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Sir Philip Sydney is regarded as the fore-father in the field of English literature. He is the first critic of English literature. In his time poetry faced a serious crisis because of the conflict of the puritans. Many of the churchmen were against of poetry. One of the puritans, Stephen Gosson, contempt poetry and describes it as the enemies of virtues. In such a condition, Sydney came forward to salvage poetry from its drowning condition. He makes arguments to prove the universality of poetry in his famous work An Apology for Poetry.
The first argument that Sydney put forward in the favour of poetry was its antiquity. According to Sydney, poetry is the earliest form of art. In, all the -branches of knowledge, poetry has given the first flight to ignorance. Sydney calls it, the first nurse whose milk little by little enabled man to feed afterwards of tougher knowledges.
And first, truly to all them, that professional learning inveigh against poetry may justly be objected that ….. the first light giver to ignorance and first nurse whose milk little by little enabled then to feed afterwards of tougher knowledges.
To prove the antiquity and universality of poetry, Sydney says that even in the barbarous and uncivilized countries poetry is respected and loved. In Greece, the beginners were all poets, Homer, Musaeus and Hesuodus were poets. In Rome, Dante, Boccacio and Petrarch were poets and had expressed their thoughts through poetry. The Romans called the poets ‘Vates’. ‘Vates’ means a diviner, foreseer or prophet. It proves that the ancient Romans honoured poetry as a source of divine knowledge. Even the Red Indians, most barbarous people called the poets ‘Bards’.
Universality is the one main quality of art. Poetry from the ancient time was considered and cultured by men of the civilized and uncivilized nations of the world. The beauty of Plato’s works depended upon poetry. Although his works were philosophy but he had expressed them through versus. The uncivilized nations also loved poetry which softened their hard hearts and sharpened their wits. This suggests the divine nature of poetry.
Nature never set forth the earth in to rich tapestry as divers poet have done ….. her world is brazen, the poet only deliver a golden.
Oracles of Delphus were delivered in verse. The Psalms of the Bible are nothing but songs. In the Bible there is much that is imaginative which is the distinguishing characteristic of poetry.
Thus, by explaining the word poet and its significance, Sidney proves the antiquity and universality of poetry. It is the best, highest and noblest form of art that has no parallel at all.