Of the monarch of the arts

By Vijay Phanshikar :

Poetry is like the monarch of the arts, and a poet a semi-divine figure capable of imagining a more perfect version of Nature … Poetry is first of the arts — coming before philosophy and history … it may be described as an art of imitation that teaches its audience through delight … Poetry is like a speaking picture …

– Some propositions,

derived, in effect, from the exhaustive

piece of literary criticism titled

‘An Apology For Poetry’,

by Sir Philip Sidney,

English poet, courtier, scholar, soldier,

in the late 16th century

Of the monarch of the arts SENSIBLE and sensitive defense of poetry — the monarch of the arts! Sir Philip Sidney felt compelled to write that detailed piece ‘An Apology For Poetry” because in the 16th century England, coarse, metrical writing was billed as poetry and many in the reading class were finding that work as unacceptable. Even as a popular opinion was emerging that poetry was nonsense, Sir Philip Sidney chose to mount a defense of what poetry was understood classically.

The outcome was a piece that has refused to fade from the memory of pursuers of classical literature in general and poetry in particular. In the essay, Sir Philip Sidney has argued that poetry was the first of the arts, coming before even philosophy and history. He then quotes men of the eminence of Plato and Herodotus who wrote in fully poetic styles, thereby proving that poetry preceded other thought-processes and knowledge-domains. It appears more than four hundred years later that that defense of poetry — calling which ‘An Apology’ was part of the English understatement — was well received by the people pursuing literary interests. It must have helped restore the diminishing value and status of poetry in the different echelons of the society then. Sir Philip Sidney called the poet a semi-divine figure capable of imagining a more perfect version of Nature.

What a tribute to the excellence of poetic expression! So, the poet is not just a word smith, so to say. He, or she, is a master of imagining the unimaginable, thereby bringing to fore different and newer versions of Nature. That is not an ordinary ability, thus. It calls for a far greater depth of emotion and a far loftier rise of cognition — which makes it possible for the individual to project Nature more interestingly. Poetry is like a speaking picture, the critic said. But again, he does not try to establish an artistry with mere words. He enters a fine zone of human comprehension which enables the poet to present a picture (of his subject) that can speak for itself – without any crutch, without any external support. Of course, those who write poetry and those who read it are always aware of the finesse the expression commands, the sophistication it demands. Poetry is all that in one stroke, so to say.

In just a few words, it says so much. It has its own form and content — delivered in a style that is far from prose. It does have word-play, all right. But more importantly, poetry is a play of waltzing emotion, lyrical, melodious. Just as Sir Philip Sidney found it necessary to remind the society then of the virtue of poetry, it is equally necessary to be done even today — when poetry is — sadly — losing its popularity. For, “the monarch of the arts” cannot be shorn of its regal grace. It needs to be established time and again.


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