The Soft Sorrow of Beautiful Things

Howling Wolf on Mountain Peak


We all have certain “creature comforts” which bring us exquisite peace and relaxation. Mine include closing the cover of a really good book for the last time, holding a steaming mug of fragrant hot tea, and listening to Claude Debussy’s Clair de lune.

Debussy was only 25 years old when he composed this piece in 1890, which was inspired by Paul Verlaine’s French poem by the same name. If you read Verlaine’s poem below and then listen to Debussy’s piano arrangement, you will see the artistic genius of this young composer’s work. He has taken something we can’t quite put into words… the fact that the most beautiful experiences in life bring joy, but a joy that is forever tinged with sorrow… and has set this concept to music.

Why is it that beautiful things bring us not only ecstasy, but also a soft feeling of sorrow? I believe it is because all of us, deep within our hearts, are longing for the day that Christ will return to claim His children, restore creation to its former beauty, and allow us to feel pure joy for the very first time.

“For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.”

Romans 8:22-23

But until that glorious day, we will watch and wait. And we will continue to experience the beauty – and sweet sorrow – that lies all around us.


Clair de lune – “Moonlight”

Paul Verlaine

Your soul is like a landscape fantasy,
Where masks and Bergamasks, in charming wise,
Strum lutes and dance, just a bit sad to be
Hidden beneath their fanciful disguise.

Singing in minor mode of life’s largesse
And all-victorious love, they yet seem quite
Reluctant to believe their happiness,
And their song mingles with the pale moonlight,

The calm, pale moonlight, whose sad beauty, beaming,
Sets the birds softly dreaming in the trees,
And makes the marbled fountains, gushing, streaming–
Slender jet-fountains–sob their ecstasies.


Clair de lune – “Moonlight”

Claude Debussy


8 thoughts on “The Soft Sorrow of Beautiful Things

    1. That’s great – I’m glad I could contribute to your peaceful morning!

      I have “Clair de lune” on my phone, and use it as an alarm clock. It’s just a nice, calm way to start off the day!


  1. I appreciate your observation as to why beauty will so often instill a sense of sorrow. The stark contrast between that which reflects God’s nature and that which distorts it is a constant reminder that this world, as it appears today, is not our eternal residence


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