AD's English Literature : Theory and criticism: Aristotle :on imitation in poetry: Comparison with Plato’s view

Theory and criticism: Aristotle :on imitation in poetry: Comparison with Plato’s view


Comparison with Plato’s view


Aristotle by his theory of imitation answers the charge of Plato that poetry is an imitation of “shadow of shadows”, thrice removed from truth and that the poet beguiles us with lies. Plato condemned poetry on the ground that in the very nature of things poets can have no idea of truth. The phenomenal world is not the reality, but a copy of the reality in the mind of the Supreme. The poet imitates this copy, the object and phenomena of the world, which are shadowy and unreal. Hence, Plato concluded that poetry is thrice removed from reality, it being a mere, ‘shadow or shadow of shadows.’ The poets have no knowledge of truth, they are liars, and deceive us with the lies which they tell in their poetry. Poetry, therefore, is “the mother of lies.”

Aristotle, on the contrary, tells us that art imitates not the mere show of things, but the ‘ideal reality,’ embodied in every object of the world. The process of nature is a ‘creative process’; everywhere in, ‘nature there is a ceaseless and upward progress’, everything in nature is constantly growing and moving up, and the poet imitates this upward movement of nature. Art reproduces the original not as it is, but it appears to the senses, i.e., it is reproduced imaginatively. Art moves in a world of images, and reproduces the external, according to the idea or image in his mind. Thus the poet does not copy the external world, but creates according to his ‘idea’ of it. Thus even an ugly object well-imitated becomes a source of pleasure. We are told in the Poetics, “objects which in themselves we view with pain, we delight to contemplate when reproduced with minute fidelity: such as the forms of the most ignoble animals and dead bodies.” This is so because of the imaginative coloring of reality in the process of poetic imitation.

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