An essay by P. B. Shelley, published 1840. It was begun as a light‐hearted reply to his friend Peacock's magazine article ‘The Four Ages of Poetry’. In vindicating the role of poetry in a progressive society, and defending the whole notion of imaginative literature and thinking within an industrial culture, Shelley came to write his own poetic credo with passionate force and conviction. Against a background of classical and European literature, he discusses in some detail the nature of poetic thought and inspiration; the problems of translation; the value of erotic writing; the connections between poetry and politics; and the essentially moral nature of the imagination—an emphasis he drew from Coleridge.
Throughout, Shelley associates poetry with social freedom and love. He argues that the ‘poetry of life’ provides the one sure response to the destructive ‘accumulating and calculating processes’ of modern civilization. It contains the famous peroration, ending ‘Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.’