Essays About

The Sublime and Beautiful in Yosemite Valley

The first time I visited Yosemite Valley, I did not expect to be very impressed, not because I thought the scenery would be shabby, but because I thought the crowds would spoil it. Plus, Yosemite has been so praised by so many people that it seemed to me too clichéd to be impressed by it, and with a certain pride I hoped I would not be.

But the sights were too spectacular, and my pride was overpowered. Yosemite combines the sublime and the beautiful like no place I have ever seen. The sublime quality is obvious, consisting in the tremendous vastness of the scene: the vertical walls rising four thousand feet from the valley floor; the enclosure of the space, so that one is completely hemmed in by vastness; the knowledge that the valley was formed by glacial action in the last Ice Age. Yet the sense of the beautiful is no less pronounced. The walls, having been carved and sanded by the glaciers, are remarkably smooth. (Burke regards smoothness as one of the qualities of the beautiful.) The valley floor is perfectly flat and neatly carpeted with meadows and trees. The several waterfalls are extremely picturesque, plunging elegantly down the granite walls—silently beautiful from a distance, though roaringly sublime from nearby. There is a coziness to the valley, a sense of haven and protection, to which the vastness actually contributes. The sublime, it has been noted, overwhelms us, while the beautiful makes us feel at home. But in Yosemite Valley, the beautiful converts the sublime from a terrifying force into a comforting one; the two qualities blend to convey a sense of a great power kindly disposed toward us. To me, the valley has the quality of paradise, with all the attendant theological associations. It seems like the kind of Eden God would create as a home for his unfallen children: it is vast and shows the marks of an almighty creator, but because of its beauty, one never doubts that the creator was a caring Father who made it for mankind. Granted, the knowledge of the violent glacial formation of the valley puts ice on this pleasing fancy.