Essay On The Sublime By Edmund Burke

Decent Essays
While Edmund Burke posits the sublime as a passive feeling elicited in the viewer in the presence of the superior powers of nature, William Wordsworth challenges this passivity by demonstrating the role of viewer participation and active imagination in the creation of the sublime experience, thereby reversing the power dynamic between man and nature, of which man is now in control.

This essay examines the concept of viewer participation (or lack thereof) and by extension, the power dynamics between man and nature through Burke and Wordsworth’s work. Firstly, I will demonstrate Burke’s argument that the sublime is a passive feeling of the viewer through his emphasis on the sense of ‘sight’ in his discussion of the sublime as a way
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Burke’s examination of all seven qualities of the sublime relates to sight: terror, power, vastness, infinity, succession and uniformity relates to what can be seen, while obscurity relates to what cannot be seen. In addition to the content of his writing, Burke’s use of language and diction, for example, with words and phrases like “[l]ook” (Burke 5) and “[w]ithout all doubt” (3) (which implies clarity) also reinforces the element of ‘sight’ in his text. For Burke, the power of the sublime object or landscape lies in its ability to overwhelm the viewer’s mental faculties and impose upon them feelings of the sublime. Here, the viewer is positioned as a subject upon which the sublime landscape impresses its image and sublimity, rather than one that is actively participating in the creation of this sublime experience. This passivity is highlighted by Burke who states that the sublime requires some form of mediation of “distance” (4) and remoteness. Following the explication of the observer’s passive role in the sublime experience, this essay will move on to affirm the subordinate…show more content…
By analysing the structure (shift from external to internal landscape), language (tenses, pronoun), and presentation of the experience of seeing the daffodils, I seek to demonstrate that feelings of the sublime are only evoked when the narrator’s imagination participates in the scene he has internalized in his memory. While the first three stanzas exemplify a merely physical stimulus and response mechanism to nature, the last stanza shows how active poetic imagination enables man to recreate and amplify emotions encountered, thus resulting in feelings of the sublime. Why does the observer not recognise the ‘wealth’ the scene brings in that moment? How does poetic imagination connect the physical eye and the inner eye to allow for sublime, transcendental experience? Hess argues that the poem “depend[s] for [its] power on the narrator’s ability to fix a single, discrete, visually defined moment of experience in his mind, to which he can later return in acts of private memory and imagination” (298). An example of the recapturing of emotions is seen where “gay” (I. 15) is recaptured as “pleasure” (I. 23) at the end. Active imagination, which draws inspiration from memory of the initial encounter, is now a permanent possession that
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