“Mont Blanc” by Percy Bysshe Shelley

In his poem “Mont Blanc”, Shelley is in awe of the nature surrounding him. He describes numerous aspects of nature, particularly Mont Blanc, as vast and imposing. According to Burke, the portrayal of nature as large, deep, or incomprehensible lends a sense of danger, and a major proponent of the sublime is that it should strike terror into the observer’s soul. The “broad vales” and “unfathomable deeps” (778) show just how small and insignificant human existence is in comparison to the rest of the natural world, and, for many people, coming face to face with the brevity and triviality of life is astonishing and terrifying. Similarly, the vastness and incomprehensibility of the “everlasting universe of things” (776) are illustrated to contrast the human mind, which is small and limited in the grand scheme of things. However, Shelley believes that humility before the sublimity of nature is beneficial to all parties involved; the “primaeval mountains / Teach the adverting mind”(778-79) and expand mankind’s understanding. On the other hand, although nature is much more powerful and lasting than mankind, nature still needs humans to observe its majesty, as evinced by the lines “And what were thou, and earth, and stars, and sea, / If to the human mind’s imaginings / Silence and solitude were vacancy?” (780). If no one is able to admire the sublimity of nature, can it still even be considered sublime? Shelley’s emphasis on the overwhelming grandeur of nature proves that we are not the masters of the natural world–as many industrialists of the time would choose to believe–but by living with nature instead of subjugating it, we can still play an important role in making it divine.
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One thought on ““Mont Blanc” by Percy Bysshe Shelley

  1. I totally agree with you on the fact that the Mont Blanc is described as something vast and imposing, and therefore makes the observer feel terror because it is sublime. We could also add that this “great Mountain” v.80 is described as something inaccessible and therefore as something more powerful and horrifying, even mysterious (unearthly, mysterious p.778). We would then talk about Privation which are “Solitude and Silence” since it is often repeated in Mont Blanc, especially p.778 “serene, silent” and “Remote, serene and inaccessible” but also p.779 “Winds contend / Silently there, and heap the snow with breath / Rapid and strong, but silently!”. What also makes Mont Blanc something big is that he is personifying Nature, and as you said, makes the human’s mind smaller than it. We can use the previous quote but also p.777 “The chainless winds still come and ever came / To drink their odors, and their mighty swinging” so we have the power of Nature, but also the use of synesthesia, maybe to show how it is disturbing to be in front of such a landscape. So, I wouldn’t say that he is in awe of the nature, but maybe that nature operates a kind of astonishment in which, according to Burke, “all emotions are suspended with some degree of horror”, so here is the passion caused by the Sublime ; p.777 “Dizzy Ravine! and when I gaze on thee / I seem as in a trance sublime and strange” as if he was hypnotized and absorbed, even lost in it.

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