Saturday, October 23, 2010
The word sublime, has many meanings both specialized and generalized. Blake uses the term in a variety of ways and enhances the meaning by the usage he puts it to.
Here are a few of the definitions:
>to cause to pass directly from the solid to the vapor state
>to elevate or exalt especially in dignity or honor
>to convert into something of higher worth
>tending to inspire awe or terror.
A related word with a related meaning is subliminal: taking place below the threshold of sensory perception or outside the range of conscious awareness.
Roger R. Easson in his chapter of Blake's Sublime Allegory explains sublime in the context of its chemical or alchemical meaning:
"Blake defines sublime allegory, in the famous Butts letter of 6 July 1803, as 'Allegory addressed to the Intellectual powers, while it is altogether hidden from the Corporeal understanding...' (Letters, p. 69 ). Discussing the same idea of poetry, Blake puts it more chemically: 'What is it sets Homer, Virgil & Milton in so high a rank of art? Why is the Bible more entertaining than any other book? Is it not because they are addressed to the Imagination, which is Spiritual Sensation, & but mediately to the Understanding or reason?...Consider what Lord Bacon says: 'Sense sends over to Imagination before Reason have Judged, & Reason send over to Imagination before the Decree can be acted'' (Letters, p. 30 ). In chemistry the verb 'sublime' means that a substance may pass from solid to gas without passing into the intermediate liquid state. So too is Blake using the word. Sublime allegory is poetry that speaks to the intellectual powers without penetrating the intermediate stage of the corporeal understanding. It is poetry that is, quite literally, beyond reason. Consequently, it is best suited for dethroning reason within the reader who does not understand that the dominance of reason in his own mind prevents his entering the life of eternity."
Letter 27, [To Thomas Butts] (E 729)
Felpham July 6. 1803
"...Thus I hope that all our three years trouble Ends in
Good Luck at last & shall be forgot by my affections & only
rememberd by my Understanding to be a Memento in time to come &
to speak to future generations by a Sublime Allegory which is now
perfectly completed into a Grand Poem[.] I may praise it since I
dare not pretend to be any other than the Secretary the Authors
are in Eternity I consider it as the Grandest Poem that This
World Contains. Allegory addressd to the Intellectual powers
while it is altogether hidden from the Corporeal Understanding is
My Definition of the Most Sublime Poetry."
More quotes of Blake's use of Sublime:
MHH, Plate 7, (E 35)
"The most sublime act is to set another before you."
MHH, Plate 10, (E 37)
"The head Sublime, the heart Pathos, the genitals Beauty, the
hands & feet Proportion."
Descriptive Catalogue, Page 42, (E 543)
"The Strong man represents the human sublime. The Beautiful
man represents the human pathetic, which was in the wars of Eden
divided into male and female. The Ugly man represents the human
Four Zoas, Page 5, (E 302)
"Tharmas groand among his Clouds
Weeping, then bending from his Clouds he stoopd his innocent head
And stretching out his holy hand in the vast Deep sublime
Turnd round the circle of Destiny with tears & bitter sighs"
Four Zoas, PAGE 98 , (E 370)
"Then I can sigh forth on the winds of Golgonooza piteous forms
That vanish again into my bosom but if thou my Los
Wilt in sweet moderated fury. fabricate forms sublime
Such as the piteous spectres may assimilate themselves into
They shall be ransoms for our Souls that we may live
So Enitharmon spoke & Los his hands divine inspired began
To modulate his fires studious the loud roaring flames"
Descriptive Catalogue, Page 2, (E 531)
"The Greek Muses are daughters of Mnemosyne, or Memory, and not of
Inspiration or Imagination, therefore not authors of such sublime
Jerusalem, Plate 1,(E 144)
"There is a Void, outside of Existence, which if enterd into
Englobes itself & becomes a Womb, such was Albions Couch
A pleasant Shadow of Repose calld Albions lovely Land
His Sublime & Pathos become Two Rocks fixd in the Earth
His Reason his Spectrous Power, covers them above
Jerusalem his Emanation is a Stone laying beneath"
Jerusalem, Plate 34, (E 180)
"I see thee awful Parent Land in light, behold I see!
Verulam! Canterbury! venerable parent of men,
Generous immortal Guardian golden clad! for Cities
Are Men, fathers of multitudes, and Rivers & Mount[a]ins
Are also Men; every thing is Human, mighty! sublime!
In every bosom a Universe expands, as wings
Let down at will around, and call'd the Universal Tent."
To locate all 58 mentions of sublime, go to the blog sidebar, page down to LINKS TO ONLINE BLAKE, click on Concordance to Complete Works.
These are characteristics which you may note as being associated with sublime in Blake:
BELOW LEVEL OF THE CONSCIOUS,
ASSOCIATED WITH HUMAN IMAGINATION,
PARTAKING OF IDENTITY,
ELEVATED OR AWE-INSPIRING