Thomas Gray, "The Progress of Poesy" (1754), III.i.

Far from the sun and summer-gale,
In thy green lap was Nature's darling laid,
What time, where lucid Avon strayed,
To him the mighty Mother did unveil
Her aweful face: The dauntless child
Stretched forth his little arms, and smiled.
"This pencil take" (she said), "whose colors clear
Richly paint the vernal year.
Thine too these golden keys, immortal boy!
This can unlock the gates of joy;
Of horror that, and thrilling fears,
Or ope the sacred source of sympathetic tears."

In his above depiction of Shakespeare, Gray perfectly identifies the sensible person's capacities for both apprehension and expression. Expression alone, without apprehension, is the province of wit rather than sensibility, but likewise the sensible character cannot merely be affected by sensations. Faints, blushes, and tears have their own eloquence, or so the fiction goes; but once these responses cease to communicate feeling, they are self-indulgent. Gray demonstrates this problem in an earlier stanza, speaking to the hills and caves of Italy: "How do your tuneful echoes languish,/ Mute, but to the voice of Anguish?" The sensibility of Italian hearts is questionable because the sensibility of Italian songs is. Shakespeare's sensibility here (and Britishers' in general), by contrast, is multiply expressive and completely potent. The quality of poetry has no relation, incidentally, to a synthetic object; it is a diffusion of sensible influence.

Related terms:

a dictionary of sensibility
term list
source bibliography
critical bibliography