This is to certify that the research on the topic of this dissertation was done by Mr. Ankit Ghildiyal under my supervision and to the best of my knowledge. The work is the result of his original investigation and study.
(Dr. Mrs. VANDANA CHAUHAN)
SUPER VISOR Lecturer Department of English Govt. P.G. College Kotdwara (Uttarakhand) Date – 03/06/2013
Place – Kotdwara
I am indebted and grateful to all those who in some way on the order helped me and extended their kind co-operation to me from time to time during the emposition of this dissertation. It is indeed a great pleasure to work upon a the detail study of Shelley. A Defence of poetry and to prepare dissertation on it. First off all I owe a sense of deep gratitude to my supervisior Dr. Mrs. Vandana Chauhan Lecturer English Department Govt. P.G. College Kotdwara without personal care and constant encouragement helped me in the completion of this dissertation. I also we deepest gratitude to my father Mr. C.P. Ghildiyal and my mother Suteshwari Devi who gave me their unwavering support for life time. I am also thankful to the library staff of Govt. P.G. College Kotdwara for their co-operation. Last but not the lease I would like to thank Ram Associate Printing Press for giving special consideration to my work. (Ankit Ghildiyal)
I hereby declare that this dissertation has been composed by me and has not been previously formed the bases for the award of my degree, diploma, or any similar title. Dated–03/06/13
Chapter – I – Introduction
Chapter – II – Origion and background of A Defence of Poetry Chapter – III – Critical Appreciation of A Defence of Poetry Chapter – IV – Function of Poetry
Chapter – V – Conclusion
Percy Bysshe Shelley was born on August 4, 1792, near Horsham, Sussex. The middle name was after Shelley’s grandfather, Sir Bysshe Shelley, who was the founder of the fortunes of the family. The future poet was the eldest child of Timothy Shelley, Member of Parliament. The estate of Field Place had come to the family in 1748, but five years before that it had already acquired the family estate of Fen Place, Sussex. Shelley was extremely handsome in his boyhood, and extant paintings show him to have possessed a delicate, girlish countenance, with bright, piercing eyes and curly hair. The poet’s father was the eldest son of Sir Byeehe Shelley’s ten Legitimate children from his two marriages. He had entered Parliament after attending University College, Oxford, and taking the customary ‘grand tour’ of Europe. He married Elizabeth Pilford in 1791, and the two established residence at Field Place. It was here that Percy Bysshe (pronounced Bish) was born. He was followed by four sisters and one brother, in addition to one sister who died when she was few months old. Thus the future poet grew up as the eldest in a family of girls, and a baby boy whom he could see only on school holidays. He was known at home by his middle name of Bysshe. He was the family favourite and acted as the protecter of his sisters. Shelley’s education began with his learning Latin when he was only six years old. He was taught at home by a cletrfyman, the Reverend Evan Edwards, of whom he carried admiring memories. He felt acutely miserable there, and whenever he received corporal punishment, he used to writhe on the floor to give vent to his sense of humiliation, rather than the physical pain, which did not matter to him so much. Shelley developed two tastes here, one of which he was to outgrow in a few years, but the second was to become a permanent trait. The first was liking for horror stories, which found expression in two Gothic novels that he wrote. The second was his love of science. In 1804, at the age of twelves, Shelley joined the famous public school at Eton. He rebelled against some of the established customs at this school because they appeared to him to be tyrannical impositions. One of them was the fashion of fagging, i.e. of junior students being made to do manual work and run errands for the senior ones. Although his pluck won him some admirers also, on the whole he was looked upon as an eccentric and given the title ‘Mad Shelley’. In 1810, Shelley joined University college, Oxford. There he made friends with Thomas Jefferson Hogg. Shelley’s love of science remained unabated. In addition, he also became fascinated with philosophy. In the meanwhile, Shelley faced his first disappointment in life when his cousin Harriet Grove, with whom he fancied himself in live, married someone else. Perhaps it was this frustration which drove Shelley to more radical pursuits like the championship of intellectual and personal liberty. Shelley wrote a pamphlet – The Necessity of Atheism – which was not really as objectionable as its title would make one expect. Characteristically, Shelley had copies of the pamphlet sent to all important people at the university, including the Vice – Chancellor. After an inquiry, in which Shelley refused to cooperate, he along with his friend, Hogg, was sent down from the university in 1811. Within a few months of this, Shelley eloped with Harriet Westbrook. The most important influences that insensibly shaped the poet’s mind and personality were the early relationships with his family, servants, neighbours, teachers and schoolmates. If we compare Shelley with Wordsworth and Byron, we would find much fewer autobiographical touches in his poetry and even his letters. The concerns that dominated his mind were quite different. He discusses ideas, describes scenes of books with which he is familiar, speaks about various household affairs – all which gives us a gimpse of the early influences which worked on him. There are interesting touches of self – revelation in some of the letters he wrote are interesting touches of self – revelation in some of the letters he wrote at a time when he was in a state of intellectual and psychological ferment. These letters were written to Thomas Jefferson Hogg, Elizabeth Hitchener and William Godwin. They mostly relate to the period of his short stay at Oxford, and to the time shortly after his expulsion from there. He makes but few references in them to his early life at Field Place, or at the two schools that he attended before joining the university. However, it is possible to derive some information from them about Shelley’s early life. As a critic observes: From these scattered comments and from later reminiscences of his sister Helen, his cousins Charies Grove and Thomas Medwin, and such confidants as Hagg, Leigh Hunt. Thomas Love Peacock, and Mary Shelley, there emerges a picture of a boy increasingly uneasy in the position of privilege to which he had been born and increasingly unwilling to submit to the system which fostered that privilege. Shelley seems to have been greatly influenced by the contrast between his grandfather and his father, between his protected life at home and the traumatic tyranny of his school life, the contrast between ideal social life and that he saw in his country, and England’s opposition to revolutionary France, in spite of her traditional love of individual and social liberty. There is much similarity, in addition to a significant contrast, between the two marriages which Shelley contracted. Both were with extremely young girls, in fact of the age of sixteen. Both took place after elopements, and both ultimately brought the poet a fair degree of material advantage. The first marriage was with Harriet Westbrook. In fact he married her twice, for their first marriage in Edinburgh, Scotland, was questioned by some people. At the time of the second marriage, they already had daughter, Ianthe. Shelley always looked upon this marriage as a mistake, for there was little temperamental affinity between himself and Harriet. Moreover, Shelley suspected her of coldness towards him, and also of neglecting their two children. The result was that they separated after only three years of marriage. After Shelley had eloped for the second time, now with the sixteen – year old Mary Godwin, daughter of his political mentor William Godwin, he quite characteristically, wrote to Harriet to come and live with them in Italy, an invitation which she, quite understandably, did not accept. Harriet committed suicide in 1816. Shelley then married Mary, with whom he had been living for over two years and from whom he had already be got a son. Mary’s half sister, Claire Clairmont also lived with the Shelleys. Byron fell in love with her and Clair had a daughter by him in 1817. Although Shellley contracted several relations with women, Platonic as well as otherwise, he and Mary were, in many ways, a well – matched couple. Shelley tried to ger the custody of his children by Harriet, after her suicide, but the court rejected his claim, declaring him to be an unfit person to live with two young, impressionable minds. This decision greatly embittered Shelley. Having lived near Windsor, and at Marlow, and having spent a summer with Byron, with whom he had become acquainted in 1816, in Switzerland, Shelley left for Italy, never to see his native land again. There he lived first at Lucca, then at Byron’s villa near Este, where he composed the famous poem ‘Lines written in the Euganean Hills’. Shelley also visite: Byron at Venice, Where he wrote the poem ‘Julian and Maddalo’ in which the first name stands for the poet himself and the second for Byron. Early in 1819 Shelley was at Rome, where he wrote the ‘Masque of Anarchy’ – an indictment of the Castlereagh administration in England. At the end of 1819 the Shelleys moved to Pisa, and it was in this period that he wrote some of his finest poetry, including the immortal ‘Ode to the West Wind’. In April 1821 Shelley moved to Lerici on the shores of the bay of Spezia, where he completed his lyrical drama, Hellas. He had been also at work on a drama, Charles I, which he left unfinished. Another work that death did not give him leave to complete was the great poem that death did not give him leave to complete was the great poem ‘The Triumph of Life’. Shelley died on July 8, 1822, when his boat capsized as he was washed ashore several days later. Italian quarantine laws did not permit the decomposed body to be buried, so it was burnt, Byron and Leigh Hunt being among those who lit the pyre. The remains were buried in the English Cemetery at Rome, described by Shelley himself in Adonais, near the grave of Keats. The grave bore the inscription Cordium and a quotation from The Tempest alluding to the sea – change into ‘something rich and strange’ undergone by the mortal body. Shelley’s literary career may, in fact be said to have begun when he was still a student at Oxford and wrote, anonymously, the pamphlet, The Necessity of Athesim. His career as poet began with Queen Mab, written around 1813. Already, Shelley had published the Gothic novels, Zastrozzi (1810) and St. Irvene a few months later. Shelley’s first great poem was Alastor (1816). From thence began his hectic poet career, lasting for less than seven years, during which which he led a remarkably full and active life. Some of his great poems are the ‘Hymn to Intellectual Beauty’, ‘The Revolt of Islam’, the Odes, short lyrics, ‘Epipsychidion’, and Adonais. Shelley also wrote a play, The Cenci, and the more poetic uncompleted Prometheus Unbounded. Shelley’s prose works are not so well known, except for the impassioned vindication of poetry, A Defence of Poetry, but he wrote quite a lot. They bear a miscellaneous character, ranging from The Address to the Irish People, A Refutation of Deism, Proposals for Putting the Reform to Vote, to the well – argued critical prefaces to many of his poems. All his writings reflect one consistent trait of his character, namely, his visionary idealism, which went hand in hand with an impatient radicalism, eager to tear down all institutions, especially those of religion and politics. They also reflect his uncanny skill as a poet and evidence the fact that his work was seldom written in cold blood but always in the white heat of inspiration. His short lyrics are unparalleled and will always remain one of the glories of English poetry. The following lyrics, consisting of but ten lines, is an admirable example: O world! O life! O time!
On whose last steps I climb.
Trembling at that where I had stood before; When shall return the glory of your prime? No more – Oh, never more!
Out of the day and night
A joy has taken flight;
Fresh spring, and summer, and winter hoar. Move my font heart with grief, but with delight No more – Oh, never more!
John Addington Symonds in his Epilogue to Life of Shelley writes, “Shelley’s life poetry are indissolubly connected. He acted what he thought and felt, with a directness rare among the brethren of the poet’s craft; while his verse, with the exception of “The Cenci”, expressed little but the animating thoughts and aspirations of his life.” That life, moreover was a “miracle of thirty years, so crowded with striking incident and varied experience that, as he said himself, he had already lived longer than his father and ought to be reckoned with the men of ninery.” In the background of these general considerations of Shelley’s work, it will be worthwhile to follow the artistic growth of the poet. His earliest work was Queen Mab, printed in 1813. It is “an outcry against the unspiritual forces that weigh down mankind, but is crude in expression and is obviously written under the influence of Southey’s Orientalism.” The ethical gist lies in the speech of the Fairy. The poet’s rage is directed against the tyranny of material forces – of gold, militarism and superstition – in the name of the faith from which Shelley varied perhaps in expression but never in substance that ‘soul is the only element’. His next attempt was Alastor (1816) in which Shelley found his true greatness for the first time. In this poem the influence of Southey begins to yield to that of Wordsworth. But in its ethereal colouring and dreamy cadences, the abstract ‘Spirit of Nature’ invoked in Queen Mb is now drawn into closer communion as the ‘Mother of this unfathomable world.’ It is the revolt of the imagination against the linitations of hrman life. “Alastor,” says Hugh Walker, “is the embodiment of htis visionary quality of Shelley’s genius, the self – portraiture of a tameless spirit to which beauty presented itself as yet only as an impalpable dream, by no means as the glorious venture which familiar things wear to the imaginative eye.” It was the first serious poem written by Shelley. “Alastor” is the Greek name for a vengeful demon, driving its victim into desert places; and Shelley, prompted by Peacock, chose it for the title of a poem which describes the “Nemesis of solitary souls”. Apart from its intrinsic merit as a work of art Alastor has great autobiographical value. Mrs. Shelley observed that it was written under the expectation of speedy death, and under the sense of disappointment consequent upon the misfortunes of his early life. Alastor was followed by the fine Hymn to Intellectual Beauty, published in 1816. The poem was conceived in his voyage round the Geneva Lake. This Hymn was followed by another splendid piece Mont Blanc. Just as Byron was fascinated by the storms and savagery of the Alps, Shelley saw in them the abode of ‘the secret strength of things’: Thou hast a voice, great Mountain, to repeal Large codes of fraud and woe. His next great venture was based on a revolutionary theme, The Revolt of Islam, which indeed is a beautiful romance of revolution. The poet gives us an intimate blend of the passion for freedom and passion for beauty. The poem fails, in spite of fine imagination and musical cadences, to gold the imagination and instead charms the fancy. The poem describes Cythna stirring the lethargic people to revolt and she and her counterpart, the lady who consoles the wounded serpent – the spirit of Good – after its first futile struggle with the demon eagle, are beautiful as morning. In Canto VIII of the poem the poet says:
O Love, who to the hearts of wandering men Art as the calm to ocean’s weary waves! Cythna is the female warrior of heroic valour and impassioned purity. Her great ideal is to secure the intellectual liberation of her sex. It is a poem in which Shelley makes a skilful use of the heroic couplet. It is written in the form of a conversation between Julian (Shelley) and Maddalo (Lord Byron). The theme centres round the power of man and the potency of the human mind. This piece is quite interesting. Byron “is a person of the most consummate genius and capable, if he would direct his energies to such an end, of becoming the redeemer of his degraded country. His passions and his powers are incomparably greater than those of other men; and instead of the latter having been employed in curing the former, they have mutually lent each other strength.” The picture of Byron is vivid and intimate, but there is too much “verbal hysteria” to make it great or memorable. Written in 1818 – 1820, this work is not a poem, but a lyrical drama. It is regarded as the best work of Shelley’s revolutionary enthusiasm and the most characteristic of all his poems. Here Shelley looks forward to the Golden Age and is the prophet of science and evolution. In Shelley’s poem “the hero Prometheus represents mankind itself – a just and noble humanity, chained and tortured by Jove, who is here a personification of human institutions. In due time Demogorgon (which is Shelley’s name for Necessity) overthrows the tyrant Jove and releases Prometheus (Mankind), who is presently united to Asia, the spirit of love and goodness in nature, while the earth and the moon join in a wedding song everything gives promise that they shall live together happy ever afterwards.” This lyrical drama is written in four acts, depicting Shelley’s thirst for liberty in a noble and expansive setting. Even if the machinery of the poem is not clear, the meaning of the poem is clear enough and the poetic symbolism used to depict the joy of Nature at the liberation of Prometheus is magnificent “The bright blue sky of Rome and the effect of the vigorous awakening spring in that divinest climate, and the new life with which it dominates the spirits even to intoxication were the inspiration of this drama.” Thus wrote Shelley, and in the fresh loveliness of the jets of song that break forth from time to time, we can realize the measure of the poet’s spiritual intoxication’. The Cenci is the only complete tragedy written by the poet in blank verse. It consists of five acts and presents before us the tragic, morbid and pathetic story of Beatrice Cenci. The Cenci was composed rapidly, at Leghorn, in the glowing midday heats that he loved. The story of Beatrice Cenci, as traditionally told, had deeply stirred two of the most sensitive fibres of his nature, his sympathy for heroism and for suffering womanhood. Familiar for two centuries among the people of Rome, it seemed to be a tragic theme such as Aeschylus might have chosen. And Greek, The Cenci is , in the austere handling of its terrible theme. Without ever becoming abstract or shadowy, he yet lifts his gross materials persistently into the region in which pity and terror ‘purify’. He makes Beatrice slay her father, not to assert her outraged dignity, but Because my father’s honour did demand My father’s death
and resist, like Prometheus, all tortures except those of the spirit. My pangs are of the mind and of the heart And of the soul ay, of the inmost soul, Which weeps within tears as of burning gall To see in this ill world, where none are true, My kindred false to their deserted selves. Shelley intended The Cenci to be acted wrote disparagingly of it as popular piece. It, in fact , excited a relatively widespread interest and went through two editions in his life – time. The Cenci depicts an altogether different aspect of Shelley’s attitude to life-his tragic concept. Usually critics could not think of Shelley as being capable of depicting the tragic view of life, as his attitude in general is that of sentimental optimism. Far different in character is Epipsychidion, one of the most characteristic of Shelley’s works. The poem celebrates Platonic love. The charm which belongs to Shelley and the delight which a great poem kindles in the heart of man, have made Emilia Viviani, for whom the Epipsychision was written, one of the most interesting women in the world. In Epipsychidion, Shelley speaks of Emily as of a woman towards whom he feels love, and sometimes only of his Epipsychidion – the divine image of his soul, whom he feels through her and who is veiled in her. Epipsychidion is the last shape into which his idealism of love was thrown. The greatness of the failure, following on the greatness of the failure, following on the greatness of the effort, made him put this kind of thing away for ever. When he spoke afterwards of the poem, he said – ‘it is a part of me which is already dead’. And all his love poems which follow Epipsychidion, are in the real world , without a trace of philosophy, inspired only by personal affection. As regards the poetical quality, it is an exceedingly personal poem. It demonstrates Shelley’s weakness and strong points more than any poem does. And both these are at their height because writing, and writing passionately, about his own inward life, he was under no such restraint as a subject apart from, himself would naturally furnish. Here nothing that he thought seemed irrelevant, for the subject was his own thought. It is a lyrical drama which Shelley described as a sort of imitation of the Persae of Aesehyls. It was produced in 1821 but Shellley did not set great store by it. The preface to this drama might be cited as a specimen of his sound and weighty judgement upon one of the greatest political questions of this century. What he says about the debt of the modern world to ancient Hellas, is no less pregnant than his severe strictness upon the part played by Russia in dealing with Eastern questions. For the rest, the poem is distinguished by passages of great lyrical beauty, rising at times to the sublimest raptures, and closing on the half – pathetic cadence of that well. Known Chorus. The world’s great age begins anew
The golden years return
The earth doth like a snake renew
Her winter weeds outworn;
Heaven smiles, and faiths and empires gleam Like wrecks for a dissolving dream.
It has little dramatic interest; nor is the play, as finished, equal to the promise held forth by the superb fragment of its so – called Prologue. However one thing that has made this drama immortal is its Chorus. The lyrical movement of the Chorus, from Hellas, marks the highest point of Shelley’s rhythmical invention. Adonais is a pastoral elegy on the death of John Keats. It is closely madelled on two great Greek elegies, Bion’s lament of Aphrodite for Adonis, and Moschus’ lament for Bion. Shelley has merely changed the vowel sound and used Adonais intead of Adonis. “The news of Keats’ death at Rome on the 23rd of February, 1821, and the erroneous belief that it had been accelerated, if not caused, by a contemptible review of Endymion in the Quarterly stirred Shelley to the composition of Adonais. Shelley had a high opinion of this piece.” “The Adonais, in spite of its mysticism”, he writes to Ollier, “is the least imperfect of my compositions. It is a highly wrought piece of art, and perhaps better, in point of composition than anything I have written” “Adonais”, observes Long “is a wonderful threnody, or a song of grief over the death of the poet Keats. Even in his grief Shelley still preserves a sense of unreality, and calls in many shadowy allegorical figures – Sad Spring, Weeping Hours, Glooms, Splendours, Destinies – all uniting in bewailing the loss of a loved one. The whole poem is a succession of dream pictures, exquisitely beautiful, such as only Shelley could imagine; it holds its place with Milton’s Lycidas and Tennyson’s In Memoriam as one of the three greatest elegies in our language.” Adonais is a magnificent illustration of Shelley’s transcendental philosophy. It combines music with highly abstract thought as it has never been combined before. Its style too becomes rarer and clearer. Shelley preached in all his poetry the triumph of the spiritual over the material. In the spring of 1822 the Shelleys changed their abode and shifted to Palazzo and the wild Spezzian bay. Here he wrote but little. But is was here again that he wrote the splendid Triumph of Life, which his death left a fragment. The familiar thoughts of Shelley’s philosophy are wrought into imaginative allegory, full of drama and pathos, Life trumphs over those that live: From every form the beauty slowly waned; From every first limb and fairest face The strength and freshness fell like dust. The spoilers are spoiled – Voltaire, Frederick, Catherine, Leopold – the great thinkers fail to know themselves. The great conqueror, seeking to win the world, loses all. Love alone resists all transformation – and here Shelley expressly recalis Dante, the singer of the triumph of Love, whose linked verse he handles with incomparably finer instinct than Byron had showed in the prophecy of Dante. Both poets found nurture in the universe of Dante’s genius; but while Byron was characteristically drawn to the iconoclast invectives of the Inforno, Shelley delighted most in the Paradisowhence Dante
Returned to tell
The words of hate and awe – the wondrous story How all things are transfigured except Love. Hazlitt described The Triumph of Love as “a new and terrific Dance of Death.’ Undoubtedly the poem is one of the loftiest of Shelley’s masterpieces. It is “a pageant of the human spirit dragged in chains.” The subject – matter of the poem is: “Life is what triumphs over Nature, even as Nature triumphs over imagination. Life is death – in – life, a cold, common hell in which we walke to weep.” Apart from these longer poems, Shelley’s genius finds its best expression in his exquisitely beautiful lyrics which occupy an immortal niche in temple of the Muse. Who is not delighted to read “The Cloud”, “To a Skylark”, “Ode to the West Wind”, “To Night”, “The Sensitive Plant”, “Stanzas Written in Dejection Near Naples” and a host of other exquisitely beautiful lyrics? These poems show the poet at his best.
Origion and background of A Defence of Poetry
It is a characteristic of the Romantics as school of poets that they were keenly interested in the theory of poetry, especially to the extent it related to their own practice, which was a clean break from the eighteenth century theory and practice of poetry. Notable among discussions of poetry by other Romantic poets is Wordsworth’s view of poetry, especially of the diction of poetry being no different from the everyday language, which he enunciates in the preface to the second edition of Literary Ballads, and Coleridge’s theory of poetic imagination, especially as expounded in the Biographia Literaria. Shelley was keenly interested in questions like the nature and frnction of poetry, and A Defence of Poetry is not the only expression of this interest, thought it is the most sustained as well as formal exposition of Shelley’s view of poetry. Shelley’s letters, and the prefaces to several of his poems and plays, also contain a discussion of similar critical questions. The provocation which made Shelley come out with this impassioned defence of poetry, and of the role of the poet in society, must have been a long one. The Romantics had not been fairly treated by reviewers, and although Shelley was not savagely attacked as Keats was, his work did not receive just appraisal. Moreover, Shelley’s character was both misunderstood and maligned. The distorted view of Shelley’s character and rumours about Byron’s immorality were pieced together as though to arrive at a typical picture of the Romantic poet. The Romantics were keenly alive to their role as the awakeners of mankind and the champions of liberty, but this aspect of their poetry did not receive proper attentions. In A Defence of Poetry Shelley pays attention to all these questions, which must have exercised his attention long before the actual provocation, in the shape of Peacock’s article, “The Four Ages of Poetry”, appeared. Peacock was personal friend of Shelley, but he had no love lost for the Romantics and their theory and practice of poetry. Peacock satirised and parodied the personality and views of the Romantics in more than one of his works. His novel Headlong Hall (1816) makes fun of sentimental dreamers and their impracticable theories of reforming the world. In another novel, Melincourt, or Sir Oran Hutton (1817) Peacock ridicules the Romantic conception of the natural man, and parodies Wordsworth, Southey and Coleridge, who appear as characters in the novel, though not under their own names. Peacock does not spare Shelley either, for he appears as Scythrop Glowry in Nightmare Abbey (1818), in which Byron and Coleridge also are parodied. However, the parody of Shelley is good – humoured and the victim himself enjoyed the portrait. “The Four Ages of Poetry’ was an article, not entirely serious, which Peacock contributed to the first and only issue of a periodical, The Literary Miscellany, which was started by the Olliers, who were also the publishers of Shelley’s poetry. The four ages into which Peacock divides the development of poetry are those of iron, gold, silver and brass. Peacock himself wrote to Shelley about his article, and along with telling him that he had sent him a copy of the periodical, deplored the fact that some quite worthless poets, like ‘Barry Cornwall’, had attained popularity. As soon as Shelley read the article, he wrote to the publisher that he intended writing a rejoinder. He also wrote to Peacock, telling him that he concurred with him in his condemnation of bad contemporary poetry, but differed with him entirely on the question of the value of poetry and the importance of the role of the poet in society. There is some evidence to suggest that Shelley at first intended his views to take the form of a letter to the editor of The Literary Miscellany, but later gave up this plan in favour of a formal rebuttal and defence. Shelley sent his essay to the editor shortly after he read Peacock’s attack on poetry. He explained that it was his plan to discuss the nature of poetry in the first part of the essay, and to apply his findings to the present state of poetry in England, in another part (possibly two parts) that would follow. As no other issue of The Literary Miscellany appeared, there was no question of Shelley’s article being published in it. Later he sent it for publication in John Hunt’s periodical, The Liberal, but unfortunately even this periodical ceased publication a little time later. In fact Shelley never wrote the further part of the argument, according to his original plan. The article appeared after Shelley’s death. It was revised by Hunt, in consultation with Mrs. Shelley. It was Hunt’s feeling that there was no point in retaining the references to Peacock’s article, for more than two decades had elapsed since then. Such references were therefore omitted, and although one who has read Peacock’s essay can still see the connection between it and A Defence of Poetry, to all intents and purposes Shelley’s essay, in its published version, may be regarded as an independent vindication of poetry, against all attacks that have been, or may in future, be levelled at poetry. Peacock was happy with changes, the reason being that “The Four Ages of Poetry” is not one of his best works, and he certainly would not have liked to have notoriety conferred on him because of this attack on poetry. He, in fact, expressed relief at the fact that A Defence of poetry was in its published version a defence without an attack. A remark in the essay itself gives one the impression that the omission of particular references would have met with Shelley’s own approval, had he been alive when the publication took place. Shelley observes, in the concluding part of A Defence without an attack. A remark in the essay itself gives one the impression that the omission of particular references would have met with Shelley’s own approval, had he been alive when the publication took place. Shelley observes, in the concluding part of A Defence of Poetry: I have thought it most favourable the cause of truth to set down these remarks according to the order in which they were suggested to my mind, by a consideration of the subject itself, instead of observing the formality of a polemical reply; but if the view which they contain be just, they will be found to involve a refutation of the arguers against poetry... Peacock is actually dissatisfied with the poetry of his own age, which appears to him to be absolutely worthless when compared with the great poetry of the past, but he invents an ingenious theory to convey this dissatisfaction. Peacock traces the development of poetry from an iron age of early poetry, to the golden age of poetic perfection of which the classical Greek dramatists and Shakespeare, respectively, are the examples in the ancient and the modern world. The age of silver is visualised by Peacock as mainly as an age of imitation, exemplified in ancient literature by Virgil, and by Dryden and Pope in modern times. The age of brass is the description which Peacock employs for the present age of poetry. In England, it is the Lake Poets who represent it. Their poetry appeaus to Peacock to be nothing better than the rant of unregulated passion, and the exaggerated expression of artificial sentiment. Peacock’s view of contemporary poetry is also contained in the letter that he wrote to Shelley informing him of the publication of ‘The Four Ages of Poetry’. Shelly’s basic stand with reference to peacock’s criticism is made clearer in his letters. In a letter to Peacock, dated February 15, 1821, Shelley observes: The world is pale with sickness of such stuff [like the poetry of ‘Barry Cornwall’]...I had the greatest possible desire to break a lance with you, within the lists of a magazine, in honour of my mistress Urania. Thus, Shelley shares Peacock’s view of the worthless of some contemporary poetry, without regarding this as either an indication of the quality of contemporary poetry as whole, or of the worth of poetry as such. Peacock’s wit did not escape Shelley; in his letter to Ollier he described Peacock’s essay as very olever but very false. It is sometimes suggested that Shelley was at a basic disadvantage in his essay because he was taking Peacock’s wit and raillery with entire seriousness. This is not altogether true. Shelley was quite sensible of the banter in Peacock’s article, and the first response that he had intended to make, in the form of a letter to the editor of the periodical, was partly ironical in tone. It seems that Shelley decided to adopt an entirely serious tone because he realised that in spite of the facetious air of Peacock’s essay the views expressed therein were pernicious enough to deserve a reasoned rebuttal. For Shelley poetry was never a laughing matter. Moreover, what Peacock had said in a tone which was a blend of seriousness and wit, was being asserted by other critics, particularly by hostile reviewers, not only with perfect seriousness but with great venom. ‘Shelley’s reply was meant to take care of all such denunciations of the poetry of Romantics, rather than as just a refutation of Peacock’s criticism. The method followed by Shelley in A Defence of Poetry has link with Peacock’s essay to the extent that Shelley also attempts a survey of poetry. In appearance he also may be dividing the survey of poetry. In appearance he also may be dividing the development poetry into ‘ages’. For example, he speaks highly of the primitive man’s enjoyment in dance, song etc. One may say that this corresponds to the ‘iron age’ of Peacock’s conception. In tracing the development of Roman Poetry, Shelley also stresses its imitative nature, thus agreeing to what Peacock says with reference to the ‘silver age’. There is something in Shelley’s essay corresponding to the ‘brass age’ of Peacock, but he finds this in the poetry and drama of the Restoration, rather than of his own day. He has, in fact, the highest opinion of the achievements of the Romantics. He observes towards the close of the essay: It is impossible to read the compositions of the most celebrated writers of the present day without being started with the electric life which burns within their words. They measure the circumference and sound the depths of human nature with a comprehensive and all – penetrating spirit, and they are themselves perhaps the most sincerely astonished at its manifestation; for it is less their spirit than the spirit of the age. The difference between Peacock’s assessment of the development of poetry, and Shelley’s, is essentially not that the former regards the present age as the most inferior, and the latter the age of the Restoration. More than this, it is the basic assumption of the two critics that is different. Peacock’s view implies that poetry reaches a golden age and then declines. While not essentially opposing this, which is after all a natural phenomenon, Shelley rather stresses the continuity of poetry. Moreover, the crux of Peacock’s essay is that science and material development have made the role of the poet in society redundant and even negative. Shelley’s essay emphasises the social responsibility of the poet, and points out the way in which poets, including his contemporaries, have discharged their debt to society. Whereas for Peacock the poet is no better than a farcical anachronism in present – day society, for Shelley he is still the most sensitive, inspired and imaginative member of society, who plays an invaluable part by awakening the consciousness of the people and exercising and enriching their imagination. Shelley’s essay begins with a praise of the imagination, which he sees as a mental faculty much superior to reason. The imagination synthesises whereas reason merely analyses. The purpose of this exaltation of the imagination soon becomes clear when we find that Shelley defines poetry, in general, to be the expression of the imagination. Poetry embodies both reason and feelings in a concrete and everlasting shape. Love of beauty and harmony is a reflection of the imagination, and right from primitive times man has evinced this love. This means, for Shelley, that the origin of poetry is connate with that of man himself. Later in his essay, Shelley maintains that even reason cannot develop fully without the imagination, so that all other arts and sciences are comprehended within poetry. Shelley would regard not reason, but the imagination, as the essential and distinctive human trait. Shelley assigns an incredibly vast scope to the term poetry, which is a logical outcome of his definition of poetry as the expression of the imagination, without any reference to the form or the medium. Shelley does not, in the first place, recognise the commonly held distinction between prose and poetry. If a work has a high sense of rhythm, harmony and order, Shelley would regard it as poetry regardless of its medium. Moreover, Shelley includes all other fine arts also within the scope of poetry. Not only that, creative philosophers, law, givers and all creators of institutions which evince a high sense of beauty, order and harmony, are to him poets. Thus, Shelley’s definition of poetry is the widest that has ever been attempted. It is, in fact, confusing to a certain extent. Poetry, Shelley believes, is superior to history and philosophy. However, some historical works contain snatches of poetry, and some poets, like Dante and Milton, are also philosophers of a high order. On the contrary, philosophers like Bacon and Plato are essentially poets. Shelley believes that poetry serves a great moral purpose, since it appeals to the imagination, which, according to Shelley, is the greatest organ of moral good. Poetry may have no use in the utilitarian sense, but it satisfies a deep and basic urge in man. It provides to him the highest and most lasting from of pleasure. To be morally good, a man must be able to imagine intensely and comprehensively. Poetry will inculcate in him the habit of sharing the joys and sorrows of his fellow – beings. However, poetry must never become an instrument of morality in the didactic sense; it must not become the vehicle of preaching particular doctrines. Refuting Peacock’s view that poets are socially irrelevant or irresponsible, Shelley maintains that there is always a close connection between imaginative art and society. This is particularly true of poetry enshrined in drama. All ages that have been great in poetry and drama have been great in terms of other human achievements also. Poetry mirrors the degeneration of society, and a very degenerate society can only produce drama which is shorn of poetry, as was the case with the Restoration Age in England. It may be pleaded that scientists and inventors have done more good to mankind than poets, but this is not true. Without the enlargement of the mind and the imagination which poetry produces, even science would not have come into existence. The present – day world would have been unimaginable if Shakespeare and Homer did not exist, but the absence of any particular scientist or philosopher would not have caused a comparable loss. Shelley conceives of poetry as something divine. A poet writes under the spell of inspiration on which he has no control. Poetry records and preserves the visitations of divinity in the human mind, and makes it possible for others also the experience those moments. Poetry is created when a divine nature interpenetrates our own. Poetry heightens the beauty of the world, imparts beauty to things that are ugly and creates new beauty. Poets promote virtue and affections. Poetry can make us see into the heart of things, for it removes the veil of familiarity that blocks our sight. Shelley conceives of poets as the most exalted individuals. A poet has to be highly imaginative and sensitive; he also must have command of rich metaphoric language. Poets nourish a language by supplying new metaphors in place of those that become literal because of familiarity. Poetry teachers us to imagine what we cannot perceive and even to raise us above the cramping restrictions of our surroundings. Poetry creates the universe anew for us, after it has been annihilated by familiarity. God and the poet, as Tasso says are the only two beings who can be called truly creative. Shelley regards poetry as the record of the happiest and best moments of the happiest and best minds. All other knowledge is embraced within poetry. It is not the lack of knowledge or wisdom which is the cause of human suffering but the domination of the calculating process. What is lacking is the creative faculty to imagine and to feel, and it is poetry alone which can supply this deficiency. Without imaginative sympathy science and its inventions can only add to the human burden instead of lightening it. Poets have at all times been great awakeners of mankind, even though they may not always be fully aware of the significance of the great truths that use them as their vehicle. No period is more in need of poetry than the one in which the calculating principle is in the ascendant. Shelley’s praise of poets and poetry reaches its highest pitch in the closing words of the essay: Poets are the hierophants of unapprehended inspiration; the mirrors of the gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present; the words which express what they understand not; the trumpets which sing to battle and feel not what they inspire; the influence which is moved not, but moves. Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world. Critical Appreciation of A Defence of Poetry
In spite of the topical provocation for A Defence of poetry, the work is of a piece with Shelley’s other works, as well as his declared beliefs in his letters and prefaces. Peacock was not the first to castigate the Romantics as “semi – barbarians in a civilised community”, whose poetry could be resolved into its constituents of “the rant of unregulated passion, the whining of exaggerated feeling, and the cant of factitious sentiment.” Shelley’s own views about fellow – Romantic poets are quite clear. He regarded Byron as a very great poet and the greatest of his contemporaries. His differences with Wordsworth were either ideological or related to the latter’s dogmatic views about the language of poetry: he never had any doubt about his greatness as a poet. It is true that he had low opinion of Keats’s early poetry, but he held Hyperion to be one of the greatest poems. A Defence of Poetry may be looked upon as a part of Shelley’s ‘grand project’. It has a link with such earlier works of Shelley as A Philosophical View of Reform. It is strange, however, that in A Defence of Poetry Shelley was countering views somewhat similar to those expressed or implied in some of his earlier writings. Peacock claimed that in the case of a contradiction occurring between the useful and the ornamental, it was the useful that was to be preferred. However, the apparent discrepancy disappears once we take into consideration the fact that even even when Shelley rejects the conception of everyday utility, he never accepts the position that poetry is something ornamental. In his view it is useful, only the use consists in satisfying our deeper needs. The link between A Defence of poetry and some of Shelley’s earlier writings assumes, in some cases, the form of self – borrowing. Many elements from Shelley’s earlier speculations are also included in this work. The account of the moral effect of poetry is derived from ideas which Shelley had developed in ‘Speculations on Morals’ (1817). The comments on the religious elements in the poetry of Dante and Milton are drawn from his pamphlet ‘On the Devil, and Devils’ (1820). The idea that poetry removes from the world the veil of familiarity is an echo of Shelley’s own views in ‘On Life’ (1819), though it has undoubtedly links also with the critical beliefs of Coleridge and Wordsworth. The distinction, Occures in a rudimentary form in Italian review which Shelley wrote shortly before A Defence of Poetry. The most explicit of the self – borrowings, as well as the most extended, is from Shelley’s A Philosophical View of Reform. As Dawson observes: The peroration of the Defence is taken almost verbatim from the first chapter of the earlier work. Not quite verbatim, for the original phrase is ‘poets and philosophers are the unacknowledged legislators of the world’. The change is of some significance. Godwin could have written the sentence as it originally stood...It was probably Godwin who provided Shelley with his famous slogan by his description of the poet as ‘the legislator of generations, and the moral instructor of the world’ ...Shelley is forced to go beyond the assumption of Godwin in order to solve his problem. But in what they have to say about the social role of the poet Godwin and Shelley are in substantial agreement. Godwin argued that a writer’s influence on society extended far beyond the circle of those consciously affected by his works. The Literary Miscellany was started by C. And J. Ollier, Shelley’s London publishers, in 1820, though it saw only one issue. The last article in this issue was by Shelley’s friend Thomas Love Peacock, entitled The Four Ages of Poetry. After reading the article, Shelley wrote to the Olliers, on January 20, 1821: I am enchanted with your Literary Miscellany, although the last article it contains has excited my polemical faculties so violently that the moment I get rid of my ophthalmia, I mean to set about an answer to it...It is very clever, but, I think, very false. Peacock himself had also written to Shelley about the article. To him Shelley wrote on February 15: “Your anathemas against poetry itself excited me to sacred rage...I had the greatest possible desire to break a lance with you...in honour of my mistress Urania.” Shelley began the composition of his reply to peacock in the end of February 1821, but he informed the Olliers on March 4 that the subject required more words than he had expected. On March 20, Part One of A Defence of Poetry had been completed and sent to the Olliers, whom Shelley informed that he proposed to “add two other parts”. On March 21, he wrote to Peacock “you will see that I have taken a more general view of what is poetry than you have....But read and judge and do not let us imitate the great founders of the picturesque, Price and Payne Knight, who like two ill – trained beagles began snarling at each other when they could not catch the hare.” The article was never published in The Literary Miscellany, for the simple reason that no other issue of the periodical over appeared. The manuscript was got back from the Olliers and given to John Hunt for published in The Literary Miscellany, for the simple reason that no other issue of the periodical ever appeared. The manuscript was got back from the Olliers and given to John Hunt for publication in The Liberal. Hunt edited the manuscript, omitting from it all specific references to Peacock, so that it was no longer an answer to Peacock but a general vindication of poetry. In the meanwhile, The Liberal also has ceased publication, so that it remained unpublished by the time of Shelley’s death. It appeared only as a part of Mary Shelley’s edition of Shelley’s prose, published in 1840. Peacock’s article is half – humorous. It maintains that poetry in the natural expression of primitive and untutored peoples, and that as society becomes civilised, poetry should be given up in favour of more worthy and practical pursuits. Shelley’s essay is divided into three sections. In the first part, Shelley defines the nature of poetry and the function of the third part he attempts to point out the value and significance of poetry in more advanced states of society. There are, of course, some repetitions and a bit of overlapping in this general plan. Peacock had questioned the relevance of the poet in modern society. Shelley’s mains aim is to establish the value of the crudely utilitarian view of the value of poetry. He argues that poetry is fundamentally the product of the creative imagination, and since a high state of civilisation can be attained only through insight into the problems facing men, and since sympathy and love are the very basis of moral life, and also because love and sympathy can be awakened only by the active imagination, it is clear that poetry (in the broad signification that Shelley gives to this term) is indispensable for a good life. This exaltation of reason over imagination places Shelley in the main current of thought of his day, particularly as seen in the philosophy of Adam Smith and David Hume. Shelley’s sources are general – Plato, Aristotle, Horace, Sidney, though he did not owe much to any of these. Fundamentally, A Defence of Poetry is the outcome of Shelley’s own thinking. If he has drawn heavily on anything, it is his own earlier writings. There is little of mysticism, and not much of Platonism or neo-Platonism is Shelley’s position. His position can be seen to be quite valid, especially in the light of the chaotic conditions in our own times. He implies (like Bertrand Russell) that our moral and social science have lagged behind, so that we are in situation where there is more knowledge than we are able to use for our own happiness. The praise of the active and practical life has tended to depreciate the creative imagination. Shelley’s main theme is stated in a very eloquent paragraph of the essay: We have more moral, political, and historical wisdom than we know how to reduce into practice; we have more scientific and economic knowledge than can be accommodated to the just distribution of the produce which it multiplies...We lack the creative faculty to imagine that which we know; we want the generous imagine that which we know; we want the generous impulse to act that which we imagine; we want the poetry of life; our calculations have outrun our conception; we have eaten more than we can digest...Man having enslaved the elements remains himself a slave. We could apply much of this reasoning to our own times, in which man has made the Good Life possible by unravelling much of the mystery of the atom, but where the lack of moral insight, and of courage to put this knowledge to only the right use, threatenes not only our happiness but our existence and survival. Shelley would have viewed the world leaders of today as cavemen bent on taking the world have once again to the Dark Ages. Shelley’s strong conviction of the unity of life, which is expressed again and again in his poetry, is according to Bradley, one of the important ideas behind A Defence of Poetry. The only difference, he points out, is that Shelley adjusts himself to the necessities of prose argument, as distinguished from lyrical singing. He now looks upon poetry as a creation, and not a revelation. Later, we find, that Shelley is able to establish that the apparent antithesis between these two terms is false, in so far as poetry is concerned. The poet creates, but this creation is no more fancy of his; it represents ‘those forms which are common to universal nature and existence’ and ‘a poem is the very image of life expressed in its eternal truth’. We notice, further, that the more voluntary and conscious work of invention and execution is regarded as quite subordinate in the creative process. In that process the mind, obedient to an influence which it does not understand and can not control, is driven to produce images of perfection which rather form themselves in it than are formed by it. The greatest stress is laid on the influence of inspiration. Shelley’s definition of poetry is wide enough to cover all manifestations of the human imagination, but he also takes notes of the arts, and even of the art of poetry, in a specific sense. He does not hold poets to be essentially different from other highly creative beings. The difference lies entirely in his medium of expression, and in the kind of expression that he gives to his imagination. Shelley claims for language the highest place among the mediums of artistic expression. His ground is that language is the most direct as well as the most plastic artistic vehicle. Language itself is produced by the imagination, so that there is no confrontation between it and the imagination, as might be the case with the sculptor’s chisel and the painter’s brush. It is because of the intrinsic superiority of language as an instrument of the imagination that Shelley attributes the fact of the greater fame that poets have always acquired, as compared with the other arts. Shelley’s view is convincing to a considerable extent, but there is an element of onesidedness in it, as a critic brings out: He forgets that the media of the other arts have, on their side, certain advantages over language, and that these perhaps counterbalance the inferiority which he notices...His idea that the medium in the other arts in an obstacle intervening between conception and expression is, to say the least, one – sided. A sculptor, painter, or musician, would probably reply that it is only the qualities of his medium that enable him to express at all; that what he expresses is inseparable from the vehicle of expression; and that he has no conceptions which are not from the beginning picturesque, sculpturesque, pictorial, or musical. It is true, no doubt, that his medium is an obstacle as well as a medium; but this is also true of language. Shelley seems to have thought of poetry as the expression of perfection in some form, and to have imagined its effect to be simply that of joy or delighted aspiration. Much of his own poetry illustrates such a conception. In A Defence of Poetry he says about Homer’s poetry that it embodies the ideal perfection of his age in human character. In Achilles, Hector and Ulysses, Shelley declares, Homer has brought out the truth and beauty of friendship, patriotism, and persevering devotion to an object. However, not even the whole of Shelley’s poetry, much less all poetry, would conform to this description. We have Shelley’s melancholy lyrics; we have satirical poetry, the epic of conflict and war, as well as tragic exhibitions of violent and destructive passion. In reality Shelley’s theory of poetry, if rightly interpreted, would take in all this Shelley did not by any means intend to say that the immediate subject of poetry must be perfection in some form. All that he meant was that the poet can colour with the ideal anything that he touches: which would mean that no subject is excluded from the domain of poetry. “Thus to take the instance of Shelley’s melancholy lyrics, clearly the lament which arises from the loss of an ideal, and mourns the evanescence of its visitations or the desolation of its absence, is indirectly the expression of the ideal; and so on his theory is the simplest song of unhappy love or the simplest dirge. Further, he himself observes that, though the joy of poetry is often unalloyed, yet the pleasure of the ‘highest portions of our being is frequently connected with the pain of the inferior’ that ‘the pleasure that is in sorrow is sweeter than the pleasure itself’, and that not sorrow only, but ‘terror, anguish, despair itself, are often the chosen expressions of an approximation to the highest good’.” Although Shelley vigorously defended the moral function of poetry, in A Defence of Poetry, as well as elsewhere, he has expressed a strong repugnance for didactic poetry. He expresses a form conviction that no really great poet could ever commit the mistake of using his poetry as the fact that even among classical writers there was Euripides, just as later there were Tasso and Spenser, who did stoop to the advocacy of a particular moral aim through their poetry, but his explanation is that although they were great poets, the poetic faculty was less intense in them than it had been in Homer and Shakespeare, and it is to this lessened intensity that he ascribes their moralising. However, one must recognise the fact that this explanation would not vindicate some of Shelley’s own poetry as the expression of intense inspiration. In reality, moreover, what Shelley really abhors is not the more or less disguised and restrained advocacy of a moral aim, as we have in Euripides and Tasso, but palpable didacticism, which means for him the attempt to give moral instruction in poetry, to communicate doctrines, to offer argumentative statements on right and wrong, especially on the controversial questions of the day. One example of this would be Wordsworth’s discourse on education in The Excursion. Such poetry would, in any case, not pass muster with Shelley because it would be attempting to say in verse what could be said equally well, if not better, in prose. Shelley’s disapproval of didacticism is of basic relevance to his theory of poetry. A poet who tries to communicate doctrines through poetry betrays ignorance about the way in which poetry exercises its effect. Being an expression of the imagination, it is to the imagination that poetry appeals. Moral reason is not in place in poetry but only in prose. Poetry takes its origin in imaginative inspiration and not in reasoning so its moral effect also can be produced through imagination and not through reasoning. As Shelley says in the Defence, imagination and not through reasoning. As Shelley says in the Defence, imagination is the great instrument of moral good. Its effect on the reader is exercised through love and sympathy and not through doctrines. Poetry ministers to moral good, the effect, by acting on the imagination, the cause. Poetry, we may say, strengthens the imagination as exercise strengthens the limbs. Moral reasoning does not act upon the imagination, and the poet must not stoop to merely analyse what he ought really to create. One may conclude with Bradley: The moral virtue of Shelley’s poetry lay, not in his doctrines about the past and future of man, but in an intuition, which was the substance of his soul, of the unique value of love...for him the truest name of that perfection called Intellectual Beauty, Liberty, Spirit of Nature, is Love. Whatever in the world has any worth is an expression of Love. Love sometimes talk. Love talking musically is Poetry.
Function of Poetry
Poetry has a social function, though this was not adequately recognised by primitive societies. Poets embody in their songs their conception of ideal human qualities. Poetry not only offers delight but is also an instrument of moral instruction. It is wrong to accuse poets of being the preventers of morals. It is poetry which lays bare the hidden beauty of nature by lifting from it the veil of ignorance. Poetry sings of love, which is the greatest agent of morality. It inculcates love and fosters imagination and sympathy. However, it is not the function of poetry to be didactic. Poetry, in its widest conception, has a twofold function. One of its functions is to create now sources of knowledge, power and pleasure, while the other is that of creating beauty by a rhythmic arrangement of thoughts and words. Poetry has some divine attributes, and it is needed all the more in periods in which the calculating and selfish principle raises its ugly head. Poetry is the fountain – head of all knowledge, including science. Poetry is written under inspiration, while the divine principle pays fitful visits to the human mind. No one can will to write poetry, and no actual poetry does full justice to the original conception of the poet. Poetry is the record of the happiest and best moments of the happiest and best minds. It immortalises man’s moments of divinity. Poetry raises us above the limitations of our environments. It makes the world appear fresh and new to our inward sight. Poetry makes us feek all that we perceive and to imagine all that we know. It recreates the universe for us. The poetical faculty has two aims. One of them is the creation of new materials of knowledge, power and pleasure, while the other is that of producing in the mind a desire to reproduce and arrange them in keeping with a certain rhythm and order which may be called the beautiful and the good. Periods when the selfish and calculating principle is dominant are precisely the ones in which the cultivation of poetry becomes more desirable. Poetry is something divine. It is at once the basis and the result – the root and the blossom – of all their systems of thought. The earth on which we live would look desolate, and there would be no consolation left in life if poetry did not bring inspiration from the eternal regions and make the cultivation of qualities like friendship patriotism and love desirable. Poetry is not under the command of influence of divine inspiration, but when he sits down to write it, much of the inspiration has already vanished, so that what is actually written is only a pale shadow of the poet’s original conception. No amount of labour and deliberation can either give birth to a passage of good poetry, or improve it. Milton says that he felt that some superhuman power dictated his Paradise Lost to him. In the plastic or pictorial arts, this element of inspiration is all the more important. Shelley and Sidney resemble also in their view about the function of poetry. Sidney stresses the dual function of poetry, to teach as well as to delight. However, for Sidney the instructive aspect of poetry lies in its imparting of particular moral truths and doctrine, while Shelley’s position is that poetry is a moral agent because it strengthens the imagination, which is the greatest organ of moral good. Sidney emphasizes the fact that poets give us models of virtue and excellence whom we can emulate. Sidney, like Shelley, discusses the moral effect of drama on the lines of Aristotle, though he extends it to other genres also. He observes that comedy is an imitation of the common errors of our life, which are represented in the most ridiculous and scornful sort that may be; so as it is impossible that any beholder can be content to be such a one. The function of a tragedy is almost similar. It “opens the greatest wounds, and shows forth the ulcers that are covered with tissue, that, makes kings fear to be tyrants, manifest their tyrannical humours; that, with stirring the effects of admiration and commiseration, teaches the uncertainty of this world, and upon how weak foundations golden roofs are built.” The satirist also exposes evils, He “Sportingly never leaves, until he makes a man laugh at folly, and, at length ashamed, to laugh at himself.”
In the concluding line Shelley’s Poetry can never lose its charm and appeal for any true lover of the muse. Shelley’s lyricism has universally been recognized as being incomparable and unsurpassable, and this aspect of his work will always enchant and enthral readers. Besides that Shelley contributed a new quality to English literature – a quality of Idealism, Freedom, and Spiritual audacity. Shelley is the poet of the glorious Future possessed by a vision of intellectual beauty. This critical study of Shelley’s poetry is most expansive and has proved immensely useful to student from the examination point of view. It has at the same time heightened their appreciation of Shelley’s poetry and also of poetry in general. It is hoped that the book will continue to serve the purpose for which it was written. “As a lyric poet”, says W.H. Hudson, “Shelley is among the very greatest. His song is pure inspiration, a thing of lightness, melody, and grace, Indeed. It is on account of his lyricism that Shelley’s name as a poet has become immortal. Shelley is an intense lyricist as Alexander Pope is an intense satirist. Shelley converts forms as diverse as drama, prose, essay, romance, satire into lyric. Shelley’s is a thoroughly representative poet of restoration age which was learning towards “Prose and reason”. Shelley’s poetry is considerable in bulk and was produced through the greater part of his literacy career. His numerous discourses. Defences prefaces and dedication are in the nature of critical essays, although his most ambitious poetry work. Shelley’s style is remarkably free from the mannerism of any kind, and its characteristics are lucidity and easy grace. No style written before approached it in range, it is not chance but art – the highest kind of art that conceals art. However he has a sense of other melodies; his ear, during these years of apprenticeship seems to be havened by the purely lyrical rhythm of the quatrain with alternate rhyming lines. Although it is not suited to the elements of a long poem, it serves the elegiac intention of the poet. All that there remains of the Romanticist in the early Shelley’s, and the broad affinities of his nature with the wealth of rhythmic evocation, are thus displayed. The close of his career shows a return to the same instants. Shelley’s love for nature is no doubt, pure, true, deep, genuine and great. Shelley’s due to this quality, secures a respectable place in English verse. His love for nature ranks him with the great romantics as Collins, Keats, Wordsworth etc. He is a romantic in true sense. Because he dared to break the traditional concept and innovated a new concept, he sought the seeds A nature poetry which have grown later on. Thus, Shelley’s occupies a very important place as a traditional poet in the history of English poetry. A lover of the classical finish and grace. He was still a harbinger of the great movement that was to be steered by poets line Wordsworth and Coleridge. In forms he was with the classiest but his sentiments were more with the romantics. His a love philosophy, Flight of love is a great example of the romantic poetry He was a great romantic poets.
Shelley’s A Defence of poetry. Published by Penguin 18th Century Classics. SECONDARY SOURCES:
Critical Essays on Percy Bysshe Shelley: Google Books.
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Prasad, Amarnath: A Critical Response to Shelley
Published by Sarup & Sons, 4740/23, Ansari Road, Darya Ganj, New Delhi – 110 002, 2003 Shelley and his Social Perspective: Google Books.
Sen, Krishna: Critical Essays on Shelley – A Defence of Poetry. Orient Langman Pvt. Ltd., Kolkata, 2004. Wikipedia
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