The Sublime in Mont Blanc

Percy Shelley’s writing reflects Edmund Burke’s definition of the sublime in a few ways. A common theme of the poem is the infinite, eternal aspects of nature. In line 9, Shelley wrote, “Where waterfalls around it leap for ever, / Where woods and winds contend, and a vast river / Over its rocks ceaselessly bursts and raves.” He went on to write of winds that “come and ever came” in line 22. Edmund Burke does not provide much explanation other than saying that Infinity fills the mind “with a sort of delightful horror” which he also shares is the “truest test of the sublime.” Much of the writing in Mont Blanc reflects this infinite and vast idea of nature. “The fields, the lakes, the forests, and the streams, / Ocean, and all the living things that dwell (84).” Shelley’s writing exaggerates this notion that nature is eternal and infinite, but man is finite; man cannot comprehend infinity, but nature is and always will be infinity.

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2 thoughts on “The Sublime in Mont Blanc

  1. I enjoyed reading your blog post. I agree with your claim that the poem focuses heavily on the infinite, it seems to be overflowing with that idea. However, you may want to use more analysis in looking at this poem as a large majority of your post is quotes. Try to go in deep and take a step further and analyze what the “truest test of the sublime” means. On another note, your analysis on the infinate itself pursuaded me to see the same thing in the poem, but you could also have commented on other parts that show up frequently as the theme of nature’s power. The line “Frost and the Sun in scorn of mortal power,” exemplifies this as does much of the fourth section. All things considered I enjoyed reading it.

  2. Another aspect of the sublime that both Percy Shelley and Burke write of is the vagueness of nature, which can be coupled with the infinity and vastness of nature that you brought up. In lines 26 and 27, Shelley writes, “Of the ethereal waterfall, whose veil Robes some unsculptured image; the strange sleep.” The description of “unsculptured” rocks and “strange sleep” give a sense of not only vast natural terror, but vague terror as well, a danger unknown. Burke writes, “To make any thing very terrible, obscurity seems in general to be necessary.” Along with the examples of the overwhelming size and eternity of nature that you spoke of, both Shelley and Burke agree that the vagueness of nature is a necessary ingredient in achieving the sublime.
    I was very interested in your last comment on how man cannot comprehend infinity, but that nature will always be infinite. I agree that this is what Percy and Burke both bring forth from their writings. Burke writes, “Hence arises the great power of the sublime, that, far from being produced by them, it anticipates our reasonings, and hurries us on by an irresistible force.” By this, he could be introducing us to the fact that we cannot comprehend the sublime without first experiencing it. Shelley then takes that introduction and expands upon it by using the example of nature, in lines 81-83, “not understood By all; but which the wise and great and good Interpret, or make felt, or deeply feel.” I believe in this, he is saying that we cannot understand the terror and greatness of nature by intellect alone, but that through experiencing the sublime, we can understand, or at least see a glimpse, of it.

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