Thursday, 21 March 2013

Percy Byshe Shelley (4/8/1792 -8/7/22) - In defence of Poetry

Today to mark World Poetry Day day an extract from Shelley's celebrated  essay written in 1821 but published posththumously in 1870, from Essays, letters from Abroad, Translated and fragments.

' Poetry is the record of the best and happiest moments of the happiest and best minds. We are aware of evanescent visitations of thought and feeling sometimes associated  with place or person, sometimes regarding our own mind alone, and always arising unforseen and departing unbidden, but elevating and delightful beyond expression: so that even in the desire and regret they leave, therte cannot but be pleasure, participating as it does in the nature of its object. It is as it were the interpenetration of a diviner nature through our own; but its footsteps are like those of a wind over the sea, which the coming calm erases, and whose traces remain only, as on the wrinkled sand which paves it. 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. Poets are not only subject to these experiences as spirits of the most refined organisation, but they can colour all they combine with the evanescent hues of this eternal world; a world, a trait in the  representation of a scene or a passion, will touch the enchanted chord, and reanimate, in those who have ever experienced these emotions, the sleeping, the cold, the buried image of the past. Poetry thus makes immortal all that is best and most beautiful in the world; it arrests the vanishing apparitions which haunt the interlunations of life, and veiling them, or in language or in form, sends them forth among mankind, bearing sweet news of kindred joy to those with whom their sisters abide - abide, because there is no portal of expression from the caverns of the spirit which they inhabit into the universe of the things. Poetry redeems from decay the visitations of the divinity in man.
  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. It transmutes all that it touches, and every form moving within the radiance of its presence is changed by wondrous sympathy to an incarnation of the spirit which it breathes: its secret alchemy turns to potable gold the poisonous waters which flow from death through life; it strips the veil of familaiarity from the world, and lays bare the naked and sleeping beauty, which is the spirit of its forms.
  All things exist as they are percieved; at least in relation to the precipient. ' The mind is its own place, and of itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.' But poetry defeats the curse which blinds us to be subjected to the accident of surrounding impressions. And whether it spreads its own figured curtains, or withdraws life's dark veil from before the scene of things, it equally createss for us a being within our being. It makes us the inhabitants of a world to which the familiar world is a chaos. It reproduces the common universe of which we are portions and percipients, and it purges from our inward sight the film of familiarity which obscures from us the wonder of our being. It compels us to feel that which we percieve, and to imagine, that which we know. It creates anew the universe, after it has been annihilated in our minds by the recurrence of impressions blunted by reitiration. It justifies the bold and true words of Tasso: Non merita noms di creatore, se non Iddio ed il Poeta.'

For full essay:

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