The Sublime in Tintern Abbey Essay

3280 Words 14 Pages
The Sublime in "Tintern Abbey"

Lifting from Longinus, Burke, and Kant -- authors whose works Wordsworth would have read or known, perhaps indirectly, through Coleridge -- I want to look at how our reading of this nuanced term is necessarily problematic and difficult to pin down. Is the sublime a stylistic convention of visual representation? Is it a literary trope? Is it a verbal ruse? Or is the sublime a conceptual category defying, or at least interrogating the validity of verbal representation? Though I look at select passages from Tintern Abbey, reading (or re-reading) the concept into the poem, I take my guided (or misguided) understanding of the sublime as a springboard and template for reading subsequent treatments in
…show more content…
How do we untie sublimity from its semantic and epistemological knot? Would doing this favor a different reading of some of these poets? I would begin, then, with Dionysius Longinus, generally considered to be one of the first thinkers to have thought about this issue in his tract Peri Hypsous, "On The Sublime." What he brings to the debate has certainly been the most lasting. We call this the 'rhetorical sublime'. Longinus posits as his principal lesson the idea of elevated style -- not only how one may achieve greatness of expression, but also how one may gain fame by convincing others of one's verbal and oratorical fortitude. Ultimately, his aim is to convince posterity to mimic great works. Under this decree, he lists the following sources of the sublime. First, one must formulate great thoughts or introduce grand concepts (by this he means lasting thoughts and affecting concepts); second, one must inspire, waking others from their intellectual latency by engaging them with their respective passions; the third consists of one's ability to speak figuratively, a stylistic rigor most effective when done inconspicuously, when evading our attention; the fourth source is nobility of diction and phrasing, such as the uses of tropes; and lastly, the sublime is inherent in the affective arrangement of language, in the tendency to unifying disparate parts into coherent wholes. These are not mutually exclusive.
Open Document