IS THERE A MODERN SUBLIME?

sublime poem.png

When’s the last time a sublime poem was published?

Can modernity be sublime?  Or is the modern, by definition, anti-sublime?

Here’s 13 top Sublime Poems in English in the modern era:

1. Paradise Lost  –Milton
2. Macbeth –Shakespeare
3. Mount Blanc –Shelley
4. Manfred  –Byron
5. Beachy Head  –Charlotte Smith
6. Orion  –Richard Horne
7. Al Aaraaf  –Poe
8. Aurora Leigh  –Barrett Browning
9. Kubla Khan  –Coleridge
10. Elegaic Stanzas Suggested by a Picture of Peele Castle  –Wordsworth
11. The Tyger  –Blake
12. God’s Grandeur  –Hopkins
13. Invictus  –William Henley

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22 Comments

  1. September 20, 2010 at 3:09 pm

    While I appreciate the final lines (“I am the master of my fate/The Captain of my soul”) as much as the next person… but “Invictus?” Really? I know it was just in a movie, an all… but do we really think it’s a very good poem? Much less a sublime one?

    I’m sure plenty of folks will jump in to quibble over what was left out, and certainly, list building is a personal exercise… but “Invcitus” – really?

    • thomasbrady said,

      September 21, 2010 at 1:28 am

      coffee,

      Most poems of this type finally drift too close to elegy—the truly sublime can have no share of the mournful; “Invictus” is, I confess, almost a parody of the genre, but for that very reason demonstrates the very quality—in its pure form.

      tom

  2. thesocratesofsnails said,

    September 20, 2010 at 10:51 pm

    For three years, out of key with his time,
    He strove to resuscitate the dead art
    Of poetry; to maintain “the sublime”
    In the old scene. Wrong from the start–

    I think it may be the second one.

    • thomasbrady said,

      September 21, 2010 at 12:34 pm

      Pound was not sublime. The French were too self-conscious to be sublime, and Pound slavishly aped the French.

      • thesocratesofsnails said,

        September 21, 2010 at 5:12 pm

        There are parts of the Pisian Cantos that are close. “Pull down thy vanity” and such. At least I thought so.

      • Noochness said,

        September 21, 2010 at 6:01 pm

        I have an LP of Pound reading some Cantos,
        And though I’m not an expert on poetry dissecting,
        The way the old man reads, “Pull down thy vanity,
        Pull down” — well, it’s really quite affecting.

      • Noochinator said,

        September 21, 2010 at 11:38 pm

  3. Noochinator said,

    September 21, 2010 at 11:19 am

    Invictus

    William Henley

    Out of the night that covers me,
    Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
    I thank whatever gods may be
    For my unconquerable soul.

    In the fell clutch of circumstance
    I have not winced nor cried aloud.
    Under the bludgeonings of chance
    My head is bloody, but unbowed.

    Beyond this place of wrath and tears
    Looms but the Horror of the shade,
    And yet the menace of the years
    Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

    It matters not how strait the gate,
    How charged with punishments the scroll,
    I am the master of my fate:
    I am the captain of my soul.

  4. September 21, 2010 at 5:30 pm

    I’m going to join Socrates of Snails in standing up for Pound.

    If we are using sublime to refer to some sort of anachronistic idea of poetic holiness that hasn’t had much relevant meaning since the Romantic poets… then no, neither Pound nor anyone not engaging in a sort of pre-Raphaelite new formalism is ever going to be considered sublime.

    But if we take away the almost religious undertones from sublime and take it to mean “wonderful and moving,” then yes, Pound has written some sublime lines.

    • thomasbrady said,

      September 23, 2010 at 1:23 am

      The sublime is not anachronistic; it’s timeless.

      And if we’re going to talk anachronistic…pull down THY?? vanity?

      What is it with Pound-worship? The guy was a jack-boot con-man. Pound-worship boggles…I’ll never understand it…

      • Noochness said,

        September 23, 2010 at 12:51 pm

        The key to becoming well-lov’d
        Is to live to a ripe old age.
        Everyone forgets the murd’rous Young Turk
        When faced with the cuddly old sage.

      • thesocratesofsnails said,

        September 23, 2010 at 4:17 pm

        It’s not worshiping Pound. He was in an a cage in Pisa and the only book he had was the King James Bible, so he wrote like the Bible. Not all of his stuff is good, but some of it is. Categorically rejecting him and saying that those who think anything he wrote is good are worshiping him seems a little ridiculous.

        And saying “the sublime” cannot be anachronistic is hogwash. Spenser was writing anachronistically for his own time, and there are definitely parts of The Faerie Queen that are sublime (if such a thing exists).

        I don’t think you could call him a con-man either. A con-man generally tells you what you want to hear. He didn’t seem to have the presence of mind to try to trick people.

      • thomasbrady said,

        September 23, 2010 at 9:37 pm

        socratesof snails,

        I can’t control myself when Pound is mentioned. Sorry.

        Was Pound an innocent? A naif? He certainly was a flake and his erudition is largely fake; he was supposedly “generous,” though I have my doubts that it was really “generosity.” Does anyone really know who he is?

        I consider him so heinous, that anyone who finds him lovable, even in parts, seems to be worshiping him, in my eyes.

        The issue of anachronism is an interesting one. I recently heard that Keats was intentionally so, for effect, and now, so far removed from him, we don’t notice it.

        I am convinced that genius will shine through all anachronism; perhaps I’m naive. Perhaps we are stuck in our day.

        Tom

  5. September 22, 2010 at 6:08 pm

    And Noochinator – thank you so much for putting me onto that clip of Pound reading.

    Yes – sublime!

    • Noochinator said,

      September 23, 2010 at 5:42 pm

      You’re welcome, il est mon plaisir!
      And thanks for being a Scarrieteer!

  6. Marcus Bales said,

    September 22, 2010 at 7:13 pm

    Out of the suit that covered me,
    Fashionably out of style,
    I thank whatever gods may be
    That you restrain all hint of smile.

    In the fell clutch of appetite
    I have not winced nor cried aloud.
    Although I’ve used my mouth all right,
    When over heaping plates it’s bowed.

    The waist that once was thirty-four,
    The chest I bragged was fifty-three,
    Are not those numbers any more —
    The mirror does not look like me.

    It matters not to you how fat,
    How much my chest has gone to waist —
    I’m very grateful you’re like that:
    I’m very grateful we’re embraced.

  7. Aaron Asphar said,

    September 24, 2010 at 9:58 pm

    I think the sublime is best distinguished from the aesthetic experience. The sublime properly denotes an existential experience of a sensuous totality that cannot be mastered conceptually – hence Kant, Shopehauer, Hegel, Wagner, Nietzsche, Adorno and others saw it in sensuously dynamic contexts – confrontations with spectacular nature, music or attick tragedy or theatre and so forth. The aesthetic experience subsumes the ego for a moment but it doesn’t shatter the ego so you have that sublime interplay between the intellect and a sensuous totality.

    • thomasbrady said,

      September 25, 2010 at 1:28 pm

      Aaron,

      The sublime, by its very nature, is a goal, or an ideal, and one without irony. To exalt is perhaps the most human desire there is; the aesthetic question becomes what do you exalt, and how do you exalt it, and it is an aesthetic question precisely because otherwise it becomes a mere tribal or imperial one.

      The conceptual v. sensual issue would seem to me precisely that which should be an aesthetic problem, whether or not the sensual or the conceptual finally triumphs.

      Tom

  8. Aaron Asphar said,

    September 25, 2010 at 9:53 pm

    I missed this one – you suggest the submlime is an object orientation; I think we’re talking about two different things.The sublime I refer to is the obliteration of the monadic ego (or in Kants language the ‘free play’ of the intellect).

    “The sublime, by its very nature, is a goal, or an ideal” – this sounds much more like Apollonian beauty to me.

    “the aesthetic question becomes what do you exalt, and how do you exalt it”

    This sounds like an intellectual question to me – not something that could possibly co-exist immediately with the sublime.

    Mind you all this may just be us using irreconcilable conceptual frameworks. I’m drawing on the the philosophical tradition but I’m aware that there is a tradition of the sublime in aesthetic and cultural work I’ve not read.

  9. thomasbrady said,

    September 26, 2010 at 2:08 pm

    Aaron,

    “but I’m aware that there is a tradition of the sublime in aesthetic and cultural work I’ve not read”

    To admit that is honest these days, and I congratulate you. In the atmosphere of pedantry created by TS Eliot and his New Critical minions, there is always a great deal to read, since the text is all.

    I choose, however, to riff on the Sublime based on what the word actually means, using myself as the measure. Obviously one needs to have read Shelley and Milton, one needs to read; but to give up all authority to the pedants is ridiculous.

    In the atmosphere of pedantry, no plain, original, common-sense thought is allowed; commentary is anxious to appear well-read, and the more obscure references, the better, and the more second and third-hand sources, the better. In the atmosphere created by ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent,’ no one dares to admit they haven’t read something.

    Not that Eliot was not fully aware of the problem, and in despair about it all:

    “The vast accumulations of knowledge—or at least of information—deposited by the nineteenth century have been responsible for an equally vast ignorance. When there is so much to be known, when there are so many fields of knowledge in which the same words are used with different meanings, when every one knows a little about a great many things, it becomes increasingly difficult for anyone to know whether he knows what he is talking about or not. And when we do not know, or when we do not know enough, we tend always to substitute emotions for thoughts.” —“The Perfect Critic” TS Eliot

    Note the 19th century-bashing and the hatred of emotion; while what Eliot says is very wise, Old Possum could never stop hating those emotional Romantics—who actually thought about emotions and thoughts a little more than Eliot would admit.

    Eliot was far too smart a man to hate the Romantics. But he did. The modernists did and the New Critics did. But the New Critics ended up with Robert Lowell and the Confessionalists—who were a thousand times more emotionally psychotic than the “Romantics” which the New Critics tried so hard to hate. Well, this is what happens to pedantry, eventually. It becomes an embarrassment to itself.

    Eliot was smart and he knew, and he even predicted what would happen, right in “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” that great pedantic program:

    “I am alive to a usual objection to what is clearly part of my programme for the meteir of poetry. The objection is that the doctrine requires a ridiculous amount of erudition (pedantry), a claim which can be rejected by appeal to the lives of poets in any pantheon. It will even be affirmed that much learning deadens or perverts poetic sensibility. *** Shakespeare acquired more essential history from Plutarch than most men could from the whole British Museum.”

    Precisely, Mr. Eliot.

    And so, Aaron, be not afraid to say as simply as possible just what you feel, re: the sublime.

    Tom

  10. David said,

    December 27, 2011 at 2:56 am

    Tom, what is your opinion of the “terrible sonnets” of Gerard Manley Hopkins, and of Hopkins’ poetry in general?

  11. thomasbrady said,

    December 27, 2011 at 4:19 am

    David,

    I’m not a big fan of Hopkins; I think his ‘sprung rhythm’ idea is stupid—largely vain attempts to ‘jazz up’ meter which made him interesting to the moderns, who turned their backs on Edgar Poe’s “The Rationale of Verse,” which sums up the entire metrical issue so nicely, no other explanation is necessay–the search for a ‘new or different foot’ in poetry is as silly as finding ‘new notes’ in the western musical scale, such ‘creativity’ is wasteful—write your 9th symphony before you tell me you want to ‘change the scale.’ Anyway, Hopkins came from a very remarkable family, was blessed with many important contacts who rescued his reputation posthumously, was unfortunately a miserable person and not a very good poet, and is used as some kind of ‘bridge’ between traditional and modernist poetry, which I suppose is true, if modernist poetry means metrical stupidity, vanity, and ignorance. His religious impulses I admire, like when he burned his poems. He reminds me a bit of the American poet Ellery Channing, a poet supported by Emerson until Poe crushed Channing’s reputation in a review of his poems. Channing was the nephew of the better known Unitarian theologian, William Ellery Channing (the elder) a friend of not only Emerson, but T.S. Eliot’s grandfather. Modern Letters can be traced back to these relationships. The pre-Raphaelites figure largely in poetry on both sides of the Atlantic, since Whitman, who took the place of Channing as Emerson’s most successful experiment, was embraced by the pre-Raphaelites when he (Whitman) was mostly reviled in America; Hopkins was connected to the Brotherhood, as well, and Ford Madox Ford was the grandson of a pre-Raphaelite painter and he met Pound off the boat when the American first came to England. Ruskin’s pre-Raphaelite aesthetic was the model for T.S. Eliot’s rejection of Milton and the Romantics; one could say Eliot and his modernist associates formed a kind of pre-Romantic Brotherhood. Since the pre-Raphaelites, the irrational, the mystical, and the clique, rather than the rational, has been the basis of art.

    Tom


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