“Nature, Divinity, and Teaching in Renaissance Era Poetry and Prose” In the prose work, The Defense of Poesy by Sir Philip Sidney, the narrative poem The Sheepherders Calendar by Edmund Spencer, and in the poem “Wyatt restate here, that quick could never rest” by Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, the authors honor the art of their literature. They are not specifically praising their literature, but literature in general in the time when these works were written.
All three of these literary works have something in common – something that allows the reader to see hat this Renaissance era literary works has a divine essence that honors the author and the work itself. This “divine essence” that is clearly found in these three works is a natural element. It is something that Just is – it is something that cannot be explained in an earthly manner, but in a heavenly one. In his work, The Defense of Poesy, which closely emulates the 19th century work The Defense of Poetry by Percy Abysses Shelley, Sir Philip Sidney contemplates the importance of poetry and the poet.
At the beginning of this work, Sidney is asserting the idea of honoring the poet, and compares them to the ancients. Sidney writes, “Among the Romans a poet was called bates, which is as much as a diviner, foreseer, or prophet, as by his conjoined words Vatican and Vatican is manifest: so heavenly a title did that excellent people bestow upon this heart-ravishing knowledge” (955). This is a perfect description of poetry that Sidney provides for the reader as he compares the poet to a “prophet. ” It’s a heavenly title that the ancients gave to their poets.
Sidney is attempting to give a good name to the poets that are beginning to make names for themselves during the Renaissance era. Sidney will continue to discuss the divine elements of poetry and the poet throughout this prose work. One of the arguments against poets of this time was that their works were immoral. If it’s not the Bible, then anything else, including the poetry of the time, was considered unworthy and corrupt. Sidney argues this point though, and makes several points throughout this essay that poetry has its own divine qualities to it that make it significant and important.
Sidney writes that some works “Seem to have some divine force in it” (956). He continues on into the next paragraph o point out an extremely relevant and strong argument about the Bible and poetry: poetry can’t be immoral if there is poetry in the Bible. Sidney writes, “And may not I presume a little further, to show the reasonableness of this word bates, and say that the holy Davit’s Psalms are a divine poem” (956). Sir Philip Sidney continues to write about the divine nature of the significance of poetry throughout his essay.
To make his strong arguments come across to any poetic “non-believers” who read this work Sidney will continue to use religion as an example to make his point. Sidney explains that there are two kinds of nature: one rated by God and the other created by the poet (which we can explain as the poet’s imagination). Sidney writes, “Only the poet, disdaining to be tied to any such subjection, lifted up with the vigor of his own attention, doth grow in effect another discussing has free range.
The imagination of the poet is unlimited. It is not confined by what nature provides. There are no boundaries. Sidney continues, “Neither let it be deemed to saucy a comparison to balance the highest point of man’s wit with the efficacy of nature; but rather give right honor to the heavenly Maker of that maker, ho having made man to His own likeness, set him beyond and over all the works of that second nature” (957).
The importance of poetry and the poet is clear in this work by Sir Philip Sidney as he writes, “Poesy therefore is an art of imitation, for so Aristotle termed it in the word mimesis – that is to say, a representing, counterfeiting, or figuring forth – to speak metaphorically, a speaking picture – with this end, to teach and delight” (958). This is, essentially, how Sidney defines poetry. In his poem “Wyatt restate here, that quick could never rest” Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey honors Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder as a poet with a variety of talents who served his country greatly through verse.
As his contemporary, Surrey noticed that Wyatt was a great poet and even compared him to Chaucer. Just as Sidney represented poetry as a divine thing, Surrey describes the “heavenly gifts” that Wyatt had as a poet (2). There is a significant stanza that should be pointed out here. We can see that Surrey had a high standing for Wyatt and that this can be seen as a way of honoring all poets. An eye whose Judgment none affect could blind, Friends to allure and foes to reconcile, Whose piercing look did represent a mind With virtue fraught, reposeГ©d, void of guile. 21-24) Not only did Surrey see that Wyatt had virtue, but that he also was teaching through poetry. Surrey writes of Wyatt, “A hand that taught what might be said in rhyme” (13). We can see the connection between this poem and The Defense of Poesy. Poetry has an important Job to do for the readers – that is to teach. Surrey recognized that Wyatt was using his poetry to teach the reader. Another important stanza in this poem that should be pointed out describes the fact that there is a nature that is heavily involved with the art and significance of poetry.
Surrey writes: A valiant corpse where force and beauty met, Happy – alas, too happy, but for foes; Lived and ran the race that Nature set, Of manhood’s shape, where she the mold did lose. (29-32) “Nature” is capitalized and that seems to be considerable in order for Surrey to make the point that there is something else out there that makes poetry appear to be a divine art form that has significance and meaning to these poets of the Renaissance era. They are beginning to realize Just how significant and important their works are and how significant and important they will remain.
In the pastoral narrative poem by Edmund Spencer, The Sheepherders Calendar, it is clear once more that poetry and prose has a significance and importance to it that is set up by nature and divine qualities, and that there is something to be learned from these art forms. Spencer sets up an argument early on in this work as he writes, “the perfect pattern of a Poet… Specially having been in all ages, and even amongst worthy and commendable an rate: or rather no rate, but a divine gift and heavenly instinct not to bee gotten by laborer and learning but adorned with both” (709).
Here is a third example of how poetry and prose is significant by claiming it to be a “divine gift and heavenly instinct” that is to be learned and worked for. Later on in the poem, Surrey offers another example of the divine qualities of this art form. He writes: O peerless Poesy, where is then thy place? If nor in Princes palace thou doe sit: (And yet is Princes palace the most fit) Nee Brest of basher’s birth doth thee embrace, Then make thee wings of thin aspiring wit, And, whence thou camas, fly back to heaven apace. 79-84) Not only is heaven place where Poesy belongs, but it also belongs, according to Spencer, in a palace. It is royal and patriotic as well as divine and heavenly. Each of these three works of arts bring together nature, divinity, and teaching to show to the reader the significance that the literary works of this time were beginning to have upon the readers. Each author gets the same point across through each of their works of arts. Poesy has its own form of nature, Poesy has a divine quality to it, and Poesy should be a way to teach the readers that these works of art are natural and Just as divine as anything heavenly.