The Nature and Function of Poetry in An Apology for Poetry

Question: Discuss the function of poetry with reference to “An Apology for Poetry”. Or, discuss The Nature and Function of Poetry in An Apology for Poetry


Every branch of knowledge has the function to be done for the betterment of human beings. As the earliest branch of knowledge, poetry has a unique function to be done in accordance with Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586). Sidney wrote his essay to defend poetry from the allegation of the puritans focusing on the superior function of poetry so that poetry can hold the universal prestige and position forever.

The function and nature of poetry

Sidney has pursued the Aristotelian concept of poetry in order to define the nature and function of poetry. The handy and outstanding evaluation of Sidney about the function and nature of poetry is recounted here with reference to the context of the literary criticism “An Apology for Poetry”.

Art of imitation to teach and delight

Sidney defines poetry as an art of imitation following Aristotle’s concept of mimesis or theory of imitation. He explains imitation as “representing, counterfeiting or figuring forth” which speaks metaphorically. In other words, poetry as an art of imitation gives a visual description or a speaking picture, the aim of which is to teach and delight.

Classification of poetry in respect of function and nature

Sidney identifies three kinds of poetry – divine poetry of the Bible, philosophical or moral poetry produced by the ancient writers such as Tyrtaeus and Phocylides, and truest poetry. Sidney is directly and immediately concerned with the third type of poetry which follows the rules of imitation to teach and delight.

Giving light to the ignorant

Sidney points out that poetry was the earliest form of composition in all countries. The ancient Romans gave or bestowed the divine title “Vates” on the poet. The word ‘vates’ stans for diviner or prophet. On the other hand, the Greeks regarded the poet as a maker.

“It cometh of this word Poiein,.., we English men have met with the

Greeks in calling him ‘a maker’”.

Thus, Sidney makes the function of poetry transparent that it scatters the messages with delight.

The Superior Function of Poetry

The most powerful and convincing arguments of Sidney as to the superior function of poetry to philosophy and history. Sidney declares that philosophy is abstract that is a hard nut to crack and teaches only the virtue by warning against vice. On the other hand, history is limited to the happened matters focusing on virtue only. But the dual functions of poetry are to teach and delight at the same time.

poetry as controller or moderator

Sidney calls the poet a moderator in the school of learning. According to Sidney, poetry teaches and delights but that is not all. he also points out the power of poetry to move the mind and to stir the heart. It can influence the reader’s behavior and conduct. After reading Homer’s “Odyssey”, everybody would like to perform a deed of similar virtue.

“And these four are all that in any way deal in that consideration of men’s manners, which being the supreme knowledge, they that best breed it deserve the best commendation”.

As virtue is the most excellent end of all worldly learning, poetry is the most familiar way to teach virtue and it is the most princely to move us towards. Sidney makes one of his most memorable statements when he speaks of lyrical poetry:

“I never heard the old song of Percy and Douglas that

I found not my heart moved more than with a trumpet”.

So, poetry improves differentiating power of human beings with delight and spontaneity.


From the light of the above discussion, it is pure water-like transparent that the function of poetry surpasses the function of all of the branches of knowledge. Philosophy is one-sided, history is limited and science is factual only but it is poetry that is prophetic.

SR Sarker
SR Sarker
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