Reimagining the Role of the Poet: The Poet as Teacher

March 20, 2015

In his essay, “A Defense of Poetry” (1821), Percy Bysshe Shelley clarifies that “Every original language near to its source is in itself the chaos of a cyclic poem: the copiousness of lexicography and the distinctions of grammar [however] are the works of a later age, and merely the catalogue and the form of the creations of poetry” (par. 3). Thus, as with language, the Poet’s esteemed role duly transformed over time… from lingual virtuoso to elitist outsider. But, despite any perceived otherness as a result of contemporary language usage, the Poet still has immense value as a teacher.


To the Humanists in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the Poet was a teacher of morals and religious edicts, to the Romantics afterward, the Poet revealed the truths about the liminal space between the corporeal and spiritual worlds, while the Victorians and the modernists saw the Poet as an instructor who exposed the follies of social systems and institutions. Interestingly, poets from all of these times agree on one thing— Sir Philip Sidney, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Ralph Waldo Emerson, T.S. Eliot, and Fernando Pessoa, all refer to the Poet as a teacher— a teacher who does not instruct by depositing knowledge, as Freire notes such “banking education anesthetizes and inhibits creative power” (Pedagogy of the Oppressed 81). Instead, the Poet instructs through a reporting of factual wisdom, candid exploration and creative connection through a methodology that allows scholars to apply their own relative knowledge to experiences. So, perhaps the idea is that the Poet (especially through his mastery of abstract identity tropes) has the ability to direct other writers and students of writing toward a more complete understanding of how the self is, can be, and should be constructed and perceived through the written word. Therefore, the Poet, should be seen as impetus or “activator” of the lingual creation or emancipation of the various selves of the adult individual. And, in order to get to this authentic spirit of writerly individualism, the concept of poetic liminality must be fully explored as a viable process for poets and other writers alike, and we must give greater credence to the role of the Poet outside of academic pursuits.

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