From The Defence of Poesy

By Sir Philip Sidney

But since the Authors of most of our Sciences, were the Romanes, and before them the Greekes, let us a little stand upon their authorities, but even so farre as to see what names they have given unto this now scorned skill.

Among the Romanes a Poet was called Vates, which is as much as a diviner, foreseer, or Prophet, as by his conjoyned words Vaticinium, and Vaticinari{12}, is manifest, so heavenly a title did that excellent people bestowe uppon this hart- ravishing knowledge, and so farre were they carried into the admiration thereof, that they thought in the chanceable hitting uppon any of such verses, great foretokens of their following fortunes, were placed. Whereupon grew the word of Sortes Vergilianae, when by suddaine opening Virgils Booke, they lighted uppon some verse of his, as it is reported by many, whereof the Histories of the Emperours lives are full. As of Albinus the Governour of our Iland, who in his childhood met with this verse Arma amens capio, nec sat rationis in armis{13}: and in his age performed it, although it were a verie vaine and godlesse superstition, as also it was, to think spirits were commaunded by such verses, whereupon this word Charmes derived of Carmina, commeth: so yet serveth it to shew the great reverence those wittes were held in, and altogither not without ground, since both by the Oracles of Delphos and Sybillas prophesies, were wholly delivered in verses, for that same exquisite observing of number and measure in the words, and that high flying libertie of conceit propper to the Poet, did seeme to have some divine force in it.

And may not I presume a little farther, to shewe the reasonablenesse of this word Vatis, and say that the holy Davids Psalms are a divine Poeme? If I do, I shal not do it without the testimony of great learned men both auncient and moderne. But even the name of Psalmes wil speak for me, which being interpreted, is nothing but Songs: then that it is fully written in meeter as all learned Hebritians{14} agree, although the rules be not yet fully found. Lastly and principally, his handling his prophecie, which is meerly Poeticall. For what else is the awaking his musical Instruments, the often and free chaunging of persons, his notable Prosopopeias{15}, when he maketh you as it were see God comming in his maijestie, his telling of the beasts joyfulnesse, and hils leaping, but a heavenly poesie, wherein almost he sheweth himselfe a passionate lover of that unspeakable and everlasting bewtie, to be seene by the eyes of the mind, onely cleared by faith? But truly now having named him, I feare I seeme to prophane that holy name, applying it to Poetry, which is among us throwne downe to so ridiculous an estimation. But they that with quiet Judgements wil looke a little deeper into it, shal find the end & working of it such, as being rightly applied, deserveth not to be scourged out of the Church of God.

But now let us see how the Greekes have named it, and how they have deemed of it. The Greekes named him poieten{16}, which name, hath as the most excellent, gone through other languages, it commeth of this word poiein which is to make: wherein I know not whether by luck or wisedome, we Englishmen have met with the Greekes in calling him a Maker. Which name, how high and incomparable a title it is, I had rather were knowne by marking the scope of other sciences, then by any partial allegation.

There is no Art{17} delivered unto mankind that hath not the workes of nature for his principall object, without which they could not consist, and on which they so depend, as they become Actors & Plaiers, as it were of what nature will have set forth. So doth the Astronomer looke upon the starres, and by that he seeth set downe what order nature hath taken therein. So doth the Geometritian & Arithmetitian, in their divers sorts of quantities. So doth the Musitians intimes tel you, which by nature agree, which not. The natural Philosopher thereon hath his name, and the morall Philosopher standeth uppon the naturall vertues, vices, or passions of man: and follow nature saith he therein, and thou shalt not erre. The Lawier saith, what men have determined. The Historian, what men have done. The Gramarian, speaketh onely of the rules of speech, and the Rhetoritian and Logitian, considering what in nature wil soonest proove, and perswade thereon, give artificiall rules, which still are compassed within the circle of a question, according to the proposed matter. The Phisitian wayeth the nature of mans bodie, & the nature of things helpfull, or hurtfull unto it. And the Metaphisicke though it be in the second & abstract Notions, and therefore be counted supernaturall, yet doth hee indeed build upon the depth of nature. Only the Poet disdeining to be tied to any such subjection, lifted up with the vigor of his own invention, doth grow in effect into another nature: in making things either better then nature bringeth foorth, or quite a new, formes such as never were in nature: as the Heroes, Demigods, Cyclops, Chymeras, Furies, and such like; so as he goeth hand in hand with nature, not enclosed within the narrow warrant of her gifts, but freely raunging within the Zodiack of his owne wit. Nature never set foorth the earth in so rich Tapistry as diverse Poets have done, neither with so pleasaunt rivers, fruitfull trees, sweete smelling flowers, nor whatsoever els may make the too much loved earth more lovely: her world is brasen, the Poets only deliver a golden.

But let those things alone and goe to man, for whom as the other things are, so it seemeth in him her uttermost comming is imploied: & know whether she have brought foorth so true a lover as Theagenes{18}, so constant a friend as Pylades{19}, so valiant a man as Orlando{20}, so right a Prince as Xenophons Cyrus{21}, so excellent a man every way as Virgils Aeneas{22}. Neither let this be jestingly conceived, bicause the works of the one be essenciall, the other in imitation or fiction: for everie understanding, knoweth the skill of ech Artificer standeth in that Idea, or fore conceit of the worke, and not in the worke it selfe. And that the Poet hath that Idea, is manifest, by delivering them foorth in such excellencie as he had imagined them: which delivering foorth, also is not wholly imaginative, as we are wont to say by them that build Castles in the aire: but so farre substancially it worketh, not onely to make a Cyrus, which had bene but a particular excellency as nature might have done, but to bestow a Cyrus upon the world to make many Cyrusses, if they will learne aright, why and how that maker made him.

Neither let it be deemed too sawcy a comparison, to ballance the highest point of mans wit, with the efficacie of nature: but rather give right honor to the heavenly maker of that maker, who having made man to his owne likenes, set him beyond and over all the workes of that second nature, which in nothing he sheweth so much as in Poetry; when with the force of a divine breath, he bringeth things foorth surpassing her doings: with no small arguments to the incredulous of that first accursed fall of Adam, since our erected wit maketh us know what perfection is, and yet our infected wil keepeth us from reaching unto it{23}. But these arguments will by few be understood, and by fewer graunted: thus much I hope will be given me, that the Greeks with some probability of reason, gave him the name above all names of learning.

Now let us go to a more ordinary opening of him, that the truth may be the more palpable: and so I hope though we get not so unmatched a praise as the Etimologie of his names will graunt, yet his verie description which no man will denie, shall not justly be barred from a principall commendation.

Poesie therefore, is an Art of Imitation: for so Aristotle termeth it in the word mimesis{24}, that is to say, a representing, counterfeiting, or figuring forth to speake Metaphorically. A speaking Picture, with this end to teach and delight{25}.

NOTES: {12} Vaticinium, and Vaticinari: prophecy, prophesying. The prophetic office of poet has interested poets and philosophers from Plato to S.T. Coleridge. For a useful discussion of this poetics in Sidney's time, see Angus Fletcher, The Prophetic Moment: An Essay on Spenser [1971].  {13} Albinus was the Roman governor of Britain in 192 C.E. (Duncan-Jones and Van Dorsten, Miscellaneous Prose of Sir Philip Sidney 189) The line quoted from Aeneid II.314 translates "insanely I arm, that have no reason to arm."  {14} Hebritians: Hebricians, scholars of the Hebrew language. Jerome, and many others after him, believed that the Psalms were written in verse, and sought in vain to find the rules. (Duncan-Jones 375) {15} Prosopopeias: attribution of human qualities (personification) to natural objects or events. {16} poieten: "a poet," with which phrase the Greek word is replaced in subsequent editions. {17} Art: any skill in production, including of knowledge, hence inclusive of the sciences. {18} Theagenes: from Heliodorus, Aethiopica.  {19} Pylades: from Euripides, Oresteia. {20} Orlando: Ariosto, Orlando furioso [1532]. {21} Cyrus: Ruler of Persia, 600?-529 B.C.E.; from Xenophon, Cyropaedia.  {22} Aeneas is said to have been regarded during the Renaissance as the perfect man (Duncan-Jones and Van Dorsten 190); he was especially attractive to Englishmen as the ancestor of the founders of Rome and also, according to legend, of the founders of Britain. See Michael Drayton, Poly-Olbion [1612]. {23} Compare Scaliger, Poetics [1561]. The poet, according to Scaliger, creates models, which partake of the first nature, so that the poet's creativity is like that of God.  {24} Aristotle, Poetics I.2.

Now to that which commonly is attributed to the praise of Historie, in respect of the notable learning, is got by marking the successe, as though therein a man shuld see vertue exalted, & vice punished: truly that commendation is peculiar to Poetrie, and farre off from Historie: for indeed Poetrie ever sets vertue so out in her best cullours, making fortune her well-wayting handmayd, that one must needs be enamoured of her. Well may you see Ulisses in a storme and in other hard plights, but they are but exercises of patience & magnanimitie, to make them shine the more in the neare following prosperitie. And of the contrary part, if evill men come to the stage, they ever goe out (as the Tragedie writer answered to one that misliked the shew of such persons) so manicled as they litle animate folkes to follow them. But the Historie being captived to the trueth of a foolish world, is many times a terror from well-doing, and an encouragement to unbrideled wickednes. For see we not valiant Milciades{53} rot in his fetters? The just Phocion{54} and the accomplished Socrates{55}, put to death like Traytors? The cruell Severus{56}, live prosperously? The excellent Severus{57} miserably murthered? Sylla and Marius dying in their beds{58}? Pompey and Cicero slain then when they wold have thought exile a happinesse{59}? See we not vertous Cato{60} driven to kill himselfe, and Rebell Caesar so advanced, that his name yet after 1600. yeares lasteth in the highest honor? And marke but even Caesars owne words of the forenamed Sylla, (who in that onely, did honestly to put downe his dishonest Tyrannie) Litteras nescivet{61}: as if want of learning caused him to doo well. He ment it not by Poetrie, which not content with earthly plagues, deviseth new punishments in hell for Tyrants: nor yet by Philosophy, which teacheth Occidentos esse{62}, but no doubt by skill in Historie, for that indeed can affoord you Cipselus, Periander, Phalaris, Dionisius{63}, and I know not how many more of the same kennel, that speed well inough in their abhominable injustice of usurpation.

I conclude therefore that he excelleth historie, not onely in furnishing the minde with knowledge, but in setting it forward to that which deserves to be called and accounted good: which setting forward and moving to well doing, indeed setteth the Lawrell Crowne upon the Poets as victorious, not onely of the Historian, but over the Philosopher, howsoever in teaching it may be questionable.

For suppose it be granted, that which I suppose with great reason may be denied, that the Philosopher in respect of his methodical proceeding, teach more perfectly then the poet, yet do I thinke, that no man is so much philophilosophos{64} as to compare the philosopher in mooving with the Poet. And that mooving is of a higher degree than teaching, it may by this appeare, that it is well nigh both the cause and effect of teaching. For who will be taught, if he be not mooved with desire to be taught? And what so much good doth that teaching bring foorth, (I speake still of morall doctrine) as that it mooveth one to do that which it doth teach. For as Aristotle saith, it is not gnosis but praxis{65} must be the frute: and how praxis can be without being moved to practice, it is no hard matter to consider.

The Philosopher sheweth you the way, hee enformeth you of the particularities, as well of the tediousnes of the way, as of the pleasaunt lodging you shall have when your journey is ended, as of the many by turnings that may divert you from your way. But this is to no man but to him that will reade him, and reade him with attentive studious painfulnesse, which constant desire, whosoever hath in him, hath alreadie past halfe the hardnesse of the way: and therefore is beholding to the Philosopher, but for the other halfe. Nay truly learned men have learnedly thought, that where once reason hath so much over-mastered passion, as that the minde hath a free desire to doo well, the inward light each minde hath in it selfe, is as good as a Philosophers booke, since in Nature we know it is well, to doo well, and what is well, and what is evill, although not in the wordes of Art which Philosophers bestow uppon us: for out of naturall conceit the Philosophers drew it; but to be moved to doo that which wee know, or to be mooved with desire to know. Hoc opus, hic labor est{66}.

Now therein of all Sciences I speake still of humane (and according to the humane conceit) is our Poet the Monarch. For hee doth not onely shew the way, but giveth so sweete a prospect into the way, as will entice anie man to enter into it: Nay he doth as if your journey should lye through a faire vineyard, at the verie first, give you a cluster of grapes, that full of the taste, you may long to passe further. Hee beginneth not with obscure definitions, which must blurre the margent with interpretations, and loade the memorie with doubtfulnesse: but hee commeth to you with words set in delightfull proportion, either accompanied with, or prepared for the well enchanting skill of musicke, and with a tale forsooth he commeth unto you, with a tale, which holdeth children from play, and olde men from the Chimney corner; and pretending no more, doth intend the winning of the minde from wickednes to vertue; even as the child is often brought to take most wholesome things by hiding them in such other as have a pleasaunt taste: which if one should begin to tell them the nature of the Alloes or Rhabarbarum they should receive, wold sooner take their physic at their eares then at their mouth, so it is in men (most of which, are childish in the best things, til they be cradled in their graves) glad they will be to heare the tales of Hercules, Achilles, Cyrus, Aeneas, and hearing them, must needes heare the right description of wisdom, value, and justice; which if they had bene barely (that is to say Philosophically) set out, they would sweare they be brought to schoole againe…


NOTES: {53} Milciades: Miltiades defeated the Persians at Marathon, but afterwards misused an Athenian fleet and was imprisoned, where he died of a leg wound received in the naval adventure. Herodotus, Histories IV. {54} Phocion, an Athenian public servant, was executed for suspicion of illegally negotiating with the Macedonians; Plutarch, Phocion.  {55} Socrates was condemned and executed on suspicion of having taught atheism to the youth of Athens; Plato, Apology, Crito, Phaedo.  {56} Lucius Septimius Severus, Roman emperor, C.E. 193- 211, who tended to visit horrible vengeance on defeated foes, and celebrated victories with massively bloody spectacles in the Roman circus. {57} M. Aurelius Alexander Severus, Roman emperor C.E. 222-235, who effected many reforms and halted, for awhile, the deterioration of the the Roman civilization.  {58} Lucius Sulla and Caius Marius (second century B.C.E.) fought over Rome for many years, with much loss of blood in civil strife, yet neither came to a violent end.  {59} Each was killed after he had already fled. {60} Cato, among the defeated at Pharsalia (48 B.C.E.), was run to ground some time afterward, and killed himself to avoid capture.  {61} "He knew not letters"; Julius Caesar in Suetonius' biography. {62} Occidentos esse: occidendos esse, "they are to be executed." {63} An assortment of noted tyrants. {64} philophilosophos: "lovers of the lovers of wisdom." A fan of philosophers. {65} gnosis: knowledge; praxis: performance. {66} "here is the work and the labor." Virgil, Aeneid VI. The Sybil on getting back from the underworld. 


By these therefore examples and reasons, I thinke it may be manifest, that the Poet with that same hand of delight, doth draw the mind more effectually then any other Art doth. And so a conclusion not unfitly ensue, that as vertue is the most excellent resting place for al worldly learning to make his end of, so Poetry being the most familiar to teach it, and most Princely to move towards it, in the most excellent worke, is the most excellent workeman.

But I am content not onely to decipher him by his workes (although workes in commendation and dispraise, must ever hold a high authoritie) but more narrowly will examine his parts, so that (as in a man) though altogither may carrie a presence full of majestie and bewtie, perchance in some one defectuous peece we may finde blemish: Now in his parts, kindes, or species, as you list to tearme them, it is to be noted that some Poesies have coupled togither two or three kindes, as the Tragicall and Comicall, whereupon is risen the Tragicomicall, some in the manner have mingled prose and verse, as Sanazara{76} and Boetius{77}; some have mingled matters Heroicall and Pastorall, but that commeth all to one in this question, for if severed they be good, the conjunction cannot be hurtfull: therefore perchance forgetting some, and leaving some as needlesse to be remembered. It shall not be amisse, in a word to cite the speciall kindes, to see what faults may be found in the right use of them.

Is it then the Pastorall Poeme which is misliked? (For perchance where the hedge is lowest they will soonest leape over) is the poore pipe disdained, which sometimes out of Moelibeus{78} mouth, can shewe the miserie of people, under hard Lords and ravening souldiers? And again by Titerus, what blessednesse is derived, to them that lie lowest, from the goodnesse of them that sit highest? Sometimes under the prettie tales of Woolves and sheepe, can enclude the whole considerations of wrong doing and patience; sometimes shew that contentions for trifles, can get but a trifling victory, wher perchance a man may see, that even Alexander & Darius, when they strave who should be Cocke of this worldes dunghill, the benefit they got, was, that the afterlivers may say, Haec memini & victum frustra contendere Thirsim. Ex illo Coridon, Coridon est tempore nobis{79}.

Or is it the lamenting Elegiack, which in a kinde heart would moove rather pittie then blame, who bewaileth with the great Philosopher Heraclitus; the weaknesse of mankinde, and the wretchednesse of the world: who surely is to bee praised either for compassionate accompanying just causes of lamentations, or for rightlie painting out how weake be the passions of woefulnesse? Is it the bitter but wholesome Iambick{80}, who rubbes the galled minde, in making shame the Trumpet of villanie, with bolde and open crying out against naughtinesse? Or the Satirick, who Omne vafer vitium ridenti tangit amico{81}, who sportingly, never leaveth, till he make a man laugh at follie; and at length ashamed, to laugh at himself; which he cannot avoyde, without avoyding the follie? who while Circum praecordia ludit{82}, giveth us to feele how many headaches a passionate life bringeth us to? How when all is done, Est Ulubris animus si nos non deficit aequus{83}.

No perchance it is the Comick, whom naughtie Play-makers and stage-keepers, have justly made odious. To the arguments of abuse, I will after answer, onely thus much now is to be said, that the Comedy is an imitation of the common errors of our life, which he representeth in the most ridiculous & scornfull sort that may be: so as it is impossible that any beholder can be content to be such a one. Now as in Geometrie, the oblique must be knowne as well as the right, and in Arithmetick, the odde as well as the even, so in the actions of our life, who seeth not the filthinesse of evill, wanteth a great foile to perceive the bewtie of vertue. This doth the Comaedie handle so in our private and domesticall matters, as with hearing it, wee get as it were an experience what is to be looked for of a niggardly Demea, of a crafty Davus, of a flattering Gnato, of a vain- glorious Thraso{84} and not onely to know what effects are to be expected, but to know who be such, by the signifying badge given them by the Comaedient. And little reason hath any man to say, that men learne the evill by seeing it so set out, since as I said before, there is no man living, but by the force truth hath in nature, no sooner seeth these men play their parts, but wisheth them in Pistrinum{85}, athough perchance the lack of his owne faults lie so behinde his backe, that he seeth not himselfe to dance the same measure: whereto yet nothing can more open his eies, then to see his owne actions contemptibly set forth.

So that the right use of Comaedie, will I thinke, by no bodie be blamed; and much lesse of the high and excellent Tragedie, that openeth the greatest woundes, and sheweth forth the Ulcers that are covered with Tissue, that maketh Kings feare to be Tyrants, and Tyrants manifest their tyrannicall humours, that with stirring the affects of Admiration and Comiseration, teacheth the uncertaintie of this world, and uppon how weak foundations guilden roofes are builded: that maketh us know, Qui sceptra Saevus duro imperio regit, Timet timentes, metus in authorem redit{86}. But how much it can move, Plutarch yeeldeth a notable testimonie of the abhominable Tyrant Alexander Pheraeus{87}, from whose eyes a Tragedie well made and represented, drew abundance of teares, who without all pittie had murthered infinite numbers, and some of his owne bloud: so as he that was not ashamed to make matters for Tragedies, yet could not resist the sweete violence of a Tragedie. And if it wrought no further good in him, it was, that in despight of himself, withdrew himselfe form hearkening to that which might mollifie his hard heart. But it is not the Tragedie they doe mislike, for it were too absurd to cast out so excellent a representation of whatsoever is most woorthie to be learned.

Is it the Lyricke that most displeaseth, who with his tuned Lyre and well accorded voice, giveth praise, the reward of vertue, to vertuous acts? who giveth morall preceptes and naturall Problemes, who sometimes raiseth up his voyce to the height of the heavens, in singing the laudes of the immortall God? Certainly I must confesse mine owne barbarousnesse, I never heard the old Song of Percy and Duglas{88}, that I founde not my heart mooved more than with a Trumpet; and yet is it sung but by some blinde Crowder{89}, with no rougher voyce, then rude stile: which being so evill apparelled in the dust and Cobwebbes of that uncivill age, what would it worke, trimmed in the gorgeous eloquence of Pindar? In Hungarie I have seene it the manner at all Feastes and other such like meetings, to have songs of their ancestors valure, which that right souldierlike nation, think one of the chiefest kindlers of brave courage. The incomparable Lacedemonians, did not onelie carrie that kinde of Musicke ever with them to the field, but even at home, as such songs were made, so were they all content to be singers of them: when the lustie men were to tell what they did, the old men what they had done, and the yoong what they would doo. And where a man may say that Pindare many times praiseth highly Victories of small moment, rather matters of sport then vertue, as it may be answered, it was the fault of the Poet, and not of the Poetrie; so indeed the chiefe fault was, in the time and custome of the Greekes, who set those toyes at so high a price, that Philip of Macedon reckoned a horse-race wonne at Olympus, among his three fearfull felicities. But as the unimitable Pindare often did, so is that kind most capable and most fit, to awake the thoughts from the sleepe of idlenesse, to embrace honourable enterprises.

Their rests the Heroicall, whose verie name I thinke should daunt all backbiters. For by what conceit can a tongue bee directed to speake evil of that which draweth with him no lesse champions then Achilles, Cirus, Aeneas, Turnus, Tideus{90}, Rinaldo{91}, who doeth not onely teache and moove to a truth, but teacheth and mooveth to the most high and excellent truth: who maketh magnanimitie and justice, shine through all mistie fearfulnesse and foggie desires. Who if the saying of Plato and Tully{92} bee true, that who could see vertue, woulde be woonderfullie ravished with the love of her bewtie. This man setteth her out to make her more lovely in her holliday apparell, to the eye of anie that will daine, not to disdaine untill they understand. But if any thing be alreadie said in the defence of sweete Poetrie, all concurreth to the mainteining the Heroicall, which is not onlie a kinde, but the best and most accomplished kindes of Poetrie. For as the Image of each Action stirreth and instructeth the minde, so the loftie Image of such woorthies, moste enflameth the minde with desire to bee woorthie: and enformes with counsaile how to bee woorthie. Onely let Aeneas bee worne in the Tablet of your memorie, how hee governeth himselfe in the ruine of his Countrey, in the preserving his olde Father, and carrying away his religious Ceremonies, in obeying Gods Commaundment, to leave Dido, though not onelie all passionate kindeness, not even the humane consideration of vertuous gratefulnesse, would have craved other of him: how in stormes, how in sports, how in warre, how in peace, how a fugitive, how victorious, how besieged, how beseiging, how to straungers, how to Allies, how to enemies, how to his owne. Lastly, how in his inwarde selfe, and how in his outwarde government, and I thinke in a minde moste prejudiced with a prejudicating humour, Hee will bee founde in excellencie fruitefull. Yea as Horace saith, Melius Chrisippo & Crantore{93}: but truly I imagin it falleth out with these Poet-whippers, as with some good women who often are sicke, but in faith they cannot tel where. So the name of Poetrie is odious to them, but neither his cause nor effects, neither the summe that containes him, nor the particularities descending from him, give any fast handle to their carping dispraise.

Since then Poetrie is of all humane learnings the most ancient, and of most fatherly antiquitie, as from whence other learnings have taken their beginnings; Since it is so universall, that no learned nation doth despise it, nor barbarous nation is without it; Since both Romane & Greeke gave such divine names unto it, the one of prophesying, the other of making; and that indeed the name of making is fit for him, considering, that where all other Arts retain themselves within their subject, and receive as it were their being from it. The Poet onely, onely bringeth his owne stuffe, and doth not learn a Conceit out of a matter, but maketh matter for a Conceit. Since neither his description, nor end, containing any evill, the thing described cannot be evil; since his effects be so good as to teach goodnes, and delight the learners of it; since therein (namely in morall doctrine the chiefe of all knowledges) hee doth not onely farre pass the Historian, but for instructing is well nigh comparable to the Philosopher, for moving, leaveth him behind him. Since the holy scripture (wherein there is no uncleannesse) hath whole parts in it Poeticall, and that even our Savior Christ vouchsafed to use the flowers of it: since all his kindes are not only in their united formes, but in their severed dissections fully commendable, I thinke, (and thinke I thinke rightly) the Lawrell Crowne appointed for triumphant Captaines, doth worthily of all other learnings, honour the Poets triumph.

NOTES: {75} Psalms 51. {76} Sannazaro, Arcadia [1504]. {77} Boethius, De consolatione philosophiae [524 C.E.]. {78} Virgil, Eclogues I. {79} "I remember this, that conquered Thyrsus achieved nothing: meanwhile for our time it is Corydon [who is the winner]." Virgil, Eclogues VII. "Thyrsim" in Ponsonby is elsewhere emended to "Thirsin."  {80} A classical genre, in iambic feet, like satire but less indirect. {81} "The sly one all vices touches on, so that his friend may laugh." Persius, Satires I. In the original text: Omne vafer vitium ridenti Flaccus amico Tangit, et admissus circum praecordia ludit.  {82} "around the heart he plays." See quotation from Persius, note 81. {83} "Is there life in Ulubrae for us if we can keep our balance?" Horace, Epistles I.xi. Even assuming we can get to Ulubrae without falling down, the place will bore us stiff, says Horace. The town was reached by passing through marshes. (Duncan-Jones and Van Dorsten, 200)  {84} Terentian characters, none of whom were intended to be imitated. {85} Pistrinum: pistrinum, a type of Roman flour mill, powered by asses; when slaves misbehaved, they were sometimes substituted for the asses as a punishment.  {86} "An evil ruler's heavy scepter makes him afraid of those who fear him, and the fear returns to its author." Seneca, Oedipus. {87} This Alexander had killed his uncle and taken over rule of Pherae (369 B.C.E. approx.), and was particularly noted for bloodshed. Plutarch, Vita Pelopidae. {88} Chevy Chase. {89} Street musician, especially a fiddle player. {90} Tideus: Tydeus. Statius, Thebais. {91} Tasso: Gerusalemme Liberata [1575]. {92} Marcus Tullius Cicero. {93} "Better than Chrysippus and Crantor." Horace, Epistles I.ii. It is Homer that is better for students than these philosophers, says Horace. 


It is alreadie said (and as I thinke truly said) it is not ryming and versing that maketh Poesie: One may be a Poet without versing, and a versefier without Poetrie. But yet presuppose it were inseperable, as indeed it seemeth Scalliger{96} judgeth truly, it were an inseperable commendation. For if Oratio, next to Ratio, Speech next to Reason{97}, be the greatest gift bestowed upon Mortalitie, that cannot bee praiseless, which doth most polish that blessing of speech; which considereth each word not onely as a man may say by his forcible qualitie, but by his best measured quantity: carrying even in themselves a Harmonie, without perchance number, measure, order, proportion, be in our time growne odious. But laie aside the just praise it hath, by being the onely fit speech for Musicke, (Musicke I say the most divine striker of the senses) Thus much is undoubtedly true, that if reading be foolish without remembring, Memorie being the onely treasure of knowledge, those words which are fittest for memory, are likewise most convenient for knowledge. Now that Verse far exceedeth Prose, in the knitting up of the memorie, the reason is manifest, the words (besides their delight, which hath a great affinitie to memorie) being so set as one cannot be lost, but the whole woorke failes: which accusing it selfe, calleth the remembrance back to it selfe, and so most strongly confirmeth it. Besides one word, so as it were begetting an other, as be it in rime or measured verse, by the former a man shall have a neare gesse to the follower. Lastly even they that have taught the Art of memory, have shewed nothing so apt for it, as a certain roome divided into many places, well & thoroughly knowne: Now that hath the verse in effect perfectly, everie word having his natural seat, which must needs make the word remembred. But what needes more in a thing so knowne to all men. Who is it that ever was scholler, that doth not carry away som verse of Virgil, Horace, or Cato, which in his youth hee learned, and even to his old age serve him for hourely lessons; as Percontatorem fugito nam garrulus idem est, Dum tibi quisq; placet credula turba sumas{98}. But the fitnes it hath for memorie, is notably prooved by all deliverie of Arts, wherein for the most part, from Grammer, to Logick, Mathematickes, Physick, and the rest, the Rules chiefly necessa[r]ie to be borne away, are compiled in verses. So that verse being in it selfe sweet and orderly, and being best for memorie, the onely handle of knowledge, it must be in jest that any man can speak against it. Now then goe we to the most important imputations laid to the poore Poets, for ought I can yet learne, they are these. First, that there beeing manie other more frutefull knowledges, a man might better spend his time in them, then in this. Secondly, that it is the mother of lyes. Thirdly, that it is the nurse of abuse, infecting us with many pestilent desires, with a Sirens sweetnesse, drawing the minde to the Serpents taile of sinfull fansies; and herein especially Comedies give the largest field to eare{99}, as Chawcer saith, how both in other nations and in ours, before Poets did soften us, we were full of courage given to martial exercises, the pillers of man-like libertie, and not lulled a sleepe in shadie idlenes, with Poets pastimes. And lastly and chiefly, they cry out with open mouth as if they had shot Robin-hood, that Plato banisheth them out of his Commonwealth{100}. Truly this is much, if there be much truth in it.

First to the first. That a man might better spend his time, is a reason indeed: but it doth as they say, but petere principium{101}. For if it be, as I affirme, that no learning is so good, as that which teacheth and moveth to vertue, and that none can both teach and move thereto so much as Poesie, then is the conclusion manifest; that incke and paper cannot be to a more profitable purpose imployed. And certainly though a man should graunt their first assumption, it should follow (mee thinks) very unwillingly, that good is not good, because better is better. But I still and utterly deny, that there is sprung out of the earth a more fruitfull knowledge.

To the second therfore, that they should be the principall lyers, I answere Paradoxically, but truly, I think truly: that of all writers under the Sunne, the Poet is the least lyer: and though he wold, as a Poet can scarecely be a lyer. The Astronomer with his cousin the Geometrician, can hardly escape, when they take upon them to measure the height of the starres. How often thinke you do the Phisitians lie, when they averre things good for sicknesses, which afterwards send Charon{102} a great number of soules drowned in a potion, before they come to his Ferrie? And no lesse of the rest, which take upon them to affirme. Now for the Poet, he nothing affirmeth, and therefore never lieth: for as I take it, to lie, is to affirme that to bee true, which is false. So as the other Artistes, and especially the Historian, affirming manie things, can in the clowdie knowledge of mankinde, hardly escape from manie lies. But the Poet as I said before, never affirmeth, the Poet never maketh any Circles about your imagination{103}, to conjure you to beleeve for true, what he writeth: he citeth not authorities of other histories, even for his entrie, calleth the sweete Muses to inspire unto him a good invention. In troth, not laboring to tel you what is, or is not, but what should, or should not be. And therefore though he recount things not true, yet because he telleth them not for true, he lieth not: without we will say, that Nathan lied in his speech before alleaged to David, which as a wicked man durst scarce say, so think I none so simple, wold say, that Esope lied, in the tales of his beasts: for who thinketh Esope wrote it for actually true, were wel wothie to have his name Cronicled among the beasts he writeth of. What childe is there, that comming to a play, and seeing Thebes written in great letters upon an old Doore, doth beleeve that it is Thebes? If then a man can arrive to the childes age, to know that the Poets persons and dooings, are but pictures, what should be, and not stories what have bin, they will never give the lie to things not Affirmatively, but Allegorically and figuratively written...

NOTES: {96} Scaliger, Poetics I.ii. {97} Other creatures might have speech or some reasoning powers, but only in the human, it was thought, are these combined. {98} In Ponsonby only; quisq=quisque. See Horace, Epistles I.xviii; Ovid, Remedia amoris.  {99} Canterbury Tales, "The Knights Tale" 28. "To eare" is "to plow."  {100} Plato, Republic II.iii. {101} "This is but to beg the question." {102} Charon: ferryman who conveyed souls to Hades over the river Styx. {103} Magicians drew a pentangle within a circle for conjuring up demons.


Transcription and notes by Richard Bear, © 1992, 1995 Richard Bear and the University of Oregon. Selections and paragraphing adapted from The Norton Anthology of English Literature.