Summary of Shelley’s “Defence of Poetry”

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Richard L. W. Clarke LITS2002 Notes 09 supplement 1 SUMMARY OF SHELLEY’S “DEFENCE OF POETRY” 1.A wonderful explication of many of the philosophical assumptions informing the poetry of the first wave Romantics, not least Wordsworth. Precisely because it is at odds with his views elsewhere, some believe that Shelley may not have written the “Defence.” 2.Thesis: Shelley’s ultimate goal is to stress the beneficial impact of poetry. To this end, he feels it is necessary to define the nature of poetry. To do this, he feels he must first address the nature of the poet, to which end, he must first address the nature of man. “What are Poets?” 3.The Mind: the minds of humans are comparable to an aeolian harp. There are two main…show more content…
Poetry is the most important form of knowledge: we have more “moral, political and historical wisdom” (526) and more “scientific and economical knowledge” (526) than we know what to do with, the “poetry in these systems of thought” (526) being “concealed by the accumulation of facts and calculating processes” (526-527). The “cultivation of those sciences which have enlarged the limits of the empire of man over the external world, has, for want of the poetical faculty, proportionally circumscribed those of the internal world; and man, having enslaved the elements, remains himself a slave. (526) “What is Poetry?” 5.Poetry is the “expression of the imagination” (516) of the poet. Poets, using their Imagination, “imagine and express” (my emphasis; 517) the “indestructible order” (517). Poetry is the main “portal of expression from the caverns of the spirit . . . into the universe of things” (527) and, as such, the “echo of the eternal music” (518). For this reason, poetry is the “very image of life expressed in its eternal truth” (518): “strips the veil of familiarity from the world, and lays bare the naked and sleeping beauty, which is the spirit of its forms” (527); “makes

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