The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The title “Apology of Genius” invokes the classical meaning of “apology” as apologia: a vigorous explanation and defense of the subject. In the poem the speaker will defend “genius,” or inborn talents and capacities beyond the normal or ordinary. In particular, the poem refers to an artistic avant-garde that creates new kinds of beauty unrecognized by the philistine masses. The voice in the poem speaks for this group, explaining that “we are with God” and “we come among you.” “We” appears to be those infused with genius, who are radically different from the audience being addressed. The audience within the poem is an indeterminate “you” representing those who are ignorant, insensitive, unreceptive, or otherwise incapable of comprehending the innovators and their productions.

At the outset the speaker, on behalf of all who embody genius, describes these artistic souls as superior and alienated: “Ostracized as we are with God.” The sentence is truncated, as the speaker abruptly turns to the guardians of convention, “watchers of the civilized wastes,” who “reverse their signals” in attempts to thwart the forward movement of the avant-garde. The theme of alienation recurs in the second stanza, when the geniuses are further characterized as “lepers” and “magically diseased.” The geniuses are unaware of how deeply they disturb the masses until suddenly they confront the “smooth fools’ faces” of a...

(The entire section is 483 words.)