"Poets Are The Unacknowledged Legislators Of The World"

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Last Updated on June 15, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 199

Context: In A Defense of Poetry, Shelley states his Platonic theory of the art. To him, poetry is imagination–an awareness of the value and meaning of the ideas produced by reason. Poetry is "the centre and circumference of knowledge," and the poet is a "law-giver" who will lead mankind to freedom. Great poetry is the "herald, companion, and follower of the awakening of a great people to work a beneficial change in opinion or institution." For during such an awakening men have the power "of communicating and receiving intense . . . conceptions regarding man and nature." The poets themselves may not be aware of (or may even be hostile to) "that spirit of good of which they are the ministers." Their words are charged with an "electric life" which astonishes even them; "for it is less their spirit than the spirit of the age":

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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.

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