AD's English Literature : Analysis of Percy Bysshe Shelley's "A Defence of Poetry": How To Master The Points Of Argument ?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Analysis of Percy Bysshe Shelley's "A Defence of Poetry": How To Master The Points Of Argument ?


Introduction: The unfinished critical work A Defence of Poetry (written 1821; published 1840), was originally written, as its title suggests, in a polemic vein, as an answer to Peacock's The Four Ages of Poetry. 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.

The Points of Argument:  A Defence of Poetry 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. Sidney here defended the poetic imagination. There are many underlying themes:

(1) The nature of poetry: Unlike historians or philosophers, argued Sidney, a poet affirms nothing and therefore never lies, because a poet’s works are “not affirmatively but allegorically and figuratively written.”

(2) Poetical expression: Far from imitating imperfect nature, the poet creates an ideal world of the imagination where virtuous heroes invite admiring readers to imitate them.

(3) The effect of poetry upon mankind: According to Sidney, philosophers outshine poets when it comes to abstract teaching, but the power to move or motivate makes the poet ultimately superior because, for teaching to be effective, we need first “to be moved with desire to know” and then “to be moved to do that which we know.”

The Questions: The critical question at issue in the above discussion 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 today rife betwixt rationalists and pragmatists.
 List of Arguments:
  1. Shelley's criterion for the determining good and bad poetry.
  2. Shelley's terms: "reason," "imagination," "taste," "the indestructible order," "universal," "wit and humour," "a story," "utility,” “a single condition of epic truth," "the poet," "poetry" etc.
  3. Shelley's reasons for the superiority of poetry.
  4. Shelley's view of the idea and value of poetry.
  5.  Shelley's criterion for the determining good and bad poetry.
 Famous Quotes: “Poetry is the record of the best and happiest moments of the happiest and best minds.”

Poets are...the trumpets which sing to battle and feel not what they inspire...Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.”

“The rich have become richer, and the poor have become poorer; and the vessel of the state is driven between the Scylla and Charybdis of anarchy and despotism.”
A Defence of Poetry


Ref: 1. Wikipedia
         2. IGNOU Study Guide
         3. Gyorgy Lukacs: Studies in European Realism

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