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The corruption which has been imputed to the drama as an effect, begins when the poetry employed in its constitution ends: I appeal to the history of manners whether the periods of the growth of the one and the decline of the other have not corresponded with an exactness equal to any example of moral cause and effect. (54)
In this message Shelley connects the universal idea that poetry, once translated into the theatrical creates a natural transition into a cause and effect relationship but that the poetry itself is also flawed in that translation and that even this form of art cannot perfectly represent the moral, cause and effect situation.
A under a thin disguise of circumstance, stript of all but that ideal perfection and energy which every one feels to be the internal type of all that he loves, admires, and would become. The imagination is enlarged by a sympathy with pains and passions so mighty, that they distend in their conception the capacity of that by which they are conceived; the good affections are strengthened by pity, indignation, terror, and sorrow; and an exalted calm is prolonged from the satiety of this high exercise of them into the tumult of familiar life: even crime is disarmed of half its horror and all its contagion by being represented as the fatal consequence of the unfathomable agencies of nature; error is thus divested of its wilfulness; men can no longer cherish it as the creation of their choice. In a drama of the highest order there is little food for censure or hatred; it teaches rather self-knowledge and self-respect. (54-55)
Shelley then goes on to say that the foundation of the proverb that life imitates art is actually the reverse, in that art imitates art. Art, in this case the theatrical is a reflection of the social and moral condition of the time in which it is conceived and/or displayed for the masses. According to Shelley in times of social depravity and poor moral conduct, art becomes a reflection of this, not the other way around. "But in periods of the decay of social life, the drama sympathizes with that decay." (55) Depravity is present in the moral conduct of the time and is therefore represented in art, in a sense as a way to connect to the audience, as art is best received, when the individual feels connected to it, or believes it to be in some way a reflection of him or herself, with or without consciousness of it. "Neither the eye nor the mind can see itself, unless reflected upon that which it resembles." In times of social greatness, reflected in other arts the dramatic and the poetic reflect such times and such meanings.
A it is indisputable that the highest perfection of human society has ever corresponded with the highest dramatic excellence; and that the corruption or the extinction of the drama in a nation where it has once flourished, is a mark of a corruption of manners and an extinction of the energies which sustain the soul of social life. (55)
To Shelley poetry is the universal expression of all that is good in the world of evil men. It responds to the social world in that it reflects aspirations and the right action but it does not demand or determine such, nor does it prove or represent real actions of man.
Poetry ever communicates all the pleasure which men are capable of receiving: it is ever still the light of life; the source of whatever of beautiful or generous or true can have place in an evil time. (56-57)
Shelley contends that through poetry, people can learn a great deal about their own ability to exercise their mind beyond the standard of the natural, a mind ineloquently and unknowingly responding only to his or her own desires, wants and needs and not to those of others. Yet, for Shelley art reflects life, not the contrary. Wisdom can be gained through the true form of universal poetry, that is the form that speaks to the soul, with regard to the love that drives morality.
Percy Bysshe Shelley, likely had more to say about what poetry is than almost any other modern writer. His Defense of Poetry demonstrates a keen and self possessed idea about the value of the art of poetry, for the reader/viewer in the case of the dramatic and for the poet, who is driven by some inner need to express concepts, he or she may not even understand. Poetry is the simplest form of truth, given by Shelley the auspices of the prophetic. To Shelley, poetry feeds the hungry soul and mind by allowing the reader, viewer and poet to see and experience, the greatest expressions of humanity the expressions of love that drive morality.
Shelley puts poetry in league with scripture in that he calls the poet a hierophant, or the guide who brings the masses to that which is deemed holy.
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.
The poet as the unacknowledged legislator of the world, brings to mind the idea of poetry as a social constitution, a living document that embodies the greatest affirmations of a civil society, but in the sense of the social world, where people intermingle with each other and with their environment to and come to surprising terms with both, in both a good and a bad way at times.
In the most general sense of the word, Shelley believes that poetry, is a reflection of the context of its time, and of the individual who expresses it. To Shelley, poetry is the lifeblood of social expression. The response of the individual to know and understand love, the driving force behind morality and human goodness, a goodness tha is not inherent, but rather learned through the full expression of his knowledge, about people, place and thing as well as the divine. When speaking of modern poets, Shelley expresses that they are confronted with the electrified world and must navigate it to express themselves in poetry.
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. (73)
Poets, though gifted with a clear sense of self, while expressing poetry are according to Shelly the purveyors of messages that are separate from the logic that drives didactic thought. Poetry is then an expression of the divine.
Observe in what a ludicrous chaos the imputation of real or fictitious crime have been confused in the contemporary calumnies against poetry and poets; consider how little is, as it appears -- or appears, as it is; look to your own motives, and judge not, lest ye be judged. Poetry, as has been said, differs in this respect from logic, that it is not subject to the control of the active powers of the mind, and that its birth and recurrence have no necessary connexion with the consciousness or will. (71)
Poetry is something that flows from within and almost has a will of its own. A will that is then expressed through the pen and forever folded into the greater body of the knowledge of man. Shelley contends that poetry is not driven by motive, or self-interest, and if it is it cannot be considered poetry, in its truest form. The poet writes what is given to him or her, with some skill and application of words, but without the desire to prove a point or manipulate knowledge or understanding. Poetry "just is."
All things exist as they are perceived; at least in relation to the percipient. '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 binds us to be subjected to the accident of surrounding impressions. And whether it spreads its own figured curtain, or withdraws life's dark veil from before the scene of things, it equally creates 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…[continue]
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