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24 July 2010

Sublimity

sub·lime: [suh-blahym] adjective, noun, verb, -limed, -lim·ing.
–adjective
1. elevated or lofty in thought, language, etc.: Paradise Lost is sublime poetry.

2. impressing the mind with a sense of grandeur or power; inspiring awe, veneration, etc.: Switzerland has sublime scenery.

3. Archaic: raised high; high up.

–verb (used with object)
1. to make higher, nobler, or purer.

—Synonyms 1. exalted, noble. 2. magnificent, superb, august, grand, gorgeous, resplendent, imposing, majestic.

In his Tales of the Alhambra, my new friend Washington Irving wrote, "There is something...in the sternly simple features of the Spanish landscape that impresses the soul with a feeling of sublimity". In my opinion, that couldn't be more true than when beholding the landscape of Granada and the imposing walls of the Alhambra high up on the rocky hillside.

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If the name Washington Irving doesn't ring a bell, perhaps you'll know him by the tales he penned that take place a little closer to home, such as Rip Van Winkle or The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. I can hear the light bulbs coming on and the collective, "Ooooohhhh! THAT Washington Irving!" (I've been to Sleepy Hollow, by the way, and felt a little thrill in the ribcage when I saw the sign upon entering the decidedly awake and utterly charming little hamlet.)

Well, in addition to his success as a story teller, essayist, editor, soldier, and all-around busy guy, he was also a diplomat and traveled extensively throughout Spain as its U.S. minister in the early to mid 1800's. I picked up The Tales of the Alhambra while visiting the Alhambra and have been reading and re-reading it ever since. It was in the room in Alhambra's Nasrid Palace with a plaque dedicated to Irving and his prodigeous scribbling that my classmate Hudson encountered an impressive fan following of Spanish pre-teens.

But I've gone too far ahead already - I'm supposed to be telling you about our visit to the Alhambra: The city of Granada, the Alhambra, the Generalife - all were by far my favorite part of visiting Spain. The history is awe-inspiring, to say nothing of the architecture and craftsmanship that went into building the fortress, palaces, and their gardens. I wish I had Irving's way with words and could describe it the way he did, but I don't so I'll let him introduce the place to you:

"The peculiar charm of this old dreamy palace is its power of calling up vague reveries and picturings of the past, and thus clothing naked realities with the illusions of the memory and the imagination....Here the hand of time has fallen the lightest and the traces of Moorish elegance and splendour exist in almost their original brilliancy.

Earthquakes have shaken the foundations of this pile and rent its rudest towers, yet see, not one of those slender columns has been displaced, not an arch of that light and fragile colonnade has given way, and all the fairy fretwork of those domes, apparently as unsubstantial as the crystal fabrics of a morning's frost, yet exist after the lapse of centuries, almost as fresh as if from the hand of the Moslem artist.

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I write in the midst of the mementoes of the past, in the fresh hour of early morning, in the fated Hall of the Abencerrages. The blood-stained fountain, the legendary monument of their massacre, is before me; the lofty jet almost casts its dew upon my paper. How difficult to reconcile the ancient tale of violence and blood with the gentle and peaceful scene around! Everything here appears calculated to inspire kind and happy feelings, for everything is delicate and beautiful. The very light falls tenderly from above through the lantern of a dome tinted and wrought as if by fairy hands.
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Through the ample and fretted arch of the portal I behold the Court of Lions with brilliant sunshine gleaming along its colonnades and sparkling in its fountains. The lively swallow dives into the Court and then surging upwards darts away twittering over the roofs; the busy bee toils humming among the flower-beds and painted butterflies hover from plant to plant and flutter up and sport with each other in the sunny air. It needs but a slight exertion of the fancy to picture some pensive beauty of the harem, loitering in these secluded haunts of Oriental luxury.

He, however, who would behold this scene under an aspect more in unison with its fortunes, let him come when the shadows of evening temper the brightness of the Court and throw a gloom in to the surrounding halls. Then nothing can be more serenely melancholy or more in harmony with the tale of departed grandeur.

***

"To the traveller imbued with a feeling for the historical and poetical, the Alhambra of Granada is as much as object of veneration as is the Kaaba or sacred house of Mecca to all true Moslem pilgrims. How many legends and traditions, true and fabulous, of love and war and chivalry are associated with this romantic pile! The following papers are the result of my reveries and researches during that delicious thraldrom. If they have the power of imparting any of the witching charms of the place to the imagination of the reader, he will not repine at lingering with me for a season in the legendary halls of the Alhambra."

From The Tales of the Alhambra by Washington Irving, published 1832.

1 comment:

Danilo said...

Well, I know which book I am reading next!