By Kerry McSweeney
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Extra resources for The Language of the Senses: Sensory Perceptual Dynamics in Wordsworth, Coleridge, Thoreau, Whitman and Dickinson
How does one judge this matter? Is the experience Coleridge describes bona fide or bogus, sublime or mock sublime? For that matter, 34 The Language of the Senses how can a literary critic ever be certain of a correspondence between the after-the-fact verbal representation of an experience of expanded consciousness and the experience itself, or even be certain that there ever was an experience? In my view, there are three methodological keys to a successful consideration of these questions. (a) The first is to place the text under consideration in its biographical and literary context.
Consider, for example, a distinctive feature of a number of Tennyson's poems, to which several commentators have called attention: a glimmering shape or light, usually white, seen against a dark background evokes powerful feelings of reassurance and comfort. " Sublime or Mock Sublime? 35 How can this association be explained? L. Priestley uses a gambit common in literary-critical discourse - pseudo-explanation by means of learned allusion: "A dim whiteness gleaming in a dark background is always for [Tennyson] a symbol of reassurance, a faint but adequate glimmer of light in the darkness, analogous to the 'candle of the Lord' of the Cambridge Platonists" (161).
This lower/higher mode of Romantic symbolic perception of natural facts is no more new than the inner/outer mode. As Coleridge observes: "it has been the music of gentle and pious minds in all ages, it is the poetry of all human nature, to read [the natural world] in a figurative sense, and to find therein correspondences and symbols of the spiritual world" (SM 70). Had not Paul written in his Epistle to the Romans (1:20) that "the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made"?