Printer-friendly versionSend by email

Brett Hooyerink
Romantic Lit. TTH 1300

Sublime View Of The Summer Idyll

           The concept of a summer idyll was a popular notion in the early 1800's in music and theatre. This was also about the same time Byron wrote Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. I was struck in particular by one stanza that reminded me of my own experience of the summer idyll. What I knew was the definitely picturesque version portrayed in Charles-Simon Favart's musical play Les Vendanges de Tempé. I had studied the music again and again as a child for piano practice. The sheet music itself was decorated with very picturesque representations of different scenes alá the French artist Boucher. The story told of a young shepherdess, Lisette and her young lover. The musical climax is when Lisette is awoken by an Alpine thunderstorm. The Boucher plates, and the music are very picturesque in nature. By portraying the idea of the summer idyll in the sublime, Byron is able to alter one's perception of the once picturesque.

           The idea of the sublime has not been an easy one to grasp. After many struggles trying to homogenize Immanuel Kant's, I was able to extract an idea from the fat of the essay that applied to my chosen stanza from Childe Harold.  When thinking of the sublime, I gathered that one must be able to conjure the same attraction toward a feeling of repulsion as one conjures in reference to what is attractive. This was explained by Kant himself as, "This movement, especially in its inception, may be compared with a vibration, i.e. with rapidly alternating repulsion and attraction to the same Object." (515) When I brought this idea to the poem, I noticed I could at that point begin to clearly see sublime ideas staring out.

           I chose lines 860-868 from Canto 3 "Thunderstorm in the Alps"(657). This portion of the poem specifically is what made me think back to my previous idea of a thunderstorm with the depiction of the Alps and the Jura range. I believe Byron's choice of words describing the night and the thunderstorm to be sublime rather than picturesque:

. . . . . . . . . . . . Oh night,
And storm, and darkness, ye are wondrous strong,
Yet lovely in your strength, as is the light . . .

           Storm and darkness in themselves make one think of bad, or ugly images, but by finishing the thought with compliments about their wonder and lovely strength; we are drawn to appreciate them. This goes along with Kant's idea that the sublime has that "vibrating" quality about it. We are first repulsed in line 861, but then we are attracted to the storm by the words in line 862. Although Kant did not say it in what I read of his essay, we have the same relationship with the sublime as we do with the idea of God fearing. We are taught that the power of God is almighty and downright scary, but we at the same time are comforted by the unconditional love that he supposedly doles upon us. Byron's use of "ye are wondrous strong" (657) rings of the same feelings Christianity teaches us of God. It suggests an unimaginable amount of strength, however we are consoled however in the next line, "Yet lovely in your strength . . ." (657) This seems to remind us of the unconditional love. Alas, we have present both the repulsion and the attraction that Kant refers to.

            I still am not too sure if my chosen stanza was Byron's response to the popular French music, art, and plays of the time. I was able to track down the full version of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, Canto 3 online to see if my comparison to Favarts's play held any validity. I was happy to encounter preceding stanzas telling of young lovers and peasant girls.



Published @ RC

December 2006

NaturalFeature