Self and The Other: Visions Created

The difference in appearance of a mountain and an urn is obvious. The emotions that are formulated by someone’s interaction with these things are also very different. In poetry, a mountain is a God created symbol of the sublime, or unattainable knowledge, that no matter how much we can revel in its beauty, never will we be satisfied while living. An urn is almost the opposite of this, as it represents a man made object that was created to hold our physical remains after our spirit leaves to heaven sublime, or the clouds on the mountaintop. Encountering the urn while still living has no effect on the mind’s current state. The mind, or self will not have to deal with a flood of emotions, as does the person who drowns in the sight of the mountain’s beauty. The two experiences do not have this contrast through anything the self, or mind does, or attempts to do. The self will always try to attain what it does not know, whether it is a rock or tree, the self has interest naturally. This contrast comes from the objects themselves, for no matter how much a person tries to create a state of awe with an urn, it will never compare to the indescribable feelings that rush through the physical as well as mental body of a person who trying to comprehend one of God’s most majestic creations. In Shelley’s "Mont Blanc," the speaker cannot create the visions of pure imaginative creativity through his encounter with the urn as does the speaker in Keats’ "Ode on a Grecian Urn" in his encounter with nature. The reason that the two experiences are so drastically different is because the urn is not able to produce divine emotions, as does God’s beautiful landscape.

There is a relationship between the self and the other that creates a vision of imaginative creativity that is too much for the mind to comprehend. The self is the mind or attempted comprehension of life. The other is the nature, or the world of things that will never be a part of the self, yet made not so apart from the self that the the other will always remain in the presence of the self. The world of things begins as all the beauty and ugliness that exists in the universe, known and unknown to the self. Naturally, self must deal with what it can and cannot comprehend. While the other is constantly being dealt with by the self, yet never fully understood, its job is to confuse, command, challenge and communicate what it can. The imaginative creativity produced is the result of the self’s comprehension of the other through encounters. The encounters between self and the other happen when the mind tries to comprehend the beauty of the mountains and valleys, or find the significance of a picture on a wall. Visions created by the imaginative creativity are dreams, ideas, goals and questions that reflect the feelings produced by the incomprehensible. Encounters produce feelings that explode into visions by exposing the self to an abundance of creative thoughts which overflow from the mind into a realm of confusion and conscienceness that create more and more questions and ideas. Visions created are dream-like states of curiosity and conclusion mixed together into a balance of confusion and contentment of self. Different visions are created by different encounters, such as the sublime beauty of nature and the curious drawings on some small inanimate object. Visions, however, cannot be forced or manipulated by the self, for it is the world of things that force feelings to flow out of the self.

Keats’ "Ode on a Grecian Urn" is an example of self’s curiosity searching for the basic unknown, and therefore the self does not dream a dream divine, but is lost in a unsatisfying state of want. The imaginative creative vision is not a life changing event, for the urn itself was never more than an urn, and so it cannot challenge, confuse or command as can a glorious mountain or river. In "Mont Blanc," the beautiful nature scene of Shelley’s mountain and river is sublime, as it creates an imaginative creative vision of such concentration, confusion and contentment, that self with its absence. The mountain and river are able to create visions that the urn cannot. Self does not reach states of consciencesness without a divine intervention with the other, or world of things. The urn does not offer enough mystery to create any such amazement. In Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn," and Shelley’s "Mont Blanc," the relationship self has with an simple urn and the nature sublime, respectively, show how visions of imaginative creativity can be, given the same amount of self-interest, drastically different.

Before any state of confusion or disturbing vision, nature’s beauty offers a refuge to self, or the speaker, as he exclaims, "Dizzy Ravine! and when I gaze on thee/ I seem as in a trance sublime and strange/ To muse on my own separate fantasy" ("Blanc" 34-36), and in this fantasy, self finds a content discomfort. As the speaker is the self, he realizes that he is so caught up in the encounter with the beauty that he begins to create this creative imaginative vision that is so wonderful, he describes it as a fantasy. He is so attracted to what he does not know, he finds himself forever intrigued. The speaker goes on, "My own, my human mind, which passively/ Now renders and receives fast influencings,/ Holding an unremitting interchange/ With the clear universe of things around" ("Blanc" 37-40) and the mind is let go to expand and explore all of universe, for this is moment has been caught, and is now being enlarged and exposed and exploded. His own mind and self are able to create as a result of this encounter with beauty. But it is beyond his control, he is not trying to create anything, the vision is simply becoming more clear, " One legion of wild thoughts, whose wandering wings/ Now float above thy darkness, and now rest" ("Blanc" 41-42) and here the dream is being captured by all of the speakers emotions at once, but focused on the reflections that he is writing of the moment. The emotions heighten and then rest, as if pulsating, beating, or breathing in and out, up and down. The experience rises and falls, never sure of itself, never committing to any one place or time. All of this happens in the mind through the spirit of the beauty from the encounter.

From the mind to the encounter, every sight is a conception and an interpretation of the world around as well as inside the self. The speaker searches, " - I look on high;/ Has some unknown omnipotence unfurled/ The veil of life and death? or do I lie/ In dream, and does the mightier world of sleep/ Spread far around and inaccessibly/ Its circles?" ("Blanc" 52-57) and the mind has never been so wide awake, yet lying in a dream. Only in this state can the life and death, sleep and wake be confused yet not frightful. It is as if sleep would be comforting, even death, for the self would be able to stay at the same surreal level as the other for a longer time. This state of confusion created for the self by the world of things is encompassed by all that is encountered.

The world of things that are associating with self’s encounters are more powerful than simply a day dream. Nature is more than the, "Ocean, and all the living things that dwell/ Within the daedal earth: lightning, and rain,/ Earthquake, and fiery flood, and hurricane" ("Blanc" 85-87),, for these things are powerful by force, and they could conquer and destroy anything in their presence, but other is what is all around; what is still and created by God, "Power dwells apart in its tranquility,/ Remote, serene, and inaccessible:/ And this, the naked countenance of earth,/ On which I gaze, even these primaeval mountains/ Teach the adverting mind" ("Blanc" 96-100). Even in the stillness, the Earth’s beauty is so sublime it cannot be ignored. The beauty creates a fantasy, and the power of the mountains causes the mind to grow, and expand, and the more it gains the more it still will never attain. This creative imagination is not a reveled emotion from thought, but a direct response of the beauty sublime found in even the still mountains, and it is not a satisfying comfort, but a yearning energy for the unknown bliss that keeps the visions alive.

There is not always bliss or sublime found in the world of things, and therefore there is not always the same type of vision created. Keats’ mind contemplates the meanings of a urn, not because it is sublime, but because it is unknown. The urn will not create a state of awesome presence, for it is a man made object. Only God can create the sublime, for God is sublime. Anything man made is self made, and therefore never untouchable. Nevertheless, what is unknown is attractive to the self and so it must be looked upon. Every last detail, to the carving in the side, the speaker is curious of, "What leaf-fring’d legend haunts about thy shape/ Of deities or mortals, or of both,/ In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?/ What men or gods are these? What maidens loth? What mad pursuit? what struggle to escape? ("Urn" 5-9) Here is an urn with an inscription on it, and the mind wants to know so much more. There is a history and there are questions, but questions that could be answered by the self. These questions could be answered by a human being, if the one with the knowledge was found. The urn, however insignificant, still can challenge and confuse however. The same search as the speaker looking at the mountain is again begun, only this time, there is less to be found, a different vision.

The creation process of the new vision still relies on the encounters of self and the other. The other is now sought out by a yearning mind which is almost in a sleeping state, asking so much of the urn, "Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard/ Are sweeter, therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;/ Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,/ Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone" ("Urn" 11-14). The music that the speaker is wanting to be played is coming from himself only, and is not much of a response to anything heard, but more of a longing to create something from something that isn’t there. The mind is trying to fix the encounter and create the imaginative vision on his own, forcefully, and not in reflection at all. The speaker commands, "Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave/ Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare" ("Urn" 15-16). An unattainable comprehension is what the speaker is attempting to create; an ongoing journey, to neither heaven nor hell, but the purgatory the speaker slept in while gazing at the landscape. The same limbo that was dreamt before is being attempted again, forever meditating on the world around, keeping the self interested, as the speaker goes on, "Bold lover, never, never canst thou kiss,/ Though winning near the goal - yet, do not grieve;/ She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,/ For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!" ("Urn" 17-20), but in the lines the speaker admits there is no bliss. There is no praise of beauty or curse of the blessed, it is a one way dialogue that pursues all the same tensions, but does not revel in the emotions. The difference is that the speaker in "Mont Blanc" while wants to reach his unreachable goal, while Keats is here admitting that there is no ideal place to be sought out in this relationship with the urn. Here, there is no yearning to be in the moment or relive the encounter, but it is to sleep in the middle of nowhere.

As the self continues to comprehend every detail it encounters, it never can create the dream-like state of consciousness. The more it tries, it can only compare the feeling to a human sickness, rather than a blissful sleep or conscientious tug of war, "For ever panting, and for ever young;/ All breathing human passion far above,/ That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy’d,/ A burning forehead, and a parching tongue" ("Urn" 27-30). The sickness is the closest the speaker will ever come to describe unsatisfying contentment. The urn and the mountain are not the same. The urn cannot create a movement have a revelation inside the mind, the speaker writes, "Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought/ as doth eternity" ("Urn" 44-45). The speaker could be comparing the urn to the mountain, as the mind gazed in bewilderment, but there is a difference between being in deep thought and being "out of thought."

The difference between the deep state of conscienceness in nature and the echoing interest in the interesting urn, is that that nature has no rules. Nature’s beginning is unknown as well as its end, and therefore we see all of this in its present. The urn on the other hand is never more plain and simple as a chair, though it has history, the mystery is only as large as we create it. A man made object with a carved picture does not offer a mountain of earth’s life. The speaker comes to a conclusion in Keats’ "Urn", and he gives answers where a true mystery would never find them, "When old age shall this generation waste,/ Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe/ Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,/ ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,’ - that is all/ Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know" ("Urn" 46-50). This ending is everything but satisfying to a true imaginative creative vision of self and the other, for it solves answers not supposed to be answered by the sublime. The conclusion makes the poem itself a struggle between contentment an satisfaction, but the speaker’s relationship with the urn has not more than moved an inch. The reason of this relationship’s insignificance is that the urn is not the sublime, and therefore the vision created is not a glorious state of imagination. The poem ends with a conclusion, rather than being tossed between comprehension and confusion. If the mountains were not beautiful, spectacular and sublime, which man made mountains would be, they might simply be an urn, Shelley writes, "The secret Strength of things/ Which governs thought, and to the infinite dome/ Of Heaven is as a law, inhabits thee!/ And what were thou, and earth, and stars, and sea,/ If to the human mind’s imaginings/ Silence and solitude were vacancy?" ("Blanc" 139-144). The human mind creates the vision from the encounter with what it can’t comprehend, and what it truly can’t comprehend, it never will.

The mind’s aching to comprehend what it cannot, is its downfall as well as only path to accomplishment. Without a hope that there is more to life then its own existence, the mind would crumble and disintegrate, but with the knowledge that there is an understanding not understood, then forever troubled and challenged the mind will live. To seek knowledge is its quest, yet resting in what is eventually found is impossible. To revel in ideas and emotions of the sublime or untouchable is how hope can stay alive in the sense of sensibility. To be in tune with all emotions and experiences of the body and spirit, and to not turn away from any of them, is the great ideal of the mind, or self. Whether trying to comprehend the unknown or revel in thoughts of the sublime, the self is able to create imaginative visions through encounters little and small. Whether we come to a self-satisfying conclusion or experience an unreal adventure through the clouds is never known.

In the end, the ideas produced by encounters with the world of things are going to do a number of things. The encounters will let the self, or mind deal with emotions, whether overwhelming or simple, these emotions will pierce the mind in a way that some type of reaction is necessary. Through encounters with a rock, tree, mountain or urn, the mind grows and produces an imaginative creativity that can only be understood by the self involved. Every single involvement with the self and other is a private engagement between the two, where one is handing the other something it never had. In "Ode on a Grecian Urn" the speaker was handed an urn that did not produce amazing thoughts, but nevertheless, the speaker created an experience through his encounter, reveled in it, and wrote it down. The experience of the speaker in "Mont Blanc" had a life changing experience. The sublime beauty of the mountain was handed down to him by God. A comprehension that he could not comprehend was comprehended, and in this state of confusion he floated. A dream like state where the only thing he could see was the beauty, and yet he felt his eyes opened up more than ever. The mind grows, expands and yearns for more when only given a glimpse of what’s beyond the door or around the corner. But no matter how big the door, the self will always want to find out what is there. In makes no difference who is back there, what is back there or even if we have been back there before, if there is a hint of the unknown, we are drawn to find it out. The speaker who encountered the urn is not to blame, for trying to create a symbiotic relationship with the inanimate object, and neither is the speaker who encountered the mountain supposed to be praised for his experience, but the difference between the two must be acknowledged. In our encounters with the world of things, we will not always find the perfect object to gaze at in astonishment, but experiences with God’s creation will produce similar reactions. Our everyday life, however does not revolve around staring at an object that will give us a glimpse of heaven, but rather our encounters with God’s most precious creation, human beings, and if all that amazement can be found in a simple, still mountain, I can only imagine the visions of pure imaginative, creativity created by our relations with others.


Works Cited

Keats, John. "Ode on a Grecian Urn." The Longman Anthology of British Literature Vol 1C. New York: Addison Wesley Longman Inc., 1999. 1297-1298.

Shelley, Percy Bysshe. "Mont Blanc Lines Written in the Vale Clamouni." The Longman Anthology of British Literature Vol 1C. New York: Addison Wesley Longman Inc., 1999. 1063-1034.