Youth and the Sublime in Percy Shelley’s “Mont Blanc”

A sublime object or place is one that inspires feelings of awe in those who view them. In his 1816 poem “Mont Blanc,” Percy Bysshe Shelley uses sublime, lofty language to describe the eponymous mountain and its surroundings. He speaks of the mountain as an ancient, foreboding place where extraordinary things once happened: “Is this the scene / Where the old Earthquake-daemon taught her young / Ruin? Were these their toys?” When he is in its presence, “I seem as in a trance sublime and strange / To muse on my own separate fantasy.” He makes the mountain sound more like an experience than a physical place.

Shelley was twenty-four when he wrote this poem, still quite young. Although the poem is not explicitly about youth, nor does it directly refer to youth, Shelley’s ideas on youth can possibly be inferred from his descriptions of the scenery. He seems to view nature as a permanent thing: “The race / Of man flies far in dread; his work and dwelling / Vanish, like smoke before the tempest’s stream, / And their place is not known.” Yet nature remains, too powerful to be replaced. When the concept of youth is applied to this work, we can possibly infer that Shelley saw youth as an experience that is always looming over humanity. Successive generations may leave youth behind, but the concept of youth is still present in society.

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One thought on “Youth and the Sublime in Percy Shelley’s “Mont Blanc”

  1. I like your observation that the mountain is more an experience than a physical place. Why would a person in his or her youth worry so much about annihilation and not being remembered, as seem to be implied by the quotations you use?

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