"Poetheory" in A Defence of Poetry by Sir Philip Sidney: Ut poesis theoria

Marc Porée
2010 unpublished
Never trust the theorist. Trust the poem. Can such a crude variation on a pattern once famously set by D.H. Lawrence constitute a sound starting point for the analysis of A Defence of Poetry, by Sir Philip Sidney, as a characteristic sample of the vast body of subtle theoretical work which poets have been known to conceive and draft over the centuries 1 ? The spontaneous answer is bound to be no, since the purpose of this paper is neither to write back against the "Empire of Theory" nor to
more » ... Theory" nor to align oneself with the haters of theory, the misotheorikoi, to coin a phrase quite inkeeping with Sidney"s compounding verve. Poetry needs theory, whether poetry be a "craft or sullen art", to quote Dylan Thomas this time 2 . If it is a craft, the need is probably less intense, but no poet, however crafty, would stand to gain from his/her rejection of the kind of close and attentive scrutiny which is one of the raisons d"être of theory. Should it be an art, if only for the sake of relieving its sullenness and making it more companiable, less "seule" (in the words of poet and theorist Michel Deguy), theory has an important part to play, and few would dispute the fact, both on an a priori and a posteriori basis, that the kind of metapoetical thinking produced by poets has proved particularly rewarding and insightful-all the more so as the forms it has taken have tended to be engagingly various, innovative and inspiring. A case in point being Shelley"s extraordinarily uplifting Defence of Poetry (pub. 1843, composed 1821) which no lover of poetry, be he/she anti-romantic in his/her assumptions, can afford to overlook. However, on second thoughts, accepting the bold proposition cum grano salis, or with tongue-in-cheek flippancy, might prove more challenging-and more