Analysis of Defense of Poetry
Percy Bysshe Shelley
Percy Shelley was born in 1792 in Sussex England, Shelley would become one of the finest poets of the Romantic period. He was brought up under very privileged circumstance and attending Syon House Academy at the age of ten, Eton at the age of twelve and would later attend Oxford University (Penn par 1). It was at this time he would received extensive knowledge of the classics and become interested in science and radical politics (Wu 1043). Before he even turned twenty he published two gothic novels the Zastrozzi and St Irvyne in 1810 and the very next year he published The Rosicrucian (Penn par 1). Some of his most famous pieces wereOzymandias, which is another name for Rameses II and was inspired by a shattered colossus in the Ramesseum, his funeral temple (Rice par 3). Another famous piece,Ode to a West Wind, was written near Florence and examines one man’s struggle to communicate with the divine presence he senses in the physical world. By the end of the poem it is apparent that the man is Shelley himself (Bowdoin). While attending Oxford Shelley was subsequently expelled for publishing the Necessity of Atheism, which argued that God’s existence could be proved only by reference to the senses, reason, and testimony of others. Having denied their validity, it concluded: ‘Truth has always been found to promote that best interests of mankind. Every reflecting mind must allow that there is no proof of the existence of a Diety’ (Wu 1043). Shelley would publish countless other pieces, one which included hisDefense of Poetry, that was not officially published until 1940, which we will examine shortly. After publishing The Cloud in 1822, Shelley would unfortunately drown while traveling across the Mediterranean Sea on the 8th of July in 1822 (Penn par. 11). Shelley’s literary reputation would not reach its peak until after his death for many reasons but it is a testament to his career that we still examine his works today.
The Defense of Poetry
Written in 1820 and not published until 1940, it was Shelley’s attempt to understand the place of poetry in a world that is rapidly changing (Vanderbilt par 1). It was written in a response to his friend Thomas Love Peacock who wrote a satirical piece entitled The Four Ages of Poetry. Peacock urged intelligent men to stop wasting their time writing poetry and apply themselves to the new sciences, including economics and political theory, which would improve the world (Vanderbilt par 1). Of course Shelley had to respond and this is where his defense of poetry took affect. In The Defense of Poetry Shelley argues for poetry’s utilitarian function. He contends that the invention of language reveals a human impulse to reproduce the rhythmic and ordered, so that harmony and unity are delighted in wherever they are found and incorporated, instinctively, into creative activities (Sandy par 2). He breaks the piece down into several different parts, beginning with the defense of poetry as a whole then measured and unmeasured language, the creative faculty in Greece, the poetry of Dante and Milton, and then his concluding argument. Defense of Poetry
In the first section Shelley defends poetry with the use of two classes of mental action, one being reason and the other imagination. He states that “reason is to imagination as the instrument to the agent, as the body to the spirit, as the shadow to the substance” (Wu 1185). Shelley argues that every man experiences happiness and delight in certain experiences but “Those in whom it exists in excess are poets, in the most universal sense of the word; and the pleasure resulting from the manner in which they express the influence of society or nature upon their own minds, communicates itself to others, and gathers a sort of reduplication from that community (Fordham). He believes a poets role is to be all encompassing in society he states that...
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