Poets are the hierophants of an unapprehended inspiration; the mirrors of the gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present; the words which express what they understand not; the trumpets which sing to battle and feel not what they inspire; the influence which is moved not, but moves. Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.
Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822), British poet. Last words of A Defence of Poetry (written 1821, published 1840).
In his History of Rasselas, ch. 10 (1759), Samuel Johnson similarly wrote that the poet "must write as the interpreter of nature, and the legislator of mankind, and consider himself as presiding over the thoughts and manners of future generations." In our own century, W.H. Auden wrote—in The Dyer's Hand—"'The unacknowledged legislators of the world' describes the secret police, not the poets."