Percy Bysshe Shelley: “A Defense of Poetry”

(1821)

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822) wrote “A Defense of Poetry” in 1821 in response to Thomas Love Peacock’s “The Four Ages of Poetry” (1820), although the essay was first published posthumously in 1840 in Shelley’s Essays, Letters from Abroad, Translations and Fragments. In “The Four Ages of Poetry,” Peacock took a satirical look at the major writers of the time, arguing that truly intellectual men were turning away from poetry. He makes dismissive comments about contemporary poets, saying, for example: “A poet in our times is a semi-barbarian in a civilized community. He lives in the days that are past. His ideas, thoughts, feelings, associations, are all with barbarous manners, obsolete customs, and exploded superstitions.”

One of the major poets of the English Romantic period and regarded by later poets as among the most accomplished writers of lyrical poetry in English letters, Shelley took issue with Peacock and mounted a spirited vindication in “A Defense of Poetry.”...

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"Percy's Cottage at Lynmouth" by Elisabeth B. Warren (Yale University Art Gallery)

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