In Cynthia Rylant’s poem, “God Went to Beauty School” (2013), there is a surface meaning that it is important to appreciate the little things in life, and not to take everything so seriously. This is not to say that the poem is contrary to God, but it is more to say that even God takes the time out to notice and appreciate things as simple as a painted nail. This is to say that humans can improve themselves, and that God does not disagree.
The poet uses techniques, such as the description of the way that God thinks that humans would not believe that he had opened up a nail salon, in order to get across the idea that God is in everything. There is nothing too trivial that God does not care about it. However, when the poet compares the hand to a delicate bird: “and admire those delicate / bones just above the knuckles, / delicate as birds’ wings…” (Rylant, 21-23). In this way, God is at the beauty salon in order to glorify the human. At this point, the poem becomes allegorical for a church. The beauty salon is allegorical to a church because God is at the beauty salon worshipping his creations in much the same way that humans are supposed to go to church and worship him.
The way that the poet uses enjambment throughout the poem stresses the differences and similarities between God and humans. Enjambment makes it clear to the reader that God is personified in a human capacity; just as humans are glorifying themselves by adding on to his perfect creation, their own bodies and appearances. In lines 7-8, God is afraid: “he was afraid to call it / Nails by God” (Rylant). The experience of the fear of being judged is one which humans associate with God judging us; not the other way around.
The message in this poem is that God is willing to accept that humans adorn his perfection, and he admires the use of free will, i.e., a painted nail. However, at the same time, there is a sadness and fear symbolized in the lines about God’s fear of humans and our judgment. Perhaps we do not judge Him correctly; one that means that we set God aside for Sundays and church, but do not incorporate Him daily. Therefore, God will go to a salon, but humans do not go to church (at least not often enough). However, God should be incorporated daily, for the end of the poem creates an allegory that the choice to paint ones nails any color is the exercise of free will; to which God says “perfect”:
He could paint all the nails
any color He wanted,
and mean it. (Rylant, 26-30)
This closing part of the poem means that God can sincerely appreciate the multitude of human perspectives. The base creation of the beautiful hand is God’s, and the color of the nail in this case is God’s; however, overall the color of a painted nail is up to the individual. This makes the poem’s surface meaning and the author’s intention evident: Humans need to go to church and appreciate God as much as He appreciates us.
- Rylant, Cynthia. “God Went to Beauty School.” Poets.org, 2003, www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/god-went-beauty-school. Accessed 23 Jan. 2018.