The Defense of Poesy, by Sir Philip Sidney

by Paul Mathers


This and the next volume are of essays. This first was on the longer side, but some of them are quite short. I think the proper way for me to blog through these next two volumes is to micro-blog on each essay, rather than trying to write a blog post about a dozen essays on widely different subjects.

The Defense of Poesy is a reaction to a piece written by an acquaintance, Stephen Gosson, in which Gosson spoke out against poetry and then dedicated the piece to Sydney. Not wanting to be associated with the ideas contained therein, Sydney offers his opinions. He is pro-poetry.

Why are we reading this and why, in fact, was this ever an issue? Well, this was written in England in the mid-1500s when people were asking questions like “Should we, as a society, have things like theater and poetry?”

Today we might take these things for granted (although that early Puritan mindset is still alive today in some circles. I have encountered it). But more important to us today is the rhetorical skill of the piece. Sir Philip takes us through the Bible (at a time and milieu in which that would be regarded as an ultimate authority), through Aristotle, unpacking the arguments against poetry posed by the opponent, and finally examining Plato’s seeming problem with poetry (putting for that he did not have a problem with poetry, but, rather, with the specific poets who were misrepresenting the gods).

Was it good to read? Yes. It is good to think through ideas that we hold from every possible angle. It reminded me of a few concepts I’m wrestling with in my current immersion in Glenn Gould for the sake of my epic heroic poem about him. He had a some ideas about art that I’ve found challenging. More on that later.

More micro-blogging on essays soon. The next two put together look to be about the length of this blog post.