Prophetic Poets as Religious Leaders Rather than Lawmakers

Poets take the “mild creative breeze” (35) of inspiration and transform it and build upon it to produce a prophetic message to be shared with their fellow men. The great outpouring of creativity that resulted from such a small motivator, a whisper of wind across Wordsworth’s spirit, transcends Earthly understanding. The instant of inspiration becomes a religious experience, as “poetic numbers” (51) come “clothed in priestly robe” (52). In this way, poets become prophets in the sense that they share a new doctrine of belief with the world, seeking the action of their fellow man to embrace  their beliefs as truths of nature, and use govern their lives. After a poet’s work has been done, he is free to return to his leisure, and await the next instant of inspiration from “the sweet breath of heaven” (33).

Shelley acknowledges the influence of the supernatural on poets, claiming that they are the teachers of that “invisible world which is called religion”. A poet’s unique perspective on the past, present, and future helps them understand and then dictate to others an explanation of the world around them. In this way, poets do fit Shelley’s label of  “unacknowledged legislators” in that their opinion and interpretation of nature and society can be imposed upon others, bringing order and constancy to the thought processes of their audience. However, Wordsworth seems to focus much more on the role of poets as prophets in a more religious sense. Poets “measure the circumference and sound the depths of human nature with a comprehensive and all-penetrating spirit” according to Shelley’s definition of the poets and writers of his time in A Defense of Poetry. Wordsworth explores happiness and inspiration, touching on religion through his word choice (“heaven”, “virtue”, “holy”, “prophesy”, “spirit”, “priestly”), and the frenzy of the mind followed by its relaxation after a period of creative outpouring in the form of poetry. This poetry then serves as a sort of guide by which society should live, much like a law, but also unlike a law in the sense that one has a choice in whether or not to submit to its creator’s ideals, again connecting poetry to society in a sense closer to a religion.


~ by mjaka10 on August 29, 2012.

One Response to “Prophetic Poets as Religious Leaders Rather than Lawmakers”

  1. This post does a great job of showing how Wordsworth’s conception of the poet-prophet is deeply cast in religious language, whereas Shelley’s conception is more dry and secular. But also keep in mind that Shelley, like Wordsworth, is heavily borrowing from the biblical language of apocalypse. Perhaps the main difference between these two poets is that Shelley is more worldly and public, speaking to civic society, and Wordsworth is more deeply personal, speaking to the mind of his readers, individually and collectively.

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