Shelley’s “A Defence of Poetry”


This 30 page essay was a great way to kick off a late February Saturday morning. Neighbor Dave dropped off a Harvard Classic compilation of essays that reads on the spine “English Essays Sidney to Macauley”.

Shelley’s essay grabbed my attention at the title. Feeling particularly vulnerable and unsafe as a person in America these days, I am always looking for peaceful modes of self-defense, so this seemed to fit the bill.

It is refreshing to read about the power of poetry and the role it has played throughout history — a reminder that being a poet means something. I think I needed this lift since much of my art and writing is often dark. I forget that there is still beauty in it even if I cannot always see or feel it.

The last line of the essay will carry me through the rest of the day, “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.”

9 comments on “Shelley’s “A Defence of Poetry””

  1. I would have gravitated toward this essay, too, borkali. How do the poets propose laws–are the laws of which he speaks not those of governments?

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    1. I’ve thought a lot the past day about that last line and why I decided to use that in my post and not something I more closely identified with — the essay is a treasure trove of compliments for poets. I let the last line stand because that’s what Shelley chose as his last words. Must have been something he wanted remembered. It is an incongruent statement for me since I have a hard time with the institution that legislation falls under. However, as an anarchist – this sentiment that poets inform legislation gives me some hope.

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  2. Essentially, poets are the source of all imagination — this last line is one of many that illustrate Shelley’s belief in the power of poetry. He argues all of society is built upon poetry– talks a lot about ancient Greece and the relationship to arts collapsing and shortly thereafter the society collapsing. A very interesting and thorough defence.

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  3. He says the sign of a decaying society is when people are more worried about money and productivity than art. Sounds familiar.

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    1. Well, borkali, isn’t that worrying…and sad? Yes, JNaz, I am now surprised when elementary school kids who visit the art museum actually have an art teacher at their public school. (The private ones are another matter, and there are lots of those.)

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  4. Absolutely, borkali. It is the way we keep hope alive. It is the way we enact what we believe. It is the way we step forward and speak.

    Liked by 1 person

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