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SHELLEY ON SIR FRANCIS BACON

(from A Defence of Poetry)

 

 

 

The distinction between poets and prose writers is a vulgar error… Plato was essentially a poet—the truth and splendor of his imagery and the melody of his language is [are] the most intense that it is possible to conceive. He rejected the harmony of the epic, dramatic, and lyrical forms, because he sought to kindle a harmony in thoughts, divested of shape and action, and he forbore to invent any regular plan of rhythm which would include under determinate forms the varied pauses of his style. Cicero sought to imitate the cadence of his periods, but with little success. Lord Bacon was a poet. His language has a sweet and majestic rhythm which satisfies the sense, no less than the almost superhuman wisdom of his philosophy satisfies the intellect; it is a strain which distends and then bursts the circumference of the hearer’s mind and pours itself forth together with it into the universal element with which it has perpetual sympathy. All the authors of revolutions in my opinion are not only necessarily poets as they are inventors, nor even as their words unveil the permanent analogy of things by images which participate in the life of truth, but as their periods are harmonious and rhythmical and contain in themselves the elements of verse being the echo of the eternal music. Nor are those supreme poets who have employed traditional forms of rhythm on account of the form and action of their subjects less capable of perceiving and teaching the truth of things than those who have omitted that form. Shakespeare, Dante, and Milton (to confine ourselves to modern writers) are philosophers of the very loftiest power.

 

 

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