Imagination

Imagination is the search for significant meanings, which is to say, it looks beyond the superficial experience to find that which transcends reason and logic. In order to do that it is necessary for one to lose oneself in the beauty of a sublime object and to identify with it - to become the object as Shelley becomes the streams and glaciers and as Keats becomes the stories of the urn. Then it is to mix that association, or that feeling of the object, with the original identity of the speaker. This creates a genuine reality that is based on truth and beauty, which reality is that higher sense of existence and imaginative creativity. It is that existence and imaginative creativity that may be felt while in the presence of the sublime, though maybe not understood - the infinite while in a finite state of mortal existence. The experience of a higher existence is based on that perception of feeling, "receiving," and then the reciprocation of expression in "rendering." This rendering of feeling is the creating of the poems like "Mont Blanc" and "Ode on a Grecian Urn" (38).

In "Mont Blanc" the speaker has the experience that makes him realize the possibilities of imagination, the experience with the mountain that spurs him to creative thought. The first time the speaker addresses himself "I seem as in a trance sublime," is the realization of this new state that he has come to (34). He realizes that this state is a state higher than what he usually is, "sublime," but also that he is not quite there because he only "seem[s] as in a trance." He only "seems" though he is not. Much like sleep, which is what he next refers to, this feeling is indefinable. But it is in this state that his mind "renders and receives fast influencings" (36). It is the mountain’s "influencings" which supply its beauty for him to "receive." After he receives this experience he then "renders" that into the creative thoughts.

These creative thoughts come from these sublime objects and experiences. When an object is sublime it becomes unfamiliar, possessed of a power that is "secret." This "secret" power is one that is "inaccessible" and makes seemingly familiar objects, like a mountain or a ravine become unfamiliar and possessed of a quality that is not understood. These ideas become inaccessible. People can feel the power that makes the world unfamiliar, but they cannot express what it is.

Imagination is the necessary means of perceiving this sublime beauty and making it accessible. Not definable, but accessible. It and causes human impulses, though it in itself is not understood. This power "dwells apart in its tranquility, / Remote, serene and inaccessible" (96). "Tranquility" separates from everyday life of mutability, change and chaos.

It is man that is mutable, that is changed in the presence of something sublime. It "teaches awful doubt, or faith so mild," making a change in the person that is interpreted by the wise and felt by the great and good (77, 82).

The power, however, appears "in likeness" of the mountain or the ravine, which does change. This can be seen as an attempt to associate. The relationship between human thoughts and the universal mind is supposed to be mutable. The power does not change, but what is received and felt of that power is "pervaded with that ceaseless motion" (32). Like the thoughts that are spurred by the mountain, and the tribute that is the expression of these thoughts "all things that move and breathe with toil and sound / Are born and die; revolve, subside and swell" (94). It is one continuous cycle that is affirmed at the very first of this poem. The everlasting universe and the human thought are connected in a cycle of the first five lines. The "everlasting universe of things flows…" and becomes "the source of human thought" which in turn "brings of waters" to let the description of flowing return to the beginning.

The description of Mont Blanc then tends to be more toward the indiscernible aspects as he attempts to find what it is that causes him "to muse on my own fancy" (36). He knows there is an indefinable power and he wants to associate with it. It is the "cloud-shadows and sunbeams" or "Aetheral waterfall" (15, 26). Aetheral, meaning otherworldly shows this idea as unattainable, but not the experience. This experience does not create a definition of what that power is as it is seen in Shelley, or even what the truth is in Keats. Rather, by the existence of that higher power or inaccessible truth, and the attempt to associate, the experience of the speaker intensifies the feeling of the experience and eventually teaches. The person who experiences this will walk away with a new perspective of the real truth and beauty. It shows that this unattainable power, though not entirely understood, can be expressed in the experience of something sublime.

When one experiences the sublime, one is in a state of mind where the subject and object become one entity. It is when the subject and the object become one that its beauty is truly seen instead of just a superficial experience. This ability to feel an emotion past that and based on this fusion with the object is the imagination. Because it is not truly possible for the subject to literally become the mountain it happens in the figurative sense and makes it indefinable by words but understood through feeling.

The communication of that experience, or that feeling of becoming that sublime object is then the poem, or the literal flow of tribute. It is necessary to have that blending of lines so that it will transcend reason and logic. The power of the sublime will "scorn mortal power" (103). That "mortal power" is the reason and logic that cannot exist in a state that is solely dependent on the feeling. Like the sublime aspect of the mountain in "Mont Blanc," this is an experience that is "unfathomable" (64). It is immeasurable by anything that could be used or understood by reason or logic.

In "Ode on a Grecian Urn" there is consolation in the seeming possibilities of eternal happiness. But the register of immortal happiness is put in contrast with the register of death. While "those unheard [melodies] / Are sweeter," the songs they sing are "ditties of no tone" (11, 14). Ditties are songs with no substance. The stories themselves are a "silent form," a "cold pastoral" (44, 45). Like a pastoral setting that is open and empty, these descriptions provoke a feeling of lifelessness and empty happiness. "Silent form" is a form that makes no sound, as if it were dead. "Cold" is unfeeling with no experience.

Because the characters in the stories on the urn do not experience woe or sorrow, or even true happiness they do not truly exist. They shall "remain, in midst of other woe / Than ours," remaining in a state of perpetual anticipation but never achieving the experience, and thus having " other woe," other misery, different from "ours" but existing nonetheless. While these characters may be in the sweet moment of anticipation, that perpetual moment of anticipation is no longer sweet. What makes the anticipation perfect is the actual moment. The speaker is faced with the dilemma that to fulfill that moment and achieve that state of happiness would be to lose that state at the same time.

The eventual conclusion is that the existence of mankind is more sublime than if happy without experience. That "happiness" that is found in the urn, found in the repetition of the third stanza of the "Ode," "happy, happy boughs…happy melodist…happy love! More happy, happy love," is a forced happiness, and empty happiness that is artificially and unnecessarily introduced and never truly experienced. The speaker makes this realization and helps him see the world of the urn.

The world of the urn is empty, expressed by "ditties," songs with no meaning, and forced or "overwrought" (14, 42). In contrast to those scenes, the experiences of the speaker in "Mont Blanc" were beautiful because they were real - they were true. This is the realization that the speaker comes to at the end of "Grecian Urn" when he states "Beauty is truth, truth beauty" (49). Beauty was the realities that might come into unity with the person that is experiencing the moment. Without that experience, the feelings are not real or true. They are as empty and unfulfilling as the stories on the urn that never find their conclusion.

Those willing to exercise imagination saw the beauty that resulted in the character of nature, or a genuine reality. It is a genuine reality because it is based on the association between something more than the speaker that makes him grow beyond what he is to something more. The result is that the experience, if really based on imagination and therefore interpreted, is that this "mysterious" power or experience "teaches" (77). Through its teaching, the speaker then becomes something above what he was to begin with.

This is then followed by the desire to bring about, or express that beauty. The value and identity that comes out of an imaginative experience depends on its transience, its ability to take the speaker above what he was before and then to have him express that. There is a limit to expression, however. "None can reply," but there is the necessity of feeling (75). One cannot reply in the same form as the emotions are received because the sublime is eternal. Man and what he is and what he can do is not eternal.

The poet, or speaker, hears this "silent," "voiceless" speech of the higher power (136, 137), or the "slow time," "silent form" of the truth these incommunicable feelings through his imaginative creativity because a "voiceless" object cannot be truly heard (2, 44). He then must "interpret, or make felt, or deeply feel" (83). It is this interpretation, or identifying that feeling, that is an attempt to reply to this silent communication, even though "None can reply" (75) though the mind "passively / Now renders and receives" (36). It can only happen "Now," in the presence of the sublime.

By interpretation and voicing of his own, the speaker and that inaccessible part become one and become a type of response. The experience cannot exist without the other, most namely, human perception and the creative response that is spurred from that perception. Even the water in the first stanza of "Mont Blanc" is "but half its own" (6). The first half is its own actual existence, but the second half is the acknowledgement of that existence through the "tribute" (5). This "tribute" is the reply, or the attempt at a reply, in the form of the poem. They are inextricably bound together. The "tribute" creates the second half of existence, but the mountain through its "lending splendour" is the source of those thoughts that spur the tribute. The mountain "lends" its beauty and experience to the speaker, suggesting that there will be a time where the feelings evoked by its splendor will no longer be experienced. It is one continuous cycle where one depends on the other.

The beauty is the embodiment of the true essence of things. Therefore while Imagination seeks truth it finds beauty, which is the truth. Just like the line "Beauty is truth, truth beauty," the relationship between the object and the experience is cyclical (49). In Keats it is in the speakers conflict between presence and absence, a constant state of advancement into the stories of the urn and withdrawal and commentary on the urn. Constantly seeking the beauty and then communicate the truth he is stuck in a cycle.

According to Shelley in his Defense of Poetry, nothing exists without human perceptions and association. It is the human perception and experience that makes existence and imagination possible. But while that perception or experience can be "silence and solitude," as in Shelley’s "Monte Blanc," it cannot be vacancy as is realized in Keats’ "Ode on a Grecian Urn." That vacancy is a type of death which is the lack of experience and imagination. Imagination depends on both the ability to act, to "render," and to "receive." Where the characters in Keats poem can do neither they are an example of the world without imagination and the emptiness that comes with that lack of imagination. In the experience of the sublime one is given an insight that changes him from what he was to begin with.