Unacknowledged Legislators!

Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the World. Shelley was clearly moved to declare that poets had a fundamentally important role in the world, reminding humans about things that really mattered, beyond the entrapments of material possessions. So what was it that Shelley was so deeply drawn towards? If we look at the opening sentences of many of his paragraphs in this famous essay of his (“A Defence of Poetry”) it is clear that he sees poetry as having a special power in its impact on human nature:

“Poetry is indeed something divine. It is at once the centre and circumference of knowledge….. Poetry is the record of the best and happiest moments of the happiest and best minds… Poetry turns all things to loveliness; it exalts the beauty of that which is most beautiful….. The most unfailing herald, companion, and follower of the awakening of a great people…. is Poetry…. Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the World.” 1821

Shelley is talking here about a quality in the creative imagination that can deepen and transform our experience, enabling us to see things in depth and with new understanding.

In one of his amazing poems “To A Sky-Lark” Shelley envisions an ordinary song-bird as the bringer of new harmony into his soul. His poetry takes us there, through his imagination, into a transformed perception of something ordinary into something quite extraordinary:

Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!
Bird thou never wert,
That from Heaven, or near it,
Pourest thy full heart
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.
Higher still and higher
From the earth thou springest
Like a cloud of fire;
The blue deep thou wingest,
And singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest…
Better than all measures
Of delightful sound,
Better than all treasures
That in books are found,
Thy skill to poet were, thou scorner of the ground!
Teach me half the gladness
That thy brain must know,
Such harmonious madness
From my lips would flow
The world should listen then, as I am listening now.
These are the first two and the last two stanzas of one of the greatest Romantic poems of the age, a poem that celebrates the power of the creative imagination to liberate the essential, deeper life from ordinary things around us.
Clearly this is in line with William Blake’s lines from “Auguries of Innocence”:
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour
Here again, Blake is inviting us to see and respond to the seemingly insignificant things around us in a way that recognizes their inestimable potency…… In both Shelley and Blake, their Words reach into the silence
Words move, music moves
Only in time; but that which is only living
Can only die. Words, after speech, reach
Into the silence. Only by the form, the pattern
Can words or music reach

The stillness, as a Chinese jar still
Moves perpetually in its stillness
Here T.S Eliot, in his Four Quartets images the way that words capture qualities of experience that are  beyond formulation. Words, like music, reach into the mystery of things, into the stillness that embodies truths beyond our logical comprehension.
So the Romantics, and those poets and artists that followed in their spirit, have a huge contribution to make to our technologically glutted, over-worded, unsilent world. Thank you Romantics!
Blog topics for Week4
* Can you write a poem based on your own experience that begins with
Words reach into the silence.
* Write a letter to any one of our Romantic authors (men or women) and express to them what you have found personally most valuable from their writing.
* In either poetry or prose describe an experience from your own life that comes close to the kind of vision of nature that Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley or Keats have had.
*Select any poem (or part of a poem) and discuss it from the point of view of showing what makes it a truly Romantic poem in its attitudes.
* To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour
Try to explain as simply as you can what you think William Blake is trying to convey in these mysterious lines.
* Create a topic (either CRITICAL or CREATIVE) that captures your personal sense of one of the most important elements of the writing of Romantic authors.

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