"Poetry Is The Record Of The Best And Happiest Moments Of The Happiest And Best Minds"

Context: One of the greatest British poets of the Platonic tradition, Shelley wrote this long, lyrical statement of the nature of poetry and the role of the poet in modern society as a reply to Thomas Love Peacock's humorous satire of Romantic poetry, The Four Ages of Poetry (1820). Unlike the mundane Peacock, who thought that poetry was merely a toy for adults, Shelley believes that the poetic experience is one that comes to a man from the gods and tears the veils from ordinary nature so that the poet can see the hidden truths of the universe. Since such vision is denied to the average man, the poet also is the true seer and legislator of the world to whom all men must look if they seek truth or order. Well aware of the implications of this assumption, Shelley claims that poetry is divine in origin and comes only through the gift of inspiration; he also adds that, since the poet is the instrument of the divine, the most moral and best men alone have been raised to the role of poet, as the result of divine grace.

Poetry is the record of the best and happiest moments of the happiest and best minds. . . . It is, as it were, the interpenetration of a diviner nature through our own; but its footsteps are like those of a wind over the sea, which the coming calm erases, and whose traces remain only, as on the wrinkled sand which paves it. These and corresponding conditions of being are experienced principally by those of the most delicate sensibility and the most enlarged imagination; and the state of mind produced by them is at war with every base desire. . . .