow. Unless we experience sorrow we cannot understand God. When we sorrow we tap into that well, and become closer to him.

    And being a nice cheerful nine, I will now add that I live in hope that having sorrowed with him, we will share also and even more fully in the joy which swallows the sorrow. Delete this last paragraph from your mind on reading, it will only spoil the joy of the sorrow.

  7. Elizabeth says

    Edgar Allan Poe said the most beautiful thing in the world is a beautiful, dead woman. Nice, eh?

  8. Ritualist Robert says

    Surely it’s because the concept of beauty is independent from concepts such as ‘sadness’ and ‘happiness’ – just as a G major chord might be loud or soft, but that volume has no effect on its G major-ness.

  9. Steve says

    I remember Augustine saying (don’t ask me where) that for a picture to be beautiful it requires dark colours as well as bright.

    There is also a hint of an answer in this poem by Edwin Muir:

    Yet still from Eden springs the root
    As clean as on the starting day.
    Time takes the foliage and the fruit
    And burns the archetypal leaf
    To shapes of terror and of grief
    Scattered along the winter way.
    But famished field and blackened tree
    Bear flowers in Eden never known.

    Blossoms of grief and charity
    Bloom in these darkened fields alone.
    What had Eden ever to say
    Of hope and faith and pity and love
    Until was buried all its day
    And memory found its treasure trove?
    Strange blessings never in Paradise
    Fall from these beclouded skies.

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