Poetry is one of those literary concepts that are often dismissed as whimsical and inconsequential. However, it is a crucial art to be studied by people of all ages, and a powerful instructional tool. It presents a means of understanding how languages and symbols work. Poetry is an excellent expression of deep feelings and a sense of world beauty. The role of poetry in the society has evolved significantly throughout the centuries. Various philosophers have their own opinions on this issue; notable ones being Plato, Percy Shelley and Sir Phillip Sydney. This essay looks at how the functions of poetry within the society have changed based on the beliefs of these three poets.
Plato is one of the most well-known, widely studied and read philosophers in the world. He wrote his works in ancient Greece in the middle of the fourth century B.C. He had a long and well-documented problem with poets and poetry in general. Literature analysts and readers of his works have puzzled over why this is the case considering that he is somehow creative, poetic, and even literary. In his work titled The Republic, he attempts to do away with poets, claiming that poetry does not have a claim to truth or serious value. That was a rather shocking claim which could have meant the demise of poetry if it had been accepted. However, he also mentions that he would accept poets if someone could prove to him that poetry plays a role in an organized society.
One of the reasons why Plato had a problem with poetry has something to do with the concept of imitation or representation. According to him, reality can be divided into three categories: the real, a depiction of the real, and the ideal. The ideal can be created by the gods, for instance what everyone understands of a certain object. The real happens to be what is actualized in the object. A depiction of that particular object is significantly detached from the ideal. What an artist makes is not what the object really is, but something that looks like it. Plato argues that poets create a misconception of reality by applying the technique of representation, and are thus immoral in the civil society. In his work titled The Effects of Poetry and Drama, Plato furthers his argument that poets do not have a binding role in an ideal society. He lays most of the blame on intellect and reason, and accuses the poets of stirring emotions that are under normal circumstances not allowed in the public domain. As a result, poetry corrupts the mind since the pain and pleasure become peoples rulers rather than the rational principal and law generally accepted as best.
According to Plato, there are two crippling qualities associated with poetry. It depicts real reality in a misleading way, while at the same time corrupting the minds of the poets fans. All in all, he admits that, if poetry composed for pleasure can prove that poets belong to an organized society, then people can readily accommodate them. The repercussions of his philosophy with regards to poetry were far-reaching and lasting. Certain theorists such as Aristotle, Shelley and Sydney took it upon themselves to defend poetry as a genuine concept. Whatever the case, poetrys physical presence went on despite the attack by Plato. However, critics came up with an intellectual framework that influenced the way people perceived poets and poetry. It seems as if Plato downgraded poets to a status that is lesser than that of servant. They had to fight for the value and legitimacy that they deserved.
During his lifetime, Sir Phillip Sidney was known as a textbook example of a renaissance courtier due to chivalry, nobility, and education. He was also a top ranked poet whose sonnet sequence titled Astrophel and Stella is considered a classic literature. Sidney embraced all elements of poetry, and was of the opinion that a poets compositions are imaginary. According to him, it is the ideas of poetry that matter and its enjoyment brings about desirable qualities in the reader.
In defending poetry, Sidney began by describing how poets have been looked down upon and dismissed throughout history. He goes on to state that some examples of well-known and influential literature are in fact poetry, for instance the biblical Psalms. His argument is that, if such literature can have an outstanding influence on how humans behave, and given the fact that they are considered poetry, then technically there is nothing to defend. He then goes on to compare poets to scientists since they are both inventors in a way, and concludes that poetry possesses value in as a thing-in-itself.
Sidney is of the opinion that life is a learning experience, and that an individuals chosen career path or field of study is an indicator of his or her temperament. He singles out historians and moral philosophers as the ones presenting the stiffest competition to poets, and then goes on to show that the poet stands above them all. Sidney thinks that moral philosophers are influenced by vices, ignore passions, are disgusted by outward things, and are known to teach virtue as a duty as opposed to as pleasure. He also has a similar opinion about historians. According to him, they are obsessed with the past, only think about setting examples to others, and use ancient records that go against philosophy. Sidney comes to a conclusion that the poet plays the role of a moderator between philosophers and historians in the life school of learning. He paints a picture of poets as individuals whose expertise is derived from all the other sciences. They can describe the past, present, and future through empirical judgment or via the divine intervention of their muse. Sidney states that poets deserve the highest regard due to their power and rare skills.
Percy Shelley was one of the most respected English Romantic poets of the nineteenth century, and was known for his long-form verse and lyrical poetry. His argument in favor of poetry is notable in that it stands against the background of the defense presented by Sir Philip Sidney, and thus exudes a greater sense of confidence. First, he announces that anyone who speaks is effectively poets due to the use of language. According to him, poets are not just the composers of language, paintings, architecture, statuary, music, or dance. They are also the makers of laws, teachers, inventors of lifes arts, and founders of the civil society. It is evident that the worth of a poet cannot be questioned as it presents itself confidently and succinctly. With respect to Shelleys argument, the claims that Plato make to criticize poetry appear isolated to the extent of being irrelevant.
Shelley also argues in favor of the significance of poets across the world. Reconsidering the definition of the term poet is a crucial stimuli in the context of day-to-day society because of the dynamic nature of societies and thus of the art form. He highlights a direct link between poetry, nature and the community, a relationship that is vital to the spiritual and intellectual advancement of humanity. According to Shelley, a poem is an image of life depicted in its eternal truth. With these claims in mind, the ideological construction of poetry as an indicator of the truth directly goes against the position set up by Plato. It outdoes Platonic position of real, ideal and mimesis, which happen to be his ideas of reality.
The conclusion that Shelley makes does not just rubbish the opinion by Plato that poetry is decadent and full of false knowledge. It also plays the role of an inspiring reminder of the numerous possibilities of poetry in instances of social decay. According to Shelley, quality poetry is not analyzed in terms of the periods of social decay. This means it does not subscribe to any ongoing contextual drama with no imagination whatsoever. Rather, it is the quality depiction of imagination that presents the reader with a means of transcending all current dramas and thus has an idea of the principles that bring about meaning and to go into the future with hope. It is evident that, while Shelleys and Sidneys arguments are not exactly the same, they have something in common in that they do not agree with Platos criticism of poetry.
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