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Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world. What do you understand by this sentence? How are these ideas cashed out in Hymn to Intellectual Beauty and Ode to the West Wind?

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Introduction

"Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world." What do you understand by this sentence? How are these ideas cashed out in Hymn to Intellectual Beauty and Ode to the West Wind? The Defence of Poetry by Percy Shelley is a written commentary as a response primarily to the literary critical piece The Four Ages of Poetry by Thomas Love Peacock who wrote in his essay the following in regard to modern poetry: "But in whatever degree poetry is cultivated, it must necessarily be to the neglect of some branch of useful study: and it is a lamentable spectacle to see minds, capable of better things, running to seed in the specious indolence of these empty aimless mockeries of intellectual exertion. Poetry was the mental rattle that awakened the intellect in the infancy of civil society: but for the maturity of mind to make a serious business of the play-things of its childhood, is as absurd as for a full-grown man to rub his gums with coral, and cry to be charmed to sleep by the jingle of silver bells." Shelley's Defence is inspired by the above passage and is literally defending poetry from the offensive Peacock is laying upon it. He emphasises, however, throughout the work that he is not just responding to the conjecture of Peacock that poetry has become merely a decorative spectacle in an otherwise enlightened society but that this particular piece has a higher cause. ...read more.

Middle

He believes, that not only is poetry the beauty in the world, "the blossom" but it is also the source of knowledge, "the root". His idea is that without poetry our knowledge and view of the world would be completely skewed as he says, "which comprehends all science and to which all science must be referred." This idea also appears in his poetry as in stanza 5 of Ode to the West Wind he is also commenting on the potency of poetry. He says: "Drive my dead thoughts over the universe Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth! And by the incantation of this verse, Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind! Be through my lips to unawakened earth The trumpet of prophecy!" Here he is speculating upon the value his poetry in particular can have upon all humankind. He talks of it superseding the life of the poet and enduring beyond the death of its creator and despite the long ages that may pass eventually light a fire in the minds of man. His conjecture is that poetry is what will continue to inspire and enlighten long into the future. The idea of the future is very important to Shelley when discussing poetry as is made clear by "the trumpet of prophecy" as clearly here he believes that poetry is the spawn of future events. ...read more.

Conclusion

The weakness of men as poets seems to concern Shelley as is evident when he says, "these words cannot express" so he feels that the poetry of a man alone cannot inspire people without a divine backing of the deity of knowledge. This is also briefly speculated upon in Defence also when he says, "The persons in whom this power resides may often...have little apparent correspondence with that spirit of good of which they are ministers." Here, it seems that Shelley is criticising the occasional weakness of man in regards to conveying what is seen by him as the ultimate form of knowledge. However, the final line in Shelley's Defence of Poetry is "Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world", not "Poetry is the unacknowledged legislator of the world." Here Shelley is recognising the intrinsic value of poets as the vessels from which poetry flows and without them we would never be aware of is immense power. Despite his earlier misgivings it seems Shelley still remains unshakeably sure that although poetry as an independent force is unassailably vital to society it is still poets that harbour that force. They are the legislators of the futurity shown them by the power that resides within them and that is what I believe should be understood from the conjecture that "Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world." ...read more.

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