In A Defence of Poetry, Shelley makes poetry a central moral force. His own poetry is often highly political, directly or indirectly. Does it seem to you that poetry has the power to be both a moral and a political force? Choose a poem or two to illustrate why or why not.

Poetry has the power to be a moral or political force. Two examples are Amanda Gorman's poem "The Hill We Climb" and Walt Whitman's "O Captain! My Captain!" Poetic movements, such as Romanticism, also exert a cumulative moral and political force over hearts and minds.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

It does seem that poetry has the power to be the kind of moral and political force which Shelley dreamed of it being. The first poem I would point to is Amanda Gorman's piece "The Hill We Climb," which became an immediate sensation. It hit the zeitgeist of the moment among many people because it crystallized both the pain in the nation—from COVID to the invasion of the Capitol to the deep political divisions in the US—and the evidence of hope (even in Gorman's own life story) that positive change is still alive and part of the American experiment. It did everything an occasional—that is, a poem written for a specific occasion—should do by moving the public emotionally and providing a compelling political and moral vision.

Another poem that caught the moral and political zeitgeist of a public moment was Walt Whitman's "O Captain! My Captain!" which expressed the country's grief at the assassination of Lincoln and helped cement him in the public imagination as a great leader.

I would argue, however, that it is the cumulative effect of a whole series of poems—a poetic movement as a whole—that has the greatest impact on the moral and political climate. The emphasis, for example, of the Romantic poets on elevating and showing the good in despised peoples, such as peasants or gypsies, had an effect over time of raising sympathy and political support for oppressed groups. Poetry, too, is most effective when it is turned into songs that can be used as rallying cries.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial