SAFARI seems to no longer work
for comments...use another browser?

Monday, August 01, 2011

Tweaking the Romantics

The two photographs are courtesy of Sofie Laier Henrikson
of Copenhagen and Shelley's body was burned on the shore
(quarantine laws) after he drowned.

Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.
--Percy Bysshe Shelley

What a silly, Romantic thing to say!  Just the sort of Shelleyesque thing that Shelley would go and say, don't you think? I suppose all poets have lived flawed lives--don't we all?--and all have occasionally said a silly thing, but poor Shelley has been more mocked for this line in A Defence of Poetry than all the rest, I imagine.

Imagine the dust of Plato whirling about in distemper: this Shelley fellow was neither moral nor patriotic, and he had a positively smarmy view of nature! Poets certainly had no business setting themselves up for legislators, when they did not even belong in a republic anyway... The dust of Aristotle rather likes nature. Meanwhile, what's left of Horace agrees with Plato; this Shelley fellow has no moderation, no sense of what is fitting or what he owes to his family and his country. They've got a point: poor, poor Harriet.

Poets are the legislators of the the unacknowledged world.
--George Oppen

Witty. It's a betterment of the original, though really depending on it to have any sense or wit.  Plato is still rolling dust, still upset about upstart legislating poets, though maybe he feels better about the "unacknowledged world," which may be the ideal world, after all. But poetry is not the ideal world nor the natural world but some third realm, of course!

What would be better yet?

Far from being its legislators, poets dream the unacknowledged world.


Still dependent on Shelley. Perhaps it wouldn't be interesting at all without him. It would just be something else and perhaps commonplace.

Nevertheless, I offer the dust of Longinus a cup of tea, and we have a nice chat about the sublime in art.

Now you try tweaking that line!

* * *

Got home from camp-ferrying about 7:30 p.m. last night to find Crazy Mountain wild sheep vindaloo bubbling on the stove.  Now that's rather unusual.


  1. The idea of poets making laws in this age where we are so irrelevant to the majority of the world is hilarious, of course.
    We may make laws, but others are bound to disregard them.
    I agree with you about Shelley, whose pronouncements I have always found rather adolescent and vaguely embarrassing. If he had lived long enough, he'd have been embarrassed too, I think.
    Don't get me wrong; I love the Romantics, but more seasoned ones like Blake, especially, and of course the saintly Keats.

  2. Yes, Shelley has been a bit raveled by time, poor fellow. If only he hadn't been quite so wave-tossed and we could have had more, including what came of having done the things he had done... Might have been thrilling.

  3. That does sound incerdibly pompous. What a sad end.

    Ah, those must be bonfires on Danish shores on midsummer night for we have such photos - what memories! We traveled with our family through several countries in 1983, arriving at friends' in Denmark for this magical event. Then repeats in Sweden, then Finland for each country celebrated on different days, just for us, I like to think, though we hadn't planned it that way.

  4. marja-leena,

    The strange thing is that it once sounded believable to some people...

    Yes, midsummer fires! I wonder how far back they go in time.

    Now I'm off for a walk in the unnatural Cooperstown sunshine (such a July! Sun, sun, sun.) Shall have to come by and see what you are doing when I get back. I need to get the kinks out from yesterday's drive.

  5. Unless he wanted to mean 'legislating emotions'.

  6. Hello, Anil--

    Now that would be the only way to make it work, wouldn't it? And it would certainly fit Shelley, always a man with his heart on his sleeve (or rescued from a burning pyre!)

    Glad you left a note...


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.