The True Voice of Feeling: Studies in English Romantic Poetry

By Herbert Read | Go to book overview
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ESSAY III
In Defence of Shelley

[i]

Shelley has always had his enemies. For the most part they have been what we might call political enemies. Caring little for literature as such, these critics of the poet have fastened on his social and ethical ideas and have seen in them a subversive influence to be opposed with all the powers of law and tradition. With such critics we are not really concerned; they no longer count in the controversy, for Shelley has been universally acknowledged as a poet, and his poetry is part of our culture. To dethrone Shelley it is no longer sufficient to prove his atheism or his anarchism, or any other alleged form of intellectual perversion; the critic must destroy his reputation as a poet, trusting that then he will silently disappear from our Parnassus carrying with him his dangerous load of mischief.

A frontal attack on that poetry would not be very effective. You may say that this poem or that poem is bad, but however many reasons you bring forward to support your opinion, an opinion and a personal opinion it remains. Your audience will simply register their disagreement, and continue to admire the poetry in their own way. But if somehow you can imply that it is rather bad form to admire Shelley's poetry, that it is the mark of an inferior taste, of muddled thought and vulgar sensibility, then you will set up a sort of fashionable inhibition far more powerful in its effect and far wider in its range. People will not

-212-

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