The Whole Internal Universe: Imitation and the New Defense of Poetry in British Criticism, 1660-1830

By John L. Mahoney | Go to book overview

6
Shelley:
Poetry as the New Religion

The most unfailing herald, companion, and follower of the awakening of a great people to work a beneficial change in opinion or institution, is Poetry.At such periods there is an accumulation of the power of communicating and receiving intense and impassioned conceptions respecting man and nature. The persons in whom this power resides, may often as far as regards many portions of their nature, have little apparent correspondence with that spirit of good of which they are the ministers. But even whilst they deny and abjure, they are yet compelled to serve, the Power which is seated upon the throne of their own soul.It is impossible to read the compositions of the most celebrated writers of the present day without being startled with the electric life which burns within their words. They measure the circumference and sound the depths of human nature with a comprehensive and all-penetrating spirit, and they are themselves perhaps the most sincerely astonished at its manifestations; for it is less their spirit than the spirit of the age. Poets are the hierophants of an unapprehended inspiration; the mirrors of the gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present; the words which express what they understand not; the trumpets which sing to battle, and feel not what they inspire; the influence which is moved not, but moves. Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.

A Defence of Poetry


I

PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY strikes the student of romantic theory as another of the manifesto-makers of the period, a poet—literary the-

____________________
Portions of this chapter have been adapted from my article " The Idea of Mimesis in Shelley's A Defence of Poetry," British Journal of Aesthetics, 24 ( Winter 1984), 59-64.

-112-

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