Critical Approaches to Poetry - Attacks and Defence

Poetry has been attacked from time to time . The Greek philosopher Plato’s Republic, poets have no place . For him, poetry is an art of mimicry. It is the copy of a copy i.e. copy of the real world which is copied from God’s ideal world. Poets are liers. Poetry is based on lies and has an adverse affect on society . He compares poetry to painting.

Aristotle, Plato’s student, wrote Poetics to defend poetry from this attack. According to Aristotle, poetry is an art of imitation which is different from mere copy or mimicry . Imitation is a creative process. The poet takes elements from the real world and with the help of his imagination he adds something new to it. The object of poetic imitation is the inner reality of human beings. Aristotle’s theory of catharsis elaborates the function of poetry extending to tragedy. The catharsis implies ‘purgation’ of the human mind by safely releasing our disturbing emotions like pity and fear.


According to Aristotle , the origin of poetry lies in imitation which is our natural impulse.A good work of imitation delights us. He compares poetry to music. Again the metre of poetry is created only because of our love for harmony and rhythm.

Aristotle says that poetic truth is more accurate as poetry doesn’t deal with what has happened but what might happen according to the law of possibility .

Stephen Gosson in his School of Abuse , denounces poetry . His book is a reflection of the hostility of the Puritans against poetry. Gosson calls the poets ‘pipers and jesters’, caterpillars of the Commonwealth’ , enemies of virtue etc. He condemns music , drama and poetry . Drama is a sensual entertainment and music weakens us physically.

Sydney's 'Apology For Poetry ' defends poetry against the Puritan attack on it. As he states, poetry should be valued and adored on the following grounds:


Beacause of its antiquety and universality All peoples and Natuons honour poetry The poets are Vates or Prophets . The Romans believed in the power of the poets to foresee things. Oracles of Delphoes and Sybyllia’s prophesies are written in verses. The poets are ‘Makers’ . They make another world where things and people are either better or worse. In real life , we don’t find a lover like Theogenes and a valient man like Orlando. 

Because of the quality of moving of poetry , the ancient philosophers like Thales , Empedocles , and Perminides , and historians like Herodotus wrote in poetry. Plato himself was a poet who wrote his philosophical dialogues in verse. As Sidney says poetry is an imitation of nature and its function of is delightful teaching that leads the mind of the reader to do accordingly whatever is learnt

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