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Percy Bryce Shelley made a famous claim in his essay that Thereafter, several poets have sought this task solemnly till date. They have undertaken the role of legislators, agitators and revolutionaries. Poets have remarked on the affairs of the contemporary world, advocated for the victims of tyranny and even became the pioneers of social change. Plato, a philosopher in Classical Greece, while responding to the complexity of poets, concludes that they are impersonators of the world: they deprave the immature and foment the emotions instead of the propensity for reasoning. He deduces that poetry must be eliminated from the speculative, flawless society; nevertheless, if poetry is of any significance or has an application to a contemporary crisis, it may be utilized however appropriate Poets however as, puissant individuals of a society, are important and influential because they challenge the status quo through revolutionary thoughts; they are a liberating voice, a messiah for the oppressed citizens; they are also anti-corruption agents who crusade against abuse of power in higher echelons. Some poets are seers whose vision can unite people by finding them common ground, a noble cause; rouse the mind of downtrodden citizens in a society from its torpor and incite a feeling of nationalism in them. Dr. Allama Muhammad Iqbal whose struggle and ideology gave a direction to the Muslims of subcontinent for acquiring a self-contained independent Muslim state regardless of the overwhelming odds in their path to freedom. Iqbal is a revolutionary poet revered by the world as an essential force that inspired the Pakistan movement. His Presidential Address at Allahabad in 1930 that articulated Muslim territorial detachment from Hindus played a pivotal role in the development of ‘Two-Nation Theory’ while his thoughts imbued the Muslims of India with a spirit of Islamic nationality (Malik). He exhibited his desire: The renowned poet’s social thought demonstrated the idiosyncrasy and duality of the social psychology and social structure of the Muslim middle class in colonial India, thus becoming the leader of Muslim intellectuals and later on to be recognized as the ‘ideological founder’ of Pakistan.
The notion of the ineluctability of the insurgency was embodied in Allama Iqbal’s social philosophy. It attained definite actuality in his poem “Inqilab”: Hence, the aura of Muslim nationhood evoked by Iqbal became a critical factor in the inception of Pakistan. The trauma of witnessing social injustice in a society sometimes provokes a few who cannot carry the guilt of passivity, which is why they wish to play a role in alleviating their plight. These saints enlighten people regarding their predicament by the virtue of their pen and expect from them to rise against social inequality by realizing their power and basic rights. The fundamental aim of the work of such authors is to make the oppressed cognizant of the rights they are being denied. Faiz Ahmed Faiz was a progressive revolutionary poet. His work addressed the concurrent periods of turmoil. His stanzas not only questioned the anatomies of power but also the negligence shown by political administrations to acknowledge the grievances of the oppressed (“Faiz Ahmad Faiz: The Revolutionary Poet”).
One of his poems excellently embodies the ethos of the Progressive Movement: In 1951, Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Liaquat Ali Khan ordered numerous arrests that also resulted in Faiz’s imprisonment on allegations of schemes to topple the civil establishment. By means of his verses, Faiz empowered the citizens of the young nation and also enabled them to foresee new paths for themselves. Finally, there are poets who raise voice against corruption and abuse of power by the entrusted authorities at the upper echelon of governments for private and illicit gains. They undertake the responsibility of creating public awareness about all the wrongdoings and delinquencies that exist in top hierarchies and kleptocracies through their poetical works, and empower the citizens to confront these malpractices by those who exploit them. William Blake was a celebrated rebellious poet. In his poem ‘French Revolution’, he stressed upon the corruption of the French monarchy and church and the decaying feudal system: In his poem “London”, William Blake describes a highly flawed society that is hegemonized by the influence of materialism and the disparity between working-class and privileged segments of society. To summarize, Blake, revolted against all those conventions, institutions and customs of the society, the tyranny of the church and the king that cause hardships for man. He voiced his protest as a fervid insurgent and wanted all miseries to cease, spiritual and physical (“Willaim Blake”). Corruption is also an eminent Shakespearean theme that is dominant in almost all of his tragedies. He thinks of schemes in which kings and other authoritative individuals misuse their power. Corruption spreads if left unbridled and crushes the social order.
In Hamlet, the hunger for power and cupidity fosters corruption that further accelerates due to manipulation. Consequently, it unfolds into vengeance and madness and diffuses in Hamlet like an illness that ultimately leads to numerous deaths (“Corruption in Shakespeare: Corruption as a Play Theme”). Plato views poetry as a power that must be incarcerated and claimed that poets bred and eternized falsehoods. He admits that literature is a strong poignant force, and he fears that people will exploit and manipulate this strength and use it for indecent and wicked purposes. Exceeding levels of creativity and poetry can make us numb as our minds wander into the realm of profound thoughts where one may lose contact with reality and rationale and go on to surmise anything based on their own perception of the poetry they read that can be pernicious to a society. However, there are instances when poetry elevates a person’s mind to exalted heights. Besides, philosophically, how is Plato, as the foremost philosopher of the ancient Greek paradigm, rooting for oratory and politics that is by far the most exploitative narrative out there? That’s just wordplay. People like politicians have the capacity to put up façades to manipulate others by making false promises. That seems to be okay with Plato just because their medium is different in that sense. The problem is that even within Plato, there is an inconsistency. In view of this, what we need is good and positive poetry, not its banishment. His own student, Aristotle defended poets by arguing that art surpasses imitation of real world and expresses the ubiquitous in the form of poetry. It is the imitation of certain characters and events in an integrated and cohesive style. Thereupon, Aristotle viewed literature as an imitation with creativity.
R. A Scott-James rightly observes
Plato’s views should be studied in the backdrop of the cultural and social setting of Plato’s era in which the dissemination of poetry was dissimilar to more contemporary authors. Plato examines poetry from various viewpoints such as ethical and educational but he does not contemplate it from its own unique outlook. He overlooks the fact that everything should be reviewed with respect to its own aims and objectives, its own yardstick of pros and cons. We cannot conclude that poetry is harmful because it does not impart a certain philosophy or ethics. To condemn or to discredit poetry only because it does not incorporate philosophy or present a utopic view is quite harsh. The role that poets have played over the course of history around the world should not be undermined as their works have left an indelible mark on the way we perceive things and our progress as a human race.