Metaphysical to Augustan: Studies in Tone and Sensibility in the Seventeenth Century

By Geoffrey Walton | Go to book overview

4
ABRAHAM COWLEY AND THE PINDARIQUE ODE

THE PINDARIQUE ODE is one of those species of literature of which the interest is very largely historical, but as period pieces the best odes can still impress us and they provide valuable information about contemporary tastes and literary habits. They clearly satisfied a pressing need of Restoration and eighteenth-century readers and poets -- or rather they were an attempt to satisfy a need, for no one seems to have thought at all highly of actual performances in this mode. Half a century after Cowley published his odes, and thus inaugurated the convention, Congreve summed up the history of their influence as follows:

There is nothing more frequent among us, than a sort of Poem intituled Pindarique Odes; pretending to be written in Imitation of the Manner and Style of Pindar, and yet I do not know that there is to this Day extant in our Language, one Ode contriv'd after his Model. What Ideas can an English Reader have of Pindar, (to whose Mouth, when a Child, the Bees brought Honey, in Omen of the future Sweetness and Melody of his Songs) when he shall see such rumbling and grating Papers of Verses, pretending to be Copies of his Works?

The Character of these late Pindariques, is a Bundle of rambling incoherent Thoughts, express'd in a like parcel of irregular Stanzas, which also consist of such another Complication of disproportion'd, uncertain perplex'd Verses and Rhimes. And I appeal to any Reader, if this is not the Condition in which these Titular Odes appear.

On the contrary there is nothing more regular than the Odes of Pindar, both as to the exact Observation of the Measures and Numbers of his Stanzas and Verses, and the Perpetual Coherence of his Thoughts. For tho' his Digressions are frequent, and his Transitions sudden, yet

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