June 15, 2018

     In his poem, “The Tyger,” William Blake writes: “What immortal hand or eye/Could frame thy fearful symmetry?” The impact of that unexpected adjective, fearful, modifying a noun that suggests a pleasing, harmonious quality, symmetry, strikes me every time I read the poem. It informs my own contrary reaction to some of nature’s most perfect forms, not least because I agree with Francis Bacon that “There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in its proportions.”

     I marvel at the structure of honeycombs, sunflowers, the undersides of mushrooms, at the extravagant beauty of a peacock feather. At the same time, however, I am filled with unease, a mild repulsion. In the case of the termite, distinguished from a flying ant by the equal size of its wings, straight antennae, and uniform body width, my aversion to its symmetry is readily understood. In the other instances mentioned, though, I have difficulty reconciling how s...

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