Percy Bysshe Shelley.

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ing public, but will also sink lower and lower in the compari-
son of intellectual acquirement; when we consider that the
poet must still please his audience, and must therefore con- 15
tinue to sink to their level, while the rest of the community
is rising above it ; we may easily conceive that the day is
not distant when the degraded state of every species of poetry
will be as generally recognized as that of dramatic poetry has
long been ; and this not from any decrease either of intel- 20
lectual power or intellectual acquisition, but because intel-
lectual power and intellectual acquisition have turned them-
selves into other and better channels, and have abandoned
the cultivation and the fate of poetry to the degenerate fry of
modern rimesters, and their Olympic judges, the magazine 25
critics, who continue to debate and promulgate oracles about
poetry as if it were still what it was in the Homeric age, the
all-in-all of intellectual progression, and as if there were no
such things in existence as mathematicians, astronomers,
chemists, moralists, metaphysicians, historians, politicians, 30
and political economists, who have built into the upper air of
intelligence a pyramid, from the summit of which they see
the modern Parnassus far beneath them, and, knowing how
small a place it occupies in the comprehensiveness of their
prospect, smile at the little ambition and the circumscribed 35
perceptions with which the drivelers and mountebanks upon
it are contending for the poetical palm and the critical chair.


1 1. After the title I have omitted the sub-title, " Part I." See
notes on 45 6 and 45 21.

1 10. The one is the TO iroitiv. Cf. Sidney, Defense 6 30.

1 13. The TO \oyieti>. Shelley inadvertently substitutes an active
for the proper deponent form.

1 24. Shadow to the substance. Cf. 24 14.

3 13-15. The future . . . the seed. Cf. 6 G-8 : " He beholds the future
in the present, and his thoughts are the germs of the flower and fruit
of latest time." And see 38 19-25.

4 28. Unapprehended. Cf. 11 21, 13 26, 46 25.

5 4-6. The same footsteps, etc. De Augment. Scient. cap. I, lib. iii.
(Shelley's note). Cf. Adv. Learning!. 5. 3.

5 20-29. But poets . . . religion. Cf. Shelley, Discourse on the
Manners of the Ancients : " For all the inventive arts maintain, as it
were, a sympathetic connection between each other, being no more
than various expressions of one internal power, modified by different
circumstances, either of an individual or of society."

6 1. Prophets. Cf. Sidney, Defense 5 12-16.

6 1415. A poet participates in the eternal, the infinite, and the one.
Cf. the discussion in my edition of Sidney's Defense of Poesy, Introduc-
tion, p. xxix ff.

6 31-7 2. But poetry, etc. Cf. Plato, Symposium 205 (Shelley's
trans.) : " . . . Poetry, which is a general name signifying every cause
whereby anything proceeds from that which is not into that which is;
so that the exercise of every inventive art is poetry, and all such artists
poets. Yet they are not called poets, but distinguished by other names;
and one portion or species of poetry, that which has relation to music
and rhythm, is divided from all others, and known by the name belong-
ing to all."

7 14. Mirror. Shelley is partial to this figure. Cf. 10 30-32, 18 1C,
19 6 ff., 24 11, 46 2C.

8 13-18. Hence the language, etc. Cf. Sidney, Defense 5 33-34,
11 25-31, 33 19-24.


8 19. Hence the beauty of translation. But cf. Goethe, Dichtung
und Wahrheit, Th. 3, B. n, quoted in Hayward, Statesmen and
Writers 2. 307 : " I honor both rhythm and rime, by which poetry
first becomes poetry; but the properly deep and radically operative
the truly developing and quickening, is that which remains of the poet
when he is translated into prose. The inward substance then remains
in its purity and fulness; which, when it is absent, a dazzling exterior
often deludes with the semblance of, and, when it is present, conceals."

8 30 ff. Yet it is, etc. Cf. Bagehot, Literary Studies 2. 351: " But
the exact line which separates grave novels in verse, like Aylmer's
Field or Enoch Arden, from grave novels not in verse, like Silas Mar-
ner or Adam Bede, we own we cannot draw with any confidence. Nor,
perhaps, is it very important; whether a narrative is thrown into verse
or not certainly depends in part on the taste of the age, and in part on
its mechanical helps. Verse is the only mechanical help to the mem-
ory in rude times, and there is little writing till a cheap something is
found to write upon, and a cheap something to write with. . . . We
need only say here that poetry, because it has a more marked rhythm
than prose, must be more intense in meaning and more concise in style
than prose." And see also Hazlitt, Lectures on the English Poets :
" I will mention three works which come as near to poetry as possible
without absolutely being so; namely, the Pilgrim 's Progress, Robinson
Crusoe, and the Tales of Boccaccio. Chaucer and Dryden have trans-
lated some of the last into English rime, but the essence and the
power of poetry was there before. That which lifts the spirit above the
earth, which draws the soul out of itself with indescribable longings, is
poetry in kind, and generally fit to become so in name, by being ' mar-
ried to immortal verse.' If it is of the essence of poetry to strike and
fix the imagination, whether we will or no, to make the eye of child-
hood glisten with the starting tear, to be never thought of afterwards
with indifference, John Bunyan and Daniel Defoe may be permitted to
pass for poets in their way." To these add Sidney, Defense of Poesy
11 18-22: "Which I speak to show that it is not riming and versing
that maketh a poet no more than a long gown maketh an advocate,
who, though he pleaded in armor, should be an advocate and no

9 8-19. Plato was essentially a poet, etc. To the same effect in Shel-
ley's Preface to his translation of Plato's Symposium : " Plato exhibits
the rare union of close and subtle logic with the Pythian enthusiasm of
poetry, melted by the splendor and harmony of his periods into one
irresistible stream of musical impressions, which hurry the persuasions

NO TES. 65

onward as in a breathless career. His language is that of an immortal
spirit rather than a man. Lord Bacon is, perhaps, the only writer
who in these particulars can be compared with him; his imitator Cicero
sinks in the comparison into an ape mocking the gestures of a man."
Cf. also Sidney, Defense 3 27, note.

9 20. Lord Bacon was a poet. See the Filum Labyrinthi, and the
Essay on Death particularly (Shelley's note).

10 9 ff. There is this difference, etc. Cf. Aristotle, Poetics 9 1-3 :
" The real distinction between the poet and the historian is not found
in the employment of verse by the former, and of prose by the latter,
for, if we suppose the history of Herodotus to be versified, it would be
nothing but history still, only now in a metrical form. The true ground
of difference is that the historian relates what has taken place, the poet
how certain things might have taken place. Hence poetry is of a more
philosophical and serious character than history; it is, we might say,
more universal and more ideal. Poetry deals with the general, history
with the particular. Now the general shows how certain typical char-
acters will speak and act, according to the law of probability or of
necessity, as poetry indicates by bestowing certain names upon these
characters, but the particular merely relates what Alcibiades, a historic
individual, actually did or suffered." And see Sidney, Defense 18 25 ff.

10 27-29. Hence epitomes, etc. Cf. Bacon, Adv. Learning 2. 2. 4 r
" As for the corruptions and moths of history, which are epitomes, the
use of them deserveth to be banished, as all men of sound judgment
have confessed, as those that have fretted and corroded the sound
bodies of many excellent histories, and wrought them into base and
unprofitable dregs."

11 4-5. A single word even may be a spark of inextinguishable
thought. Cf. 32 33-34 2 : " Each is as a spark, a burning atom of
inextinguishable thought."

115-12. And thus . . . images. Cf. Sidney, Defense 4 5-15.
11 11. Interstices. Cf. 14 17, 39 28 ff.; also 41 13.

11 10-18. Poetry is . . . -with its delight. Cf. Sidney, Defense 23 13-
25 2, 29 19-20.

12 3-7. The poems of Homer, etc. Cf. Sidney, Defense 2 27 ff.

12 7-8. Homer embodied, etc. Cf. Gladstone, Gleanings 2. 148 :
" Lofty example in comprehensive form is, without doubt, one of the
great standing needs of our race. To this want it has been from the
first one main purpose of the highest poetry to answer. The quest of
Beauty leads all those who engage in it to the ideal or normal man, as
the summit of attainable excellence. . . . The concern of Poetry with


corporal beauty is, though important, yet secondary : this art uses
form as an auxiliary, as a subordinate though proper part in the delin-
eation of mind and character, of which it is appointed to be a visible
organ. But with mind and character themselves lies the highest occu-
pation of the Muse."

12 11. Achilles, Hector, and Ulysses. See Sidney, Defense 16 34-
172: " See whether wisdom and temperance in Ulysses and Diomedes,
valor in Achilles, friendship in Nisus and Euryalus, even to an ignorant
man carry not an apparent shining."

13 13-14. To temper, etc. Cf. Sidney, Defense 58 3-5 : " But if ...
you be born so near the dull-making cataract of Nilus, that you can-
not hear the planet-like music of poetry."

13 23-24. But poetry acts in another and diviner manner. Cf.
Jowett's words accompanying his translation of Plato, 2. 312-3 (2d
edition) : " In modern times we almost ridicule the idea of poetry
admitting of a moral. The poet and the prophet, or preacher, in
primitive antiquity are one and the same; but in later ages they seem
to fall apart. The great art of novel writing, that peculiar creation of
our own and the last century, which, together with the sister art of
review writing, threatens to absorb all literature, has even less of seri-
ousness in her composition. Do we not often hear the novel writer
censured for attempting to convey a lesson to the minds of his readers?

" Yet the true office of a poet or writer of fiction is not merely to
give amusement, or to be the expression of the feelings of mankind,
good or bad, or even to increase our knowledge of human nature.
There have been poets in modern times, such as Goethe or Words-
worth, who have not forgotten their high vocation of teachers; and
the two greatest of the Greek dramatists owe their sublimity to their
ethical character. The noblest truths, sung of in the purest and sweet-
est language, are still the proper material of poetry. The poet clothes
them with beauty, and has a power of making them enter into the
hearts and memories of men. He has not only to speak of themes
above the level of ordinary life, but to speak of them in a deeper and
tenderer way than they are ordinarily felt, so as to awaken the feeling of
them in others. The old he makes young again; the familiar principle
he invests with a new dignity; he finds a noble expression for the
commonplaces of morality and politics. He uses the things of sense
so as to indicate what is beyond; he raises us through earth to heaven.
He expresses what the better part of us would fain say, and the half-
conscious feeling is strengthened by the expression. He is his own
critic, for the spirit of poetry and of criticism are not divided in him.


His mission is not to disguise men from themselves, but to reveal to
them their own nature, and make them better acquainted with the
world around them. True poetry is the remembrance of youth, of
love, the embodiment in words of the happiest and holiest moments of
life, of the noblest thoughts of man, of the greatest deeds of the past.
The poet of the future may return to his greater calling of the prophet
or teacher; indeed, we hardly know what may not be effected for the
human race by a better use of the poetical and imaginative faculty.
The reconciliation of poetry, as of religion, with truth, may still be
possible. Neither is the element of pleasure to be excluded. For
when we substitute a higher pleasure for a lower we raise men in the
scale of existence. Might not the novelist, too, make an ideal, or
rather many ideals of social life, better than a thousand sermons?
Plato, like the Puritans, is too much afraid of poetic and artistic influ-
ences, though he is not without a true sense of the noble purposes to
which art may be applied.

" Modern poetry is often a sort of plaything, or, in Plato's language,
a flattery, a sophistry, or sham, in which, without any serious purpose,
the poet lends wings to his fancy and exhibits his gifts of language and
metre. Such an one seeks to gratify the taste of his readers; he has
the ' savoir faire,' or trick of writing, but he has not the higher spirit
of poetry. He has no conception that true art should bring order out
of disorder; that it should make provision for the soul's highest inter-
est; that it should be pursued only with a view to 'the improvement
of the citizens.' He ministers to the weaker side of human nature; he
sings the strain of love in the latest fashion; instead of raising men
above themselves he brings them back to the 'tyranny of the many
masters,' from which all his life long a good man has been praying to
be delivered. And often, forgetful of measure and order, he will ex-
press not that which is truest, but that which is strongest. Instead of
a great and nobly-executed subject, perfect in every part, some fancy
of a heated brain is worked out with the strangest incongruity. He is
not the master of his words, but his words perhaps borrowed from
another the faded reflection of some French or German or Italian
writer, have the better of him. Though we are not going to banish
the poets, how can we suppose that such utterances have any healing
or life-giving influence on the minds of men?

" ' Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter ' : Art then must
be true, and politics must be true, and the life of man must be true
and not a seeming or sham. In all of them order has to be brought
out of disorder, truth out of error and falsehood. This is what we


mean by the greatest improvement of man. And so, having considered
in what way ' we can best spend the appointed time, we leave the result
with God.' "

13 27. Poetry lifts the veil, etc. The image of concealment and dis-
closure is a favorite with Shelley. Cf. 72,9 29, 10 24, 12 13, 25-26, 29 ff.,
18 17, 19 33, 20 16, 28 22, 30 5-6, 33 6-8, 41 14, 33, 42 1-2, 10-11, 16.

13 30. And the impersonations, etc. Cf. Sidney, Defense 30 20-25.

14 12-13. Poetry enlarges, etc. Cf. 9 22-24, 18 20-24; also 17 5. For
the image cf. Bacon, Adv. Learning I. I. 3: "Nothing can fill, much
less extend, the soul of man, but God and the contemplation of God."

14 21 ff. A poet therefore would do ill, etc. Cf. Forman, Our Liv-
ing Poets, p. 50 : " For a poem wherein the intimate tissues are thus
qualified by an ante-natal religiousness, wherein the morality is not an-
atomical but cellular, there will always be (to follow up this analogy
suggested by the high science of life) critical histologists to lay finger
on this and that part, and announce to the untechnical the quality and
meaning of the tissue; but such quality and meaning would often be
knowledge as new to the poet's self as to the uninstructed audience
knowledge indeed as new as the chemistry of honey to the bee. . . .
Doubtless the poet's mind would grasp and recognize the codification
deduced from his work; but he would deny any intention that such
codification should ever have been deduced his proper role lying
outside and around the considerations set forth by the critic."

15 20. As. This connective properly refers only to the former of
the two preceding clauses.

16 7. The drama had its birth. For an excellent account of the
Greek drama, see Moulton, Ancient Classical Drama (Macmillan,

16 16. Idealisms. Both Shelley and Peacock employ these abstracts
in -ism. Cf. 17 28, 32 27, S3 37, 57 26, 58 21.

16 18. Artists of the most consummate skill. Cf. Shelley, Discourse
on the Manners of the Ancients : " For it is worthy of observation that
whatever the poets of that age produced is as harmonious and perfect
as possible. If a drama, for instance, were the composition of a per-
son of inferior talent, it was still homogeneous and free from inequali-
ties; it was a whole, consistent with itself. The compositions of great
minds bore throughout the sustained stamp of their greatness. In the
poetry of succeeding ages the expectations are often exalted on Icarian
wings, and fall, too much disappointed to give a memory and a name
to the oblivious pool in which they fell."

17 6-7. But the comedy should be as in King Lear, universal, ideal+


and sublime. This is one of the profoundest sentences in the essay.
Cf. the discussion in Sidney's Defense of Poesy 50 9, note.

17 20. Calderon. Cf. Shelley's letter to Peacock, Sept. 21, 1819
(Prose Works 4. 125; Peacock's Works 3. 436) : " I have read about
twelve of his plays. Some of them certainly deserve to be ranked
among the greatest and most perfect productions of the human mind.
He excels all modern dramatists, with the exception of Shakespeare,
whom he resembles, however, in the depth of thought and subtlety of
imagination of his writings, and in the one rare power of interweaving
delicate and powerful comic traits with the most tragic situations, with-
out diminishing their interest. I rank him far above Beaumont and
Fletcher." Again in a letter to Gisborne, Nov., 1820 (Prose Works
4. 193; Peacock's Works 3. 436) : " I am bathing myself in the light
and odor of the flowery and starry Autos. I have read them all more
than once."

1725. Observation. ' Observance ' is now appropriated to this spe-
cial sense. Cf. 8 26.

IS 12-15. The drama, etc. Cf. Ruskin, Crown of Wild Olive
( War) : " For it is an assured truth that, whenever the faculties of
men are at their fulness, they must express themselves by art; and to
say that a state is without such expression is to say that it is sunk from
the proper level of manly nature."

18 28-29. Even crime is disarmed of half its horror and all its con-
tagion. Cf. Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (Payne's
ed. of Select Works 2 : 89) : " Under which vice itself lost half its
evil, by losing all its grossness."

19 1-2. Self-knowledge and self-respect. Cf. Tennyson, (Enone :

Self-reverence, self-knowledge, self-control,
These three alone lead life to sovereign power.

19 4. The drama, etc. This passage, like the well-known Shake-
spearean parallel {Hamlet 3. 2. 23-27), may be traced back to a saying
attributed by Donatus to Cicero (Cicero, ed. Baiter-Kayser, 8. 228) :
" Comoediam esse imitationem vitse, speculum consuetudinis, imaginem
veritatis" [Comedy is the semblance of life, the mirror of custom, the
image of truth].

20 2 ff. Grossest degradation of the drama, etc. Cf. Ward, Hist.
Eng. Dram. Lit. 2. 613-4: "This absence of moral purpose is the
true cause of the failure of our post- Restoration comic dramatists as a
body to satisfy the demands which are to be made upon their art."
Also 2. 620: "There are two forces which no dramatic literature can


neglect with impunity the national genius and the laws of morality.
. . . Because, to suit the vicious license of their public, the contem-
porary comic dramatists bade defiance to the order which they well
knew to be necessary for the moral government of human society,
their productions have failed to hold an honorable place in our national

20 10. Comedy loses its ideal universality. Cf. the anecdote related
by Peacock (Memoirs of Shelley; Works 3. 411), which illustrates
Shelley's sensitiveness to the exaggerations and perversions in which
comedy sometimes abounds : " He had a prejudice against theatres,
which I took some pains to overcome. I induced him one evening
to accompany me to a representation of the School for Scandal.
When, after the scene which exhibited Charles Surface in his jollity,
the scene returned, in the fourth act, to Joseph's library, Shelley said
to me : ' I see the purpose of this comedy. It is to associate virtue
with bottles and glasses, and villany with books.' I had great difficulty
to make him stay to the end. He often talked of the withering and
perverting spirit of comedy. I do not think he ever went to another."
Another illustration is furnished by Peacock (Works 3. 412) : "When
I came to the passage [Michael Perez's soliloquy in Rule a Wife and
Have a Wife~\ ... he said, ' There is comedy in its perfection. So-
ciety grinds down poor wretches into the dust of abject poverty, till
they are scarcely recognizable as human beings; and then, instead of
being treated as what they really are, subjects of the deepest pity, they
are brought forward as grotesque monstrosities to be laughed at.' I
said, ' You must admit the fineness of the expression.' ' It is true,' he
answered, ' but the finer it is the worse it is, with such a perversion of
sentiment.' "

21 13. The bucolic writers. Theocritus, Moschus, and Bion.

22 27. Astraa. Goddess of Justice. Cf. Ovid, Metamorph. I. 150-1 :
" Piety lies vanquished, and the virgin Astrsea is the last of the heav-
enly deities to abandon the earth, now drenched in slaughter."

236. Chain. Cf. Plato, Ion 533, 536 (Shelley's trans.): "It is a
divine influence which moves you, like that which resides in the stone
called magnet by Euripides, and Heraclea by the people. For not
only does this stone itself possess the power of attracting iron rings,
but it can communicate to them the power of attracting other rings;
so that you may see sometimes a long chain of rings, and other iron
substances, attached and suspended one to the other by this influence.
And as the power of the stone circulates through all the links of this
series, and attaches each to each, so the Muse, communicating through


those whom she has first inspired, to all others capable of sharing in
the inspiration, the influence of that first enthusiasm, creates a chain
and a succession. . . . Know then that the spectator represents the
last of the rings which derive a mutual and successive power from the
Heracleotic stone of which I spoke. You, the actor or rhapsodist,
represent the intermediate one, and the poet that attached to the
magnet itself. Through all these the God draws the souls of men
according to his pleasure, having attached them to one another by the
power transmitted from himself. And as from that stone, so a long
chain of poets, theatrical performers and subordinate teachers and
professors of the musical art, laterally connected with the main series,
are suspended from the Muse itself, as from the origin of the influence.
We call this inspiration, and our expression indeed comes near to the
truth; for the person who is an agent in this universal and reciprocal
attraction is indeed possessed, and some are attracted and suspended
by one of the poets who are the first rings in this great chain, and some
by another."

23 20. Episodes. Cf. 25 1.

25 1. Quia carent vate sacro. " Because they lack the bard divine."
The reading of the original is : " Carent quia vate sacro " (Horace,
Od. 4. 9. 28). Conington thus translates w. 25-28:

Before Atrides men were brave,
But ah ! oblivion, dark and long,
Has locked them in a tearless grave,
For lack of consecrating song.

25 3-4. Inspired rhapsodist. Probably suggested by Plato's Ion.
Ion himself, according to the dialogue, is such an inspired rhapsodist.

25 14. Generals. Shelley may still have been thinking of the Ion.
Cf. Ion 540-1 (Shelley's trans.) :

Ion. I see no difference between a general and a rhapsodist.

Socrates. How ! no difference ? Are not the arts of generalship and reci-
tation two distinct things ?

Ion. No, they are the same.

Socrates. Must he who is a good rhapsodist be also necessarily a good
general ?

Ion. Infallibly, O Socrates.

25 20-21. The poetry of Moses, Job, David, Solomon, and Isaiah.
Cf. Sidney, Defense 9 19-24.

25 29. Three forms. Such a division is found in the Fourth Book
of the Republic. Jowett (Plato 3. 57) says on this point: "The psy-


chology of Plato extends no further than the division of the soul into
the rational, irascible, and concupiscent elements, which, as far as we
know, was first made by him, and has been retained by Aristotle and

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Online LibraryPercy Bysshe ShelleyA defense of poetry; → online text (page 7 of 9)