Essay on The Sublime in Tintern Abbey

Essay on The Sublime in Tintern Abbey

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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 other Romantics.*

Situated prior to and directly within this conceptual fabric is the contentious debate taking place between deism and pantheism. Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey" seems to adopt or at least imply a pantheistic stance. What does the speaker mean in declaring "we see into the life of things" (50)? And what is he referring to when he notes that there is "a motion and a spirit that impels / All thinking things" (101-102)? I use this preliminary sample as a starting point to my cursory talk about the sublime. I don't attempt to decipher the full repercussions of the divine in Wordsworth, nor do I wish to provoke with the idea that the sublime is in no way rooted in religion; instead, I want to look at whether this idea can be subverted or at least destabilized and replaced with a more revolutionary turn, more inward and more existential, indeed one more suggestively rooted in subjectivity. In other words, the sublime -- as an aesthetic or philosophical concept -- plays a crucial role ...


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...the Sublime and Beautiful. The Sublime: a reader in British eighteenth-century aesthetic theory. Ed. Andrew Ashfield and Peter de Bolla. Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Judgment. Trans. J. H. Bernard. Hafner Press, 1951.

Longinus. On the Sublime. Classical Literary Criticism. Trans. T. S. Dorsch. Penguin Books, 1965.

Wordsworth, William. "Tintern Abbey." Romanticism, 1st ed. Ed. Duncan Wu. Oxford: Blackwell, 1994. 240-244.

----"Prospectus to 'The Recluse'." Romanticism. 1st ed. Ed. Duncan Wu. Oxford: Blackwell, 1994. 246-248.

---- "TheThirteen-Book Prelude." Romanticism. 1st ed. Ed. Duncan Wu. Oxford: Blackwell, 1994. 284-474.

---- "The Sublime and the Beautiful." The Prose Works of William Wordsworth, Vol. II. Ed. W. J. B. Owen and Jane Worthington Smyser. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974. 349-360.

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