Literary Criticism
A Defense of Poetry
by Percy Bysshe Shelly
From the Letters
by John Keats

John Keats
Sublime Egotism
• The sublime means something great, wonderful, almost divine.
• Egotism means how everythin...

Percy Shelley
He’s basing a lot of his ideas on Sidney’s, Wordsworth’s, and Coleridge’s.

own language and the old one, we have a better understanding. And if we compare our
language with the caveman’s, we’’ll...

Usually, whenever a new movement comes it accuses the previous one of being bad.
However, Shelley here says “society or...

Shelley is rejecting this idea because he believes that language is poetical. Anyone uses
language is a poet. Therefore...

combination of events which can never again recur; the other is universal, and contains
within itself the germ of a rel...

[322 - (5)The whole objection, however, of the immorality of poetry rests upon a
misconception of the manner in which p...

have eaten more than we can digest. The cultivation of those sciences which have
enlarged the limits of the empire of m...
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Notes: A Defense of Poetry by Percy Bysshe Shelly + From the Letters by John Keats


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Teacher: Ms. Eman Alghamdi

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Notes: A Defense of Poetry by Percy Bysshe Shelly + From the Letters by John Keats

  1. 1. Literary Criticism A Defense of Poetry by Percy Bysshe Shelly + From the Letters by John Keats
  2. 2. 2 John Keats Sublime Egotism • The sublime means something great, wonderful, almost divine. • Egotism means how everything is in relation to you. (compare to Shakespeare, we can never find Shakespeare in his works) Negative Capability • a poet who has negative capability, such as Shakespeare, is a poet who is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason. • Meaning that it is a poet who is able to present whatever ambiguities, negativities, paradoxes, exist in society without giving an answer. • For example, Shakespeare’s heroes have faults that Shakespeare doesn’t present a solution, a simple conclusion, or an answer for them. • a poet who has a negative capability will lead us to morality but not with presenting a simple answer. • Negative here doesn’t mean a bad thing, it means that the poet is not presenting a simple answer. He’s not acting as a teacher would, or a preacher would. • If you watched a romantic movie and you know at the end of it it’ll present the answer which is: love will triumph. The two lovers will be together and happy. Does it make you think? does it make you develop? does lead you to make your own interpretations? or does it limit your answer and feeling? So presenting a simple answer is very limiting.
  3. 3. 3 Percy Shelley 1-360 898-1200 He’s basing a lot of his ideas on Sidney’s, Wordsworth’s, and Coleridge’s. Terms: solitude connate epoch faculty synthesis What is Poetry? [21 - Poetry is the expression of imagination; and poetry is connate with the origin of man.] Wordsworth is the first to say ‘expression’ and Coleridge is the first to say ‘imagination.’ So Shelley is blending their definitions. A poets looks at something, thinks about it, and then expresses it with a layer of imagination. The oldest form of art is poetry. So connate means any two things that are associated in whatever kind of association you wish to have. For example, the color red is associated with roses. The association here is that poetry is part of human life. [23 - Man is an instrument over which a series of external and internal impressions are driven] Wordsworth said that he’d observe something in nature, then he’d go back to recollect in tranquility, then he’d express it. So he’s effected by what exists externally, in nature, then he expresses what exists internally, in his mind. [26 -like the alternations of an ever-changing wind over an Aeolian lyre, which move it by their motion to ever-changing melody. But there is a principle within the human being, and perhaps within all sentient beings, which acts otherwise than in the lyre, and produces not melody alone, but harmony, by an internal adjustment of the sounds or motions thus excited to the impressions which excite them.] Aeolian lyre is a musical instrument that looks like a box and in it there are some strings, when the wind blows it produces music. It is not played by people. Meaning that it is a simple thing which is moved by the simplest action. For example, when Wordsworth saw the farmer and wrote “The Solitary Reaper.” It didn’t take much for his poetic inspiration to come, just like a blow of a wind. However, Shelley says this instrument is different from poetry because it produces melody alone, while man adds the element of harmony in his poetry. Poets achieve harmony by changing things. Poetic language is different from everyday language because poets adjust the movement of the sound. [43 - The savage (for the savage is to ages what the child is to years) expresses the emotions produced in him by surrounding objects in a similar manner; and language and gesture, together with plastic or pictorial imitation, become the image of the combined effect of those objects, and of his apprehension of them.] Why did he choose the savage? because if we compare the language that we use today and the language used a 100 years ago, we’ll find today language to be more complex. The reason is that we know our
  4. 4. 4 own language and the old one, we have a better understanding. And if we compare our language with the caveman’s, we’’ll find that theirs is very limited and noncomplex. However, Shelley says that even the savage would surround himself with images because he’s trying to express since he didn’t have alphabet. The faculty of poetry exists with man from the earliest stages. We add meaning to whatever imitation we make. The word plastic here is used as an adjective. It means plasticine. [48 - Man in society, with all his passions and his pleasures, next becomes the object of the passions and pleasures of man; an additional class of emotions produces an augmented treasure of expressions; and language, gesture, and the imitative arts, become at once the representation and the medium, the pencil and the picture, the chisel and the statue, the chord and the harmony.] Caveman first drew animals and fire, and then images of man started appearing, the Greeks and Romans made sculpture of people. The reason is that man became the object of imitation. First imitating man then giving him attributes. The aim of making a sculpture, for instance, is not for it to become real, the aim simply is to produce a sculpture. Shelley says the aim of poetry shouldn’t always be didactic. He’s placing more value on imagination, imagination leads us to pleasure not education. [63 - Hence men, even in the infancy of society, observe a certain order in their words and actions, distinct from that of the objects and the impressions represented by them, all expression being subject to the laws of that from which it proceeds. But let us dismiss those more general considerations which might involve an inquiry into the principles of society itself, and restrict our view to the manner in which the imagination is expressed upon its forms.] Love stories are always the same, they are eternal ideas. However, each love story is different because the manner imagination expressed upon its form. The important matter is who the story is told not what is it. [71 - In the youth of the world, men dance and sing and imitate natural objects, observing in these actions, as in all others, a certain rhythm or order. And, although all men observe a similar, they observe not the same order, in the motions of the dance, in the melody of the song, in the combinations of language, in the series of their imitations of natural objects.] If you compared the way you dance with the way your grandmother dances, you’ll find that yours is more complicated. The reason is things become more complex when they develop. This rule applies to language. As for the imitation of natural objects, Coleridge’s imitation of the sea in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is not faithful to what we come to accept of the sea. He describes the sea as dark and full of spirits. [76 - For there is a certain order or rhythm belonging to each of these classes of mimetic representation, from which the hearer and the spectator receive an intenser and purer pleasure than from any other: the sense of an approximation to this order has been called taste by modern writers.] Your association depends on your taste. Normally people who are depressed would say black is the color of depression. While someone who is happy would associate the color black with a party dress, for instance. [86 - this faculty of approximation to the beautiful. ... Those in whom it exists in excess are poets] Faculty here means ability. What is a poet? Anyone who can approximate in anything closely to beauty is a poet. [89 - 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 or reduplication from that community. ] Poets express pleasure. Readers attain pleasure because of the way poets employ imagination in their writings. Does the poet follow the rules of society ‘traditional way’? or the rules of nature “romantic way”?
  5. 5. 5 Usually, whenever a new movement comes it accuses the previous one of being bad. However, Shelley here says “society or nature, so he is accepting all the literature that came before romanticism. [93 - Their language is vitally metaphorical that is, it marks the before unapprehended relations of things and perpetuates their apprehension, until the words which represent them become, through time, signs for portions or classes of thoughts instead of pictures of integral thoughts;] This has to do with two ideas. First, everything in poetry is open for interpretations. Second, that interpretation has to do a lot with taste. Poetic language is meant to add imagination in order to relate images together. Same as Coleridge’s idea of the organic unity.” What is a poet? [105 - In the infancy of society every author is necessarily a poet, because language itself is poetry; and to be a poet is to apprehend the true and the beautiful, in a word, the good which exists in the relation, subsisting, first between existence and perception, and secondly between perception and expression. Every original language near to its source is in itself the chaos of a cyclic poem: the copiousness of lexicography and the distinctions of grammar are the works of a later age, and are merely the catalogue and the form of the creations of poetry.] The first words a baby learns are nouns of whatever he likes or needs. Then verbs come at a greater stage, then adjectives, articles, and sentences, etc. This is the same with language, the more you learn, the better you become. Shelley says language is essentially poetic and it develops according to the necessities. A poet is selective, who can take the true and the beautiful from language that is already poetic. The aim is to produce something that is imaginative. [114 - But poets, or those who imagine and express this indestructible order, are not only the authors of language and of music, of the dance, and architecture, and statuary, and painting; they are the institutors of laws, and the founders of civil society, and the inventors of the arts of life, and the teachers, who draw into a certain propinquity with the beautiful and the true, that partial apprehension of the agencies of the invisible world which is called religion.] This is the function of a poet: he teaches us language, gives us laws and civilization. Shelley was a spiritual man, and he’s trying to say poets are closest to God and above other people because of their expression faculties. [121 - Hence all original religions are allegorical, or susceptible of allegory, and, like Janus, have a double face of false and true.] All religions have their basis in poetry. It’s only because they started as poetry, they developed into religions. So he’s against the idea that religion comes from God. [123 - Poets, according to the circumstances of the age and nation in which they appeared, were called, in the earlier epochs of the world, legislators, or prophets:] Prophet Muhammed {PBUH} was accused of being a poet when he preached Islam. So people thought of poets as a higher kind of people. [125 - a poet essentially comprises and unites both these characters.] a poet is legislator who gives us law, and a prophet who tells us about the future. How does he tell of the future? by presenting stories or characters that are eternal. [131 - Not that I assert poets to be prophets in the gross sense of the word, or that they can foretell the form as surely as they foreknow the spirit of events: such is the pretence of superstition, which would make poetry an attribute of prophecy, rather than prophecy an attribute of poetry. A poet participates in the eternal, the infinite, and the one; as far as relates to his conceptions, time and place and number are not.] He says Poets are not prophets like Muhammed or Jesus. The prophecy a poet expresses is not the same as a prophecy a prophet would. It doesn’t come from God directly. People thought of poets to be better than common people, they believed that God actually spoken to them. Meaning their abilities were divine, not a result of education or talent.
  6. 6. 6 Shelley is rejecting this idea because he believes that language is poetical. Anyone uses language is a poet. Therefore, even poets aren’t divine. They’re better than other people but not divine. He says this because he wants to encourage people to practice poetry. [137 - The grammatical forms which express the moods of time, and the difference of persons, and the distinction of place, are convertible with respect to the highest poetry without injuring it as poetry;] Good poetry is eternal regardless of the author’s name. “the test of time” [146 - Language, colour, form, and religious and civil habits of action, are all the instruments and materials of poetry;/ they may be called poetry by that figure of speech which considers the effect as a synonym of the cause. But poetry in a more restricted sense expresses those arrangements of language, and especially metrical language, which are created by that imperial faculty; whose throne is curtained within the invisible nature of man.] color means style. Poetry comes because a poet has what Shelley calls imperial faculty. [153 - And this springs from the nature itself of language, which is a more direct representation of the actions and passions of our internal being, and is susceptible of more various and delicate combinations, than colour, form, or motion, and is more plastic and obedient to the control of that faculty of which it is the creation.] Language can be easily formed. Anyone can choose his own style. [158 - For language is arbitrarily produced by the imagination and has relation to thoughts alone; but all other materials, instruments and conditions of art, have relations among each other, which limit and interpose between conception and expression.] You’re always limited by society unless when it comes to what’s in your head, thoughts and language. For example, when Shakespeare didn’t find a words that express his thought he simply invented them, and it cost him nothing. [162 - The former is as a mirror which reflects, the latter as a cloud which enfeebles, the light of which both are mediums of communication. ] The former: language. The latter: anything else. [200 - An observation of the regular mode of the recurrence of harmony in the language of poetical minds, together with its relation to music, produced metre, or a certain system of traditional forms of harmony and language. Yet it is by no means essential that a poet should accommodate his language to this traditional form, so that the harmony, which is its spirit, be observed.] Poets shouldn’t follow conventions strictly. [210 - The distinction between poets and prose writers is a vulgar error.] He agrees with Coleridge and Wordsworth that there’s no difference between the language of poetry and the language of prose. [226 - All the authors of revolutions in opinion are not only necessarily poets as they are inventors, nor even as their words unveil the permanent analogy of things by images which participate in the life of truth; but as their periods are harmonious and rhythmical, and contain in themselves the elements of verse; being the echo of the eternal music. Nor are those supreme poets, who have employed traditional forms of rhythm on account of the form and action of their subjects, less capable of perceiving and teaching the truth of things, than those who have omitted that form.] Poets are inventors first then poets. This is a comparison between writers of prose and writers of poetry. They are the same. They all have the ability to give beautiful expressions, unique situation, to teach, and to bring pleasure. [238 - A poem is the very image of life expressed in its eternal truth. There is this difference between a story and a poem,(1) that a story is a catalogue of detached facts, which have no other connexion than time, place, circumstance, cause and effect; the other (of poetry) is the creation of actions according to the unchangeable forms of human nature, as existing in the mind of the Creator, which is itself the image of all other minds. The one (story) is partial, (2) and applies only to a definite period of time, and a certain
  7. 7. 7 combination of events which can never again recur; the other is universal, and contains within itself the germ of a relation to whatever motives or actions have place in the possible varieties of human nature. (3)Time, which destroys the beauty and the use of the story of particular facts, (4) stripped of the poetry (poetry here means the beauty of the story) which should invest them, (5)augments that of poetry(verse), and for ever develops new and wonderful applications of the eternal truth which it contains. Hence epitomes have been called the moths of just history; they eat out the poetry of it. (6) A story of particular facts is as a mirror which obscures and distorts that which should be beautiful: poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted.] This is a comparison between writers of story and writers of poetry. Ms. Eman thinks that Shelley means by “story” history. 1. a story is a list of facts that are disconnected and narrated as they are, no imagination there. Wile poetry incorporates imagination. 2. a story is limited in a certain period of time and a certain combination of events. While poetry is universal, unlimited. 3. stories’ facts are affected by time, and we said anything passes the test of time is good. 4. time destroys the beauty of stories. 5. time enhances good poetry and makes it better. 6. story is a mirror that makes the beautiful ugly while poetry is a mirror that makes the ugly beautiful. For example, the ancient mariner. [258 - The parts of a composition may be poetical, without the composition as a whole being a poem.] echoing Coleridge. The effect of Poetry. [268 - Having determined what is poetry, and who are poets, let us proceed to estimate its effects upon society.] [270 - (1)Poetry is ever accompanied with pleasure: all spirits on which it falls open themselves to receive the wisdom which is mingled with its delight. In the infancy of the world, neither poets themselves nor their auditors are fully aware of the excellence of poetry:] Poetry delights, teaches, and we read/listen to poetry without knowing that we’re receiving wisdom. [282 - (2)A poet is a nightingale, who sits in darkness and sings to cheer its own solitude with sweet sounds; his auditors are as men entranced by the melody of an unseen musician, who feel that they are moved and softened, yet know not whence or why. The poems of Homer and his contemporaries were the delight of infant Greece; they were the elements of that social system which is the column upon which all succeeding civilization has reposed.] a poet is someone who sits in a dark solitude. Although civilization has risen because of them, poets always get attacked and are hated. [292 - (3)the truth and beauty of friendship, patriotism, and persevering devotion to an object, were unveiled to the depths in these immortal creations: the sentiments of the auditors must have been refined and enlarged by a sympathy with such great and lovely impersonations, until from admiring they imitated, and from imitation they identified themselves with the objects of their admiration.] An example, every person hates their hair. However, in poetry hair is always praised in every possible way. Therefore, hair is associated with beauty. [299 - (4)Nor let it be objected, that these characters are remote from moral perfection, and that they can by no means be considered as edifying patterns for general imitation. Every epoch, under names more or less specious, has deified its peculiar errors;]...[306 But a poet considers the vices of his contemporaries as a temporary dress in which his creations must be arrayed, and which cover without concealing the eternal proportions of their beauty.] Every character has some kind of a flaw, and a poet should present everything with their flaws but in a beautiful way.
  8. 8. 8 [322 - (5)The whole objection, however, of the immorality of poetry rests upon a misconception of the manner in which poetry acts to produce the moral improvement of man. Ethical science arranges the elements which poetry has created, and propounds schemes and proposes examples of civil and domestic life: nor is it for want of admirable doctrines that men hate, and despise, and censure, and deceive, and subjugate one another. But poetry acts in another and diviner manner.] [329 - It awakens and enlarges the mind itself by rendering it the receptacle of a thousand unapprehended combinations of thought.] Poetry is always food for thought. [338 - (6)The great secret of morals is love; or a going out of our own nature, and an identification of ourselves with the beautiful which exists in thought, action, or person, not our own. A man, to be greatly good, must imagine intensely and comprehensively; he must put himself in the place of another and of many others; the pains and pleasures of his species must become his own.] How do you know that lying is bad? because you observe that it always leads to a catastrophe so it’s immoral. How did you know that? through poetry. [346 - (still No. 6)Poetry enlarges the circumference of the imagination by replenishing it with thought of ever new delight, which have the power of attracting and assimilating to their own nature all other thoughts, and which form new intervals and interstices whose void for ever craves fresh food.] ....[353 - A poet therefore would do ill to embody his own conceptions of right and wrong, which are usually those of his place and time, in his poetical creations, which participate in neither.] Since the day of Wordsworth, poetry has been very subjective and expressive. However, a poet shouldn’t expose his voice. [898 - It is difficult to define pleasure in its highest sense; the definition involving a number of apparent paradoxes.] ... [901 - the pain of the inferior is frequently connected with the pleasures of the superior portions of our being. Sorrow, terror, anguish, despair itself, are often the chosen expressions of an approximation to the highest good.] ... [908 - The pleasure that is in sorrow is sweeter than the pleasure of pleasure itself.] Since the day of Plato, people would say that tragedy is the highest form of poetic expression, why? tragedy always presents me with bad emotions, but it’s a human nature that we find stories about misfortunes more interesting than happy stories. [927 - But it exceeds all imagination to conceive what would have been the moral condition of the world if neither Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Calderon, Lord Bacon, nor Milton, had ever existed; if Raphael and Michael Angelo had never been born; if the Hebrew poetry had never been translated; if a revival of the study of Greek literature had never taken place; if no monuments of ancient sculpture had been handed down to us; and if the poetry of the religion of the ancient world had been extinguished together with its belief.] from the earliest stage poetry was about teaching, delighting, then teaching and delighting, and the Romantic sense it’s about pleasure and attaining wisdom. However, what does it teach us? morals. [936 -The human mind could never, except by the intervention of these excitements, have been awakened to the invention of the grosser sciences, and that application of analytical reasoning to the aberrations of society, which it is now attempted to exalt over the direct expression of the inventive and creative faculty itself. We have more moral, political and historical wisdom, than we know how to reduce into practice; we have more scientific and economical knowledge than can be accommodated to the just distribution of the produce which it multiplies. The poetry in these systems of thought, is concealed by the accumulation of facts and calculating processes. There is no want of knowledge respecting what is wisest and best in morals, government, and political economy, or at least, what is wiser and better than what men now practise and endure. But we let 'I DARE NOT wait upon I WOULD, like the poor cat in the adage.' We want the creative faculty to 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 conception; we
  9. 9. 9 have eaten more than we can digest. 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. To what but a cultivation of the mechanical arts in a degree disproportioned to the presence of the creative faculty, which is the basis of all knowledge, is to be attributed the abuse of all invention for abridging and combining labour, to the exasperation of the inequality of mankind? From what other cause has it arisen that the discoveries which should have lightened, have added a weight to the curse imposed on Adam? Poetry, and the principle of Self, of which money is the visible, incarnation, are the God and Mammon of the world.] Poetry existed with man from the earliest stage of humanity. And it’s the oldest form of art and education as well. Sciences came later, but how did they develop their analytical abilities? by analyzing poetry and understanding how poetry works. So Shelley is crediting poetry for the achievement of the analytical faculties. [968 -The functions of the poetical faculty are two-fold; by one it creates new materials of knowledge and power and pleasure; by the other it engenders in the mind a desire to reproduce and arrange them according to a certain rhythm and order which may be called the beautiful and the good.] It’s very hard for someone who studies literature not to want to produce literature. Whatever literature is produced it has to be beautiful and beauty depends on taste. At the beginning you’d imitate what you like and then you’d have your own style. [979 -Poetry is indeed something divine. It is at once the centre and circumference of knowledge;] All knowledge comes from poetry. Circumference means the outer limits or the outer boarders. So poetry can be the start and can be the end. [996 - Poetry is not like reasoning, a power to be exerted according to the determination of the will. A man cannot say, 'I will compose poetry.' The greatest poet even cannot say it;] Poetry is a poetical faculty that comes from within. We cannot cause it. [1001 - this power arises from within,] We cannot control it. [1004 - Could this influence be durable in its original purity and force, it is impossible to predict the greatness of the results; but when composition begins, inspiration is already on the decline,] According to Shelley, as soon as you start composing a poem, the inspiration is gone. For instance, Kubla Khan, it’s incomplete because he woke up, the inspiration is gone. [1041 - These and corresponding conditions of being are experienced principally by those of the most delicate sensibility and the most enlarged imagination; and the state of mind produced by them is at war with every base desire. The enthusiasm of virtue, love, patriotism, and friendship, is essentially linked with such emotions; and whilst they last, self appears as what it is, an atom to a universe.] A poet is always at the center of everything. [1062 -Poetry turns all things to loveliness; it exalts the beauty of that which is most beautiful, and it adds beauty to that which is most deformed; it marries exultation and horror, grief and pleasure, eternity and change; it subdues to union under its light yoke, all irreconcilable things.] [1071 - it strips the veil of familiarity from the world, and lays bare the naked and sleeping beauty, which is the spirit of its forms.] Agrees with Wordsworth and Coleridge. [1121 - Poetry, as has been said, differs in this respect from logic, that it is not subject to the control of the active powers of the mind, and that its birth and recurrence have no necessary connexion with the consciousness or will.] [1200 - Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.] Although poetry gave us education, law, beauty, they are still unacknowledged.