Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 471
Percy Bysshe Shelley's A Defence of Poetry discusses the poet's role in creating art. Shelley does not offer readers a discourse on how to write poetry or what makes for a good poem; instead, the essay follows the typical mindset of the Romantic poet and the Romantic ideals poetry of this movement follows.
As for the characters present in the essay, the typical and readily identifiable "character" is not present. Instead, Shelley incorporates "characters" in a much more imaginative way. In a sense, he personifies specific aspects of the poem, which is typical of the Romantic poet. Therefore, one could identify the following personified "characters" or ideas.
Reason and Imagination
As a Romantic, Shelley believes in the power of the imagination. Here, as a "character," the imagination is responsible for being the one responsible for the creation of poetry. While reason defines the process (or "enumeration," as Shelley states) of writing, imagination "color[s] them [poems] with its own light."
Shelley defines man as "an instrument over which a series of external and internal impressions are driven." By doing this, he names man as a "character" in the creation of poetry. It is man's experiences in the world which drive him to create poetry in the first place.
A Child at Play
According to the Romantics, the child deserves to be revered. The child is not tainted by the world around it. Instead, the child at play, with its "delight by its voice and motions," is the "character" whose pure imagination exists as the eminent creative force. The child's "delight" at the world around it exists as an "expression [of] what poetry is to higher objects."
The Youth of the World
Here, Shelley's "character" of youth provides the music of poetry. It is their singing and dancing which provides the "rhythm and order" necessary in creating a poem.
Language and Sound
According to Shelley, all aspects of language combine to exist as "the instruments and materials of poetry." He continues this argument by stating that how language is expressed in a poem helps to define what that poem's purpose is. Therefore, one could say here that language, as a character used in the creation of poems, is one of the most important "characters."
Lastly, a poem could be identified as the last, yet most important, "character" in Shelley's essay. Given that the poem is the central focus of his text, the poem itself acts as the protagonist. It is the poem's nature and creation that lies at the center of Shelley's argument. The poem, nurtured by the other "characters" (reason, imagination, sound, language, etc.) all influence the "character" of the poem. Without the influence of these other "characters," the poem would not exist. One could argue that the poem's dynamic character is the direct result of the impact the other "characters" have upon it.