How does Philip Sidney defend poetry in his "An Apology for Poetry" ?



How does Philip Sidney defend poetry in his "An Apology for Poetry" ?- Literature Xpres


Sidney's Apology is a true defense of poetry. The Puritans of his age attack poetry on many counts. Stephen Gossoon wrote a treatise entitled The School of Abuse in which he condemned poetry and poets. The common complaint of the poet-haters is against rhyming and versing. Besides rhyming and versing, there are four chief objections against poetry advanced by the Puritans. Sidney classifies them as the following:

First, Poetry is a waste of time; there are many other fruitful branches of knowledge and a man might better spend his time in them than in poetry.

Secondly, Poetry is the mother of lies.  

Thirdly, Poetry is the nurse of abuse, infecting us with many base desires.

Fourthly, and chiefly, Plato has banished poets from his ideal Commonwealth.


Sidney dismissed the first objection very easily. He says that poetry is the noblest kind of learning because it teaches us virtue and„ because it moves our mind to virtuous action. There is no other branch of learning which can perform these two functions more effectively than poetry. Sidney firmly asserts that ink and paper cannot be to a more profitable purpose employed, poetry is the most useful arts. Sidney vehemently denies this charge and says "of all writers under the sun the poet is the least liar." The astronomer and the cliometrician may be found to have told a lie if their measurement of the height of stars proves to be wrong. A physician may prove to be a liar if the medicine, which he prescribed for the treatment of a disease, kills the patient. But the poet never tells lies because he affirms nothing. Even if the poet relates things which are not true, he is not telling lies because he does not affirm those things to be true.


The third charge of the poet-haters is that poetry is the nurse of abuse, infecting us with many base desires. In this charge it is stated that poetry is infected with love-theme and so fills the mind of men with base desires. Sidney agrees that in much of modern poetry there was a vicious treatment of love, but love itself is not bad because it shows an appreciation of beauty. According to Sidney, the fault lies not with poetry, but with the abuse of poetry. So, poetry does not abuse men's wit, it is men's wit which abuses poetry. As regards its debilitating influence, Sidney replies that poets "have been companion to camps"., for. martial men have always admired them.


The poet haters said that poetry is so bad so that Plato has banished poets from his ideal Commonwealth. But Sidney is not agreed with those who say that Plato was against poets. He replies that Plato did not stand against poetry but against the poets who tried to abuse it. Plato found that the poets of his time tended to spread wrong opinions about the gods. He did not want the youth of his country should be corrupted by their study of poetry in which the gods were represented as being lustful and revengeful. So, Plato's objection was theological in nature. Sidney points out that Plato gives high and divine commendation to poetry in his Ion. He has regarded the poet as "a light and winged and sacred thing." Thus, Plato should be considered to be a patron of poets, not their adversary. 


Though Sidney defends poetry enthusiastically, we cannot lend out blind support to whatever he has said. Sidney makes a very sweeping statement when he says that there is no fruitful knowledge than that which is supplied by poetry. Besides, when he says that poetry affirms nothing, it underscores the justification of poetry. He further says that poetry does not abuse men but it is men who abuse poetry. But we cannot deny the fact poetry does depict amorous scenes, lustful scenes and so on. Finally, as to Plato, Sidney has somewhat distorted Plato's views about poetry by depicting him as a patron rather than an adversary of poetry.


How does Philip Sidney defend poetry in his "An Apology for Poetry" ? How does Philip Sidney defend poetry in his "An Apology for Poetry" ? Reviewed by Literature Xpress on Monday, November 19, 2018 Rating: 5

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