The Defence of Poesy

The Defence of Poesy Literary Elements

Speaker or Narrator, and Point of View

The essay is argued in a first-personal voice by Sir Philip Sidney, and includes several biographical details related to his travel and his friendships

Form and Meter

Metaphors and Similes

Sidney uses abundant local instances of simile and metaphor to display the value of poetry and argue against its detractors.

For example, he states that Menenius Agrippa, a Roman patrician, "behaves himself like a homely and familiar poet," a simile. He uses a metaphor to compare poetry to a mother who gives the "milk” of knowledge to future generations, and, as noted in the Themes section of this guide, elsewhere compares poetry to a beautiful woman.

On the negative side, Sidney uses similes to describe philosophers who use the art of poetry yet disavow it as "like ungrateful prentices [who] were not content to set up shops for themselves, but sought by all means to discredit their masters." Others who disavow poetry in the guise of Plato's "lion’s skin" are said to make "an ass-like braying against poesy." The bad poetry of England is "like an unmannerly daughter, showing a bad education, caus[ing] her mother Poesy’s honesty to be called in question." Verse with needlessly elaborate diction bears "a courtesan-like painted affectation," and poets who use too much decoration are "like those Indians, not content to wear ear-rings at the fit and natural place of the ears, but they will thrust jewels through their nose and lips, because they will be sure to be fine"

In addition to these instances, Sidney compares poetry to the art of horsemanship in various places, as discussed in the Themes section of this guide.

Alliteration and Assonance


After performing humility for much of the poem—hesitating to compare poetry to David's Psalms, and disavowing his own talent as a poet—Sidney ends his essay with what can be considered an instance of verbal irony. Here, Sidney praises poetry in several incredibly long, multi-clause sentences before casting a curse on all those who disavow it, showing that his early humility may have been for the sake of persuasion alone.


Essay—Literary Criticism, Poetic Theory, Apologia


The opening anecdote of the essay takes place at the court of Maximilian II


alternating between humility and deference on the one hand and soaring praise on the other

Protagonist and Antagonist

Major Conflict





This essay contains ample allusions to works of antiquity, especially Plato's Republic and Aristotle's Poetics. Indeed, one of the main ways Sidney strengthens his claims that all cultures (besides his own) value poetry is to refer to famous works of the past, including Homer's Odyssey and Illiad, Sophocles' Ajax, Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde, David's Psalms, Virgils' Aeneid, and many other.

Metonymy and Synecdoche

The term "poetry" serves in this essay as a metonym for all just, beautiful verbal arts (i.e. poetry may appear in philosophy, history, theater, essays, and in verse; however, not all verse is poetry in Sidney's sense).


Sidney personifies poetry as a mother and as a beautiful woman at several points throughout the essay. Similarly, he personifies bad poems as "unruly daughters" and as over-dressed courtesans.


The final section of the essay is hyperbolic in its rhetoric. He promises poets no less than immortality: "Thus doing, your name shall flourish in the printers’ shall be most fair, most rich, most wise, most all...your soul shall be placed with Dante’s Beatrice or Virgil’s Anchises."