Please help me analyse this passage from essay "The Defence of Poesie" (Sir Philip Sidney), which praises the role of poets as the "heavenly Maker of that maker" Neither let it be deemed too saucy...

Please help me analyse this passage from essay "The Defence of Poesie" (Sir Philip Sidney), which praises the role of poets as the "heavenly Maker of that maker"

Neither let it be deemed too saucy a comparison to balance the highest point of man's wit with the efficacy of nature; but rather give right honor to the heavenly Maker of that maker, who having made man to His own likeness, set him beyond and over all the works of that second nature; which in nothing he showeth so much as in poetry; when, with the force of a divine breath, he bringeth things forth surpassing her doings, with no small arguments to the incredulous of that first accursed fall of Adam; since our erected wit maketh us know what perfection is, and yet our infected will keepeth us from reaching unto it. But these arguments will by few be understood, and by fewer granted…

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roberteinarsson's profile pic

roberteinarsson | College Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

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This passage is comparing the poet to God. The word "poet" means "maker" in Greek, so a poet is a maker or creator, and so the poet is symbolically like God. Just as God created the world and the people in it, so the poet creates worlds and people, at least, imaginary worlds and imaginary people, but very realistic nonetheless! Sometimes in the world of the poets and the story-tellers, you can almost get lost in the story and forget that it is all a fiction!

Secondly, the poet is able to create better worlds than this world. The poet can take us back into the Garden of Eden and the time of Adam and Eve, before everything went wrong. This is why Adam is mentioned in the passage.

This is the basic meaning of the passage.

Now, you need to go back to the passage and re-read those really hard sentences. See if you can get this meaning out of the sentences. This is the focus of the lesson, so you need to look really hard at those sentences and see if you can process them mentally.

literaturenerd's profile pic

literaturenerd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

Sir Philip Sidney's "Defence of Poesie" illustrates the importance of poetry, above all other arts. The aim of poetry, according to Sidney, is two-fold: to entertain and to educate (as stated in lines 333-365 of Horace's "Ars Poetica"--"Poets wish to benefit or to please, or to speak / What is both enjoyable and helpful to living"). 

According to the eNotes "Summary" on the text, Greeks referred to writers as "makers," which is referenced in the excerpt in question--"Heavenly maker of that maker." The summary goes on to state that "the Hebrews and the Romans gave high distinction to poets, considering them prophets, messengers of God or the gods." Therefore, the reference made to the Heavenly Maker is a reference to God/god. 

Ironically, Sidney knew that readers of "Defence" would struggle with understanding the text, illustrated by him openly stating the "fact" that "these arguments will by few be understood." 

The excerpt refers to the idea that man's wit (intelligence and ingenuity) can be compared to nature's ability to produce any effect it desires (meaning a writer can write any poem he or she wishes). Since made in God's/god's image, man is above nature, and this is made most apparent in poetry. Sidney goes on to state that man, aware of his own intelligence (wit), can identify perfection, and, since man can identify perfection, he or she is also intelligent enough to keep "us from reaching unto it" (or attempting to be perfect). That said, Sidney deems poetry the closest thing to perfection for man. 

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