The Role of the Poet: According to Scholars and Critics

Since the birth of poetry thousands of years ago, poetry has had different purposes and has been told through different methods, from oral or written. However as long as there has been poetry there have been critics and scholars talking about poetry. Each of them had a different opinion of the role of the poet.

Beginning with ancient scholars, let’s start with Horace (65 – 8 BC), the roman scholar who was concerned with the practical application of poetry and what the poet role is. In Ars Poetica, Horace wrote about the art of poetry and the nature of poet. Horace believed the poet must be born with some ability, but must work on their lines to make them clear and consist. Poetry is a mechanical skill rather than a vital art, it must be practised. The poet must be able to discipline themselves and be capable of self-criticism.  Everything must be in keeping with the nature of the poem, so the style, tone and metre are ‘features of expression’ that must follow the structure and genre of the poem.  The poem should mimic and mirror life and the poet should take influence from it.

“The practised poet, as an imitative artist, should regard human life and character as his models, deriving from them a language that is true to life”

Further the poem has a certain aim that the poet must aim to achieve, “the aim of poets is to give either profit or delight, or to mix the giving of pleasure with useful precepts for life”. Meaning the poem must achieve a reaction from the reader but also must provide advice or information, “the man who has continued to combined profit with delight since he please his reader at same time as he instructs him”.

Next up is Longinus (1-3 AD), in line with Horace, Longinus believed that gift of genius may be innate but it must be moulded and trained.  He stated art can always enhance natural ability.

“A well-timed flash sublimity [which] scatters everything before it like a bolt of lightning, revealing in a flash the full power of the speaker”

The poet must be able to emphasise their skill in a single poem, quickly so the writer knows they have a gift of genius that they have shaped. Longinus said the ideal reader would be ‘sensible and well read’.

St Augustine (345 – 430 AD), a famous Christian scholar warned against literature. He believed it distracted people from God and their true purpose in life, the worship of God. Following his teachings, the church discouraged reading anything that wasn’t the Bible. So poetry wasn’t encouraged and neither was the poet.

Literature and poetry began to flourish again under Queen Elizabeth the First, and so did literary criticism.

John Dryden (1631 – 1700) states that poetry must be “a just and lively image of human nature representing its passions and humours, and the changes of fortune to which it’s subject for delight and instruction of mankind”. This is in line with Horace, as the poet should provide entertainment and guidance.

Later Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1834 – 1808) focused on the poet saying that poets are concerned with the aesthetics and psychology of literary creation, and that a poem could offer a profound insight into the poet’s imagination and psychology and the poet’s morality.

“By that synthetic and magically power, to which we have exclusively appropriated the name of the imagination”

Finally, T. S. Eliot (1888 – 1965) stated that the best of poets will be influenced and inspired by previous and dead poets, and with references to them asserting “their immortality most vigorously”.  Like critics before him he believed that a poet should practise to improve stating “the progress of the artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality”.

“Poetry is not attuning a loose of emotion but an escape from emotion; it is not expression of personality but an escape from personality … only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to escape from these days”

To summarise scholar’s state that a good poet needs to practise and sharpen their skills and they should be able to capture life and humanity in their writing whilst trigging an emotion response.