AD's English Literature : Criitical Summary of Shelley’s A Defence of Poetry: Philosophical Assumptions about Poets and Poetry

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Criitical Summary of Shelley’s A Defence of Poetry: Philosophical Assumptions about Poets and Poetry



“Poetry is the record of the best and happiest moments of the happiest and best minds.”
Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 - 1822)
English poet.
A Defence of Poetry

The unfinished critical work A Defence of Poetry (written 1821; published 1840) by P. B. Shelley is minutely skillful. The justly celebrated A Defence of Poetry by P. B. Shelley was originally written, as its title suggests, in a polemic vein, as an answer to Peacock's The Four Ages of Poetry. In this essay, written a year before his death, as earlier said, Shelley addresses  The Four Ages of Poetry,  a witty magazine piece by his friend, Thomas Love Peacock. Read More Romantic   Period Peacock’s work teases and jokes through its definitions and conclusions, specifically that the poetry has become valueless and redundant in an age of science and technology, and that intelligent people should give up their literary pursuits and put their intelligence to good use. Shelley takes this treatise and extends it, turning his essay into more of a rebuttal than a reply. In its published form, much of the controversial matter was cast out, and only one or two indications remain of its controversial nature. The essay as it stands is among the most eloquent expositions that exist of the ideal nature and essential value of poetry. Its chief distinction lies in the sincerity and enthusiasm of the author. Read More Romantic   Period

Like several other essays on poetry, it is based on one of those fundamental distinctions here that between reason and imagination which Coleridge so frequently expounded, and which here serves as a point of departure. There are two main parts: the nature of poetry, as something connate with man, and poetical expression; and the effect of poetry upon mankind. Read More Romantic   Period This latter part, though even more eloquent than the former, is more rambling. The critical question at issue in both is a very fundamental one, and is practically the same as that which has been debated for many years between two opposed schools of ethics and philosophy, the intuitional and the utilitarian, and is to-day rife betwixt rationalists and pragmatists. Of the truth of Shelley's main thesis there is occasion for much discussion, but of his own vigour and sincerity there can be no question. Read More Essay

Key Notes of Shelley’s A Defence of Poetry:


1.     Shelley’s A Defence of Poetry is unusual compared with similarly titled “defenses” of poetry.
2.     Shelley’s essay contains no rules for poetry, or aesthetic judgments of his contemporaries. Instead, Shelley’s philosophical assumptions about poets and poetry can be read as a sort of primer for the Romantic Movement in general. Read More Romantic   Period
3.     Shelley turns to reason and imagination, defining reason as logical thought and imagination as perception, adding, “reason respects the differences, and imagination the similitudes of things.”
4.     From reason and imagination, man may recognize beauty, and it is through beauty that civilization comes.
5.     Language, Shelley contends, shows humanity’s impulse toward order and harmony, which leads to an appreciation of unity and beauty. Those in “excess” of language are the poets, whose task it is to impart the pleasures of their experience and observations into poems.
6.     Shelley argues, that civilization advances and thrives with the help of poetry. This assumption then, through Shelley’s own understanding, marks the poet as a prophet, not a man dispensing forecasts but a person who “participates in the eternal, the infinite, and the one.”
7.     He goes on to place poetry in the column of divine and organic process: “A poem is the very image of life expressed in its eternal truth . . . the creation of actions according to the unchangeable forms of human nature, as existing in the mind of the Creator.” The task of poets then is to interpret and present the poem; Shelley’s metaphor here explicates: “Poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted.” Read More Romantic   Period
8.      Shelley   poetry is one of the modes through which the supreme power is revealed. When Shelley says, in the moment of inspiration the poet reaches the eternal regions and has his materials, and that the poem is a melody emerging from the interaction of the external and internal, and the divine inspiration is poetic

General Topic for Discussion:

1.     State Shelley's thesis in this essay. Show in detail the topics which he treats.
2.     What is his criterion of the worth of various poets whom he mentions? What is his criterion for the determining good and bad poetry?
3.      What does he mean by such terms as "reason," "imagination," "taste," "the indestructible order," "universal," "wit and humour," "a story," "utility,""a single condition of epic truth," "the poet," "poetry" in its broad and in its restricted sense ? Read More Romantic   Period
4.      What are the reasons for the superiority of poetry in its restricted sense over other forms of art?
5.     Why is Lear to be preferred to Agamemnon or Edipus Tyrannus?
6.     Why were choruses in Greek drama of great poetical importance?
7.     What are the sanctions for Shelley's view of the idea and value of poetry? How is his generalization supported?
8.     Compare Shelley's idea of poetry, his method and his proofs, with those of Poe, Arnold, and Coleridge.


Reference: Microsoft Student Encarta, Wikipedia, Poetry Foundation

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