Philosophy professor Dr. William Frank does not actively search for beauty, yet he finds it all around him in nature.
“What I find interesting are the things around me that most people don’t pay attention to. I can’t pay attention to everything, but I will find some,” Frank said.
He has a special love for the rocks he finds within nature and collects many that he displays on his desk and the shelf in his office.
“Lots of people do what I do. They walk along the beaches to find shells, but they aren’t serious collectors where they categorize and name them.”
He has discovered that the hill between SB Hall and Holy Trinity Seminary washes away regularly, uncovering interesting rocks. His rock collecting the closest he gets to actively searching for beauty.
“I don’t really search for it. It’s all very casual and contingent for me,” Frank said. “I mean, I do go out there twice or three times a year where there’s a rock pile, I go search for that, but that’s just because I want to clear my head.”
He said that he can spend entire afternoons looking for rocks during the few occasions he goes.
“The artists call it a ‘found beauty’. It’s the things you find, especially if it’s been weathered or worn. It’s beautiful to the eye and wonders to the mind.”
One of his favorites is a glossy rock that reminds him of a fishtail, sparkling with blues and purples.
In Rhode Island, waves would break off small bits from huge rocks in the ocean, many of which containing a multitude of layers, and he would collect them.
“You just go back in your imagination and imagine the compacting of the earth and the uprising of that earth, and we’re walking on it,” he said.
Several of his children have picked up on his love for natural beauty.
All of Frank’s children have gardens, and none are “rigorously lined or geometrical, but we put things in interesting places where they’ll grow well, but we don’t have long lines… And when you go there, it’s just really beautiful.”
Frank read a poem by Richard Wilbur called ‘Driftwood’ aloud, noting that the poet had found great beauty within the simple and weathered driftwood originating from the grand ships that have been the focus of others’ attention.
“He found a kind of noble beauty that others easily see in the great schooners, he sees in the driftwood which came from those great schooners. To have that kind of poetic imagination in regards to the things around you.”
Although it is not a natural wonder, Dr. Frank takes great interest in poetry.
“I like poetry a lot. I don’t understand it in the way they do in the literature departments, and I don’t care to understand it. I just find certain poets congenial,” he said.
“I find certain of their images will blow you over with their brilliance or their insight or their oddness or how they can capture that. Who can see it, and if you see it, who can say it?
It’s just a wonder of nature that poets catch themselves on and it comes through their writing. It’s that poetry of nature that a biologist or an astrologist would find when he’s not being overly practical about things,” he said.
He recounted a story of how his chemist friend smashed open molecules, expelling a beautiful and pure green light, and asked Frank to watch because he found it so beautiful.
“His work was used by engineers of one sort of another to make things out of chemical substances, but he wasn’t in it for that,” Frank recalled. “He was in it for those moments when he would see something beautiful in the structure of these things.”
“He never ceased to marvel at how precisely structured the chemistry is that makes possible the things that are so good like life and water.”
He also finds great beauty in the complexity of argument of his favorite philosophers: Scotus and Augustine.
“When you go to Thomas Aquinas, it’s so wonderfully orderly. It’s like going to an army dormitory. All of the beds are the same size … ,” Frank said.
“[Augustine and Scotus] follow the vagaries of the mind. The mind will make connections, then seize them, express them, order them. But those two aren’t so quick to order them. You think with them, and then you order it. The mind is unpredictable in its thoughtfulness.”
Frank summarized one of Plato’s dialogues in which Socrates was in the Agora and the topic of debate was “what is the beautiful life?” When he returned home, his friend made him sit and discuss with him the most important question: “what is beauty?”
“I’m sure I don’t have the story right, but you see that conversation wasn’t an argument. It had something searching about it. Augustine, as finely written as the Confessions is, you can’t avoid that searching quality that’s there,” Frank said.
To summarize his great love of beauty, especially of the natural, he said, “I guess I’m interested in the beauty of the ordinary. The extraordinary within the ordinary.”