Are we not, then, to hold that composition (being a harmony of that language which is implanted by nature in man and which appeals not to the hearing only but to the soul itself), since it calls forth manifold shapes of words, thoughts, deeds, beauty, melody, all of them born at our birth and growing with our growth, and since by means of the blending and variation of its own tones it seeks to introduce into the minds of those who are present the emotion which affects the speaker, and since it and by the building of phrase upon phrase raises a sublime and harmonious structure are we not, I say to hold that harmony by these selfsame means allures us and invariably disposes us to stateliness and dignity and elevation and every emotion which it contains within itself, gaining absolute mastery over our minds? (Longinus)The sublime. We've heard the term bandied about, and those of us who are familiar with underlying ideas of Romanticism will immediately think "Edmund Burke." Well, Longinus thought it first. My intent, however, is not to give a lesson but to urge you to think about what it that writing does to us.
What do words do? When you read, what are the words stirring inside of you? If it sublime, it lifts and inspires heightened emotions. If it's well-written, in inspires loftier things--it "seeks to introduce into the minds of those who are present the motion which affects the speaker." And if it's successful, oh what can it do? These words can create a work that "allures us and invariably disposes us to stateliness and dignity and elevation and every emotion which it contains within itself," and here's the rub: "gaining absolute mastery over our minds".
That, my friends, is why we read literature. To feel that inspiration, that rush of emotion, the elevation of the mind and heart. And why do we study writing and try to teach it? I would hope it would be show our students that writing is powerful and that they too can grasp at least a measure of that power and wield it.