In his "Defence of Poetry," what does Percy Bysshe Shelley mean when he says that "poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world"?

Expert Answers

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

At the end of his "Defence of Poetry," Shelley states the following. A few of the words may be difficult, so we will need to unpack this to understand what the last line means:

Poets are the hierophants of an unapprehended inspiration; the mirrors of the gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present; the words which express what they understand not; the trumpets which sing to battle, and feel not what they inspire; the influence which is moved not, but moves. Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.

First, hierophants are priests, usually associated with ancient Greece, who interpret mysteries. Unapprehended means not understood. Finally, legislators, a word we might slide over without thinking about, are, on the surface lawmakers, but the important point is that in making laws they bring incarnation or reality to ideas. A new law—such as civil rights legislation—can change reality.

Shelley is therefore saying, first, that poets are priests like those in ancient...

(The entire section contains 2 answers and 836 words.)

Unlock This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team