In defence of poesy. *The Defence of Poesy, by Sir Philip Sidney 2019-02-20

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Defence of Poesie (Ponsonby, 1595)

in defence of poesy

By example this will be best expressed. And if it wrought no further good in him, it was that he, in despite of himself, withdrew himself from hearkening to that which might mollify his hardened heart. “King Lear,” if it can sustain this comparison, may be judged to be the most perfect specimen of the dramatic art existing in the world; in spite of the narrow conditions to which the poet was subjected by the ignorance of the philosophy of the drama which has prevailed in modern Europe. Undoubtedly at least to my opinion undoubtedly I have found in divers small-learned courtiers a more sound style than in some professors of learning; of which I can guess no other cause, but that the courtier following that which by practice he findeth fittest to nature, therein, though he know it not, doth according to art—though not by art; where the other, using art to show art and not to hide art as in these cases he should do—flieth from nature, and indeed abuseth art. {138} Julius Caesar Scaliger had considerable influence on the Defence.

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The Defence of Poesy by Sir Philip Sidney

in defence of poesy

And, of the contrary part, if evil men come to the stage, they ever go out—as the tragedy writer answered to one that misliked the show of such persons—so manacled as they little animate folks to follow them. In confirmation, the play is, as Sidney recommends, an invention that is eikastike, and not phantastike, in that it figures forth good things, showing its Viola as one who should be emulated and its Malvolio as one who, perhaps, should not, though he never lacks his humanity. Jerome, and many others after him, believed that the Psalms were written in verse, and sought in vain to find the rules. I know Apuleius did somewhat so, but that is a thing recounted with space of time, not represented in one moment; and I know the ancients have one or two examples of tragi-comedies, as Plautus has Amphytrio. This can hardly be a coincidence.

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*The Defence of Poesy, by Sir Philip Sidney

in defence of poesy

The limitations of this rule were asserted by him to be determined only by the sensibility of each, or the utility to result to all. Salmon is not really significant to the theme, she is important. Plutarch teaches the use to be gathered of them; and how, if they should not be read? Again, a man might ask out of what commonwealth Plato doth banish them. ” But poetry defeats the curse which binds us to be subjected to the accident of surrounding impressions. Doth not, to go in the highest, God’s word abused breed heresy, and his name abused become blasphemy? I account the Mirror of Magistrates meetly furnished of beautiful parts; and in the Earl of Surrey’s lyrics many things tasting of a noble birth, and worthy of a noble mind. The limitations of this rule were asserted by him to be determined only by the sensibility of each, or the utility to result to all. But let this be a sufficient, though short note, that we miss the right use of the material point of poesy.

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Critical Analysis of Sir Philip Sidney’s Defense of Poesy

in defence of poesy

Poetry strengthens the faculty which is the organ of the moral nature of man, in the same manner as exercise strengthens a limb. In Twelfth Night, which our unfortunate Sir Philip did not live to witness, we have both the refutation of the literalist theory with which he was saddled, and the confirmation of the metaphorical theory he so brilliantly elucidated. In spite of the low-thoughted envy which would undervalue contemporary merit, our own will be a memorable age in intellectual achievements, and we live among such philosophers and poets as surpass beyond comparison any who have appeared since the last national struggle for civil and religious liberty. So Thales, Empedocles, and Parmenides sang their natural philosophy in verses; so did Pythagoras and Phocylides their moral counsels; so did Tyrtæus in war matters, and Solon in matters of policy; or rather they, being poets, did exercise their delightful vein in those points of highest knowledge which before them lay hidden to the world. Now whom shall we find, since the question standeth for the highest form in the school of learning, to be moderator? For all the Greek stories can well testify that the very religion of that time stood upon many and many-fashioned gods; not taught so by the poets, but followed according to their nature of imitation. “Now,” saith he, “the universal weighs what is fit to be said or done, either in likelihood or necessity—which the poesy considereth in his imposed names; and the particular only marketh whether Alcibiades did, or suffered, this or that:” thus far Aristotle. The bucolic writers, who found patronage under the lettered tyrants of Sicily and Egypt, were the latest representatives of its most glorious reign.


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The Defence of Poesy Background

in defence of poesy

An epic or dramatic personage is understood to wear them around his soul, as he may the ancient armor or the modern uniform around his body; whilst it is easy to conceive a dress more graceful than either. For there being two principal parts, matter to be expressed by words, and words to express the matter, in neither we use art or imitation rightly. Another will say it wanteth grammar. So the name of poetry is odious to them, but neither his cause nor effects, neither the sum that contains him nor the particularities descending from him, give any fast handle to their carping dispraise. “The mind is its own place, and of itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven. It is necessary, however, to make the circle still narrower, and to determine the distinction between measured and unmeasured language; for the popular division into prose and verse is inadmissible in accurate philosophy. Apparently Sidney present poetry in its affirmative light illustrating its positive effects to the readers.


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The Defence of Poesie

in defence of poesy

The life and works of Percy Bysshe Shelley exemplify Romanticism in both its extremes of joyous ecstasy and brooding despair. It is already said, and as I think truly said, it is not riming and versing that maketh poesy. One time with so farre fet words, that many seeme monsters, but must seeme straungers to anie poore Englishman: an other time with coursing of a letter, as if they were bound to follow the method of a Dictionary: an other time with figures and flowers, extreemely winter-starved. I have refrained from citing line numbers in primary sources as I have not had the opportunity to check them myself. Poetry, and the principle of Self, of which money is the visible incarnation, are the God and Mammon of the world. In modern war the first phase of air battle starts with the massive air attack to gain air superiority and the subsequent phase of attack will commence against the manoeuvre forces and their supporting elements.

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On Not Defending Poetry

in defence of poesy

Truly a needle cannot do much hurt, and as truly—with leave of ladies be it spoken—it cannot do much good. Homer and the cyclic poets were followed at a certain interval by the dramatic and lyrical poets of Athens, who flourished contemporaneously with all that is most perfect in the kindred expressions of the poetical faculty; architecture, painting, music, the dance, sculpture, philosophy, and, we may add, the forms of civil life. I especially recommend emblem number 23, but always in moderation. But bicause we have eares as well as toongs, and that the lightest reasons that may be, will seeme to waigh greatly, if nothing be put in the counterballance, let us heare, and as well as we can, ponder what objections be made against this Art, which may be woorthie either of yeelding, or answering. His father, Sir Henry Sidney, was appointed lord president of the Marches of Wales by Queen Elizabeth in 1559, and was later posted in Ireland; he was often absent from Penshurst. Calderon, in his religious autos, has attempted to fulfil some of the high conditions of dramatic representation neglected by Shakespeare; such as the establishing a relation between the drama and religion, and the accommodating them to music and dancing; but he omits the observation of conditions still more important, and more is lost than gained by the substitution of the rigidly defined and ever-repeated idealisms of a distorted superstition for the living impersonations of the truth of human passion.

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Critical Analysis of Sir Philip Sidney’s Defense of Poesy

in defence of poesy

Wherein if the philosophers have more rightly showed themselves philosophers than the poets have attained to the high top of their profession,—as in truth, Mediocribus esse poetis Non Dii, non homines, non concessere columnæ,— 14 it is, I say again, not the fault of the art, but that by few men that art can be accomplished. But it is not the Tragedie they doe mislike, for it were too absurd to cast out so excellent a representation of whatsoever is most woorthie to be learned. But as the unimitable Pindare often did, so is that kind most capable and most fit, to awake the thoughts from the sleepe of idlenesse, to embrace honourable enterprises. 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; and then if no new poets should arise to create afresh the associations which have been thus disorganized, language will be dead to all the nobler purposes of human intercourse. Rejecting the methodical order of a treatise and the fantastic elaboration of euphuism, the fashionable literary style of his day, Sidney adopts the varying voice of a public speaker. The ancient marked the quantity of each syllable, and according to that framed his verse; the modern observing only number, with some regard of the accent, the chief life of it standeth in that like sounding of the words, which we call rime. So as the other artists, and especially the historian, affirming many things, can, in the cloudy knowledge of mankind, hardly escape from many lies.

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