An Apology for Poetry Summary
In “An Apology for Poetry,” Sir Philip Sidney sets bent to restore poetry to its rightful place among the humanities. Poetry has gotten a nasty name in Elizabethan England, disrespected by many of Sidney’s contemporaries. But, Sidney contends, critics of poetry don’t understand what poetry really is: they need to be been misled by modern poetry, which is usually bad. If one understands the true nature of poetry, one will see, as Sidney shows in his essay, that poetry is actually the “monarch” of the humanities. Sidney does so by articulating a theory of poetry, largely drawn from classical sources, as a tool for teaching virtue and therefore the poet as a semi-divine figure capable of imagining a more perfect version of nature. Armed with this definition, Sidney proceeds to deal with the main criticisms made from the art of poetry and of the poets who practice it, refuting them with brilliant rhetorical skills.
Following the seven-part structure of a classical oration, Sidney begins with an exordium, or introduction. He tells an anecdote about horse-riding, noting that, like his riding instructor Giovanni Pietro Pugliano, he won’t dwell such a lot on the writing of poetry because of the contemplation and appreciation of it. Since he has become a poet, he feels obliged to mention something to revive the reputation of his unelected vocation.
Sidney begins his defense of poetry by noting that poetry was the primary of the humanities, coming before philosophy and history. Indeed, many of the famous classical philosophers and historians wrote in poetry, and even those that wrote in prose, like Plato and Herodotus, wrote poetically—that is, they used poetic style to return up with philosophical allegories, within the case of Plato, or to provide vivid historical details, within the case of Herodotus. Indeed, without borrowing from poetry, historians and philosophers would never become popular, Sidney claims. One can get some indication of the respect during which poets were held within the ancient world by examining the names they got in Latin and Greek, vates, and points. Vates means “seer” or “prophet,” and within the classical world, poetry was considered to convey important knowledge about the longer term. Points mean maker, and this title reflects the very fact that poets, like God, create new and more perfect realities using their imaginations.
Sidney then moves to the proposition, where defines poetry as an art of imitation that teaches its audience through “delight,” or pleasure. In its ability to embody ideas in compelling images, poetry is like “a speaking picture.” Sidney then specifies that the type of poetry he’s curious about isn’t religious or philosophical, but rather that which is written by “right poets.” This ideal sort of poetry isn’t limited in its material by what exists in nature, but instead creates perfect samples of virtue that, while maybe not real, is well-suited to teaching readers about what it means to be good. Poetry may be a simpler teacher of virtue than history or philosophy because, rather than being limited to the realm of abstract ideas, like philosophy, or to the realm of what has happened, like history, poetry can present perfect tense samples of virtue during a way best suited to instruct its readers. The poet can embody the philosopher’s “wordish descriptions” of virtue in compelling characters or stories, which are more pleasurable to read and easier to know and remember, like Aesop’s Fables. The poet should, therefore, be considered the “right popular philosopher,” since, with perfect and pleasurable samples of virtue, like Aeneas from Virgil’s Aeneid, poetry can “move” readers to act virtuously. Reading poetry about virtue, Sidney writes, is like taking a “medicine of cherries.”
Following the classical structure from this examination to the refutation, Sidney rebuts the criticisms made from poetry by “poet-haters.” Sidney outlines the four most serious charges against poetry: that poetry may be a waste of your time, that the poet may be a liar, that poetry corrupts our morals, which Plato banished poets from his ideal city within the Republic. He highlights that each one of those objections rests on the facility of poetry to maneuver its audience, which suggests that they’re actually reasons to praise poetry. For if poetry is written well, it’s enormous power to maneuver its audience to virtue.
Following a brief peroration, or conclusion, during which he summarizes the arguments he has made, Sidney devotes the ultimate portion of his essay to a digression on Modern English poetry. there’s relatively little Modern English poetry of any quality, Sidney admits. However, it isn’t because there’s anything wrong with English or with poetry, but rather with the absurd way during which poets write poems and playwrights write plays. Poets must be educated to write down more elegantly, borrowing from classical sources without apishly imitating them, as numerous poets, orators, and students did in Sidney’s time. For English is an expressive language with all the apparatus permanently literature, and it’s simply expecting skillful writers to use it. Sidney brings “An Apology for Poetry” to an in-depth on this hopeful note—but not before warning readers that, even as poetry has the facility to immortalize people in verse, so too does it have the facility to condemn others to be forgotten by ignoring them altogether. The critics of poetry should, therefore, take Sidney’s arguments seriously.
Apology for Poetry = Apology for Poetry = Apology for Poetry = Apology for Poetry = Apology for Poetry = Apology for Poetry = Apology for Poetry