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with gentle tenderness," yet I will confess to you, that neither the feelings nor the expression of the poet ever seemed to me adequate to the occasion. Perhaps it was written at that season when the powers of the understanding and imagination were torpified by sorrow, I might say by horror; perhaps it was not possible, so intimately concerned as he was (the remote cause of the death she voluntarily incurred) to express his feelings; perhaps the obscurity in which from delicacy he was compelled to veil the story, reduced him to the necessity of employing general terms, and avoiding that minuteness of delineation which is the life of poetry. The theme, however, appears not to have deserted his thoughts, and it is not unfair to presume that the similitude of the case might direct his attention to the composition of that first of poems, the Eloisa. There, upon a subject sufficiently remote, yet sufficiently resembling, he pours forth his genuine feelings, and the concluding lines incontestibly allude to the transaction in question.
There is a poem of Collins on the Death of Thomson, which, though not exactly in the measure which we have appropriated to this description of poem, bears all the true characteristics of elegy....softness, sweetness, melancholy, and harmony. I have always admired beyond any thing of the kind the following stanzas....
"Remembrance oft shall haunt the shore,
"When Thames in summer wreaths is drest; "And oft suspend the dashing oar,
"To bid thy gentle spirit rest."
"And oft as ease and health retire
"Yet lives there one, whose heedless eye
"And joy desert the blooming year."
Mr. Gray's Elegy in a Country Church Yard has deserved all the praises that have been bestowed upon it. Here the muse of elegy has
"Stoop'd to truth, and moraliz'd her song."
"It abounds (says Dr. Johnson) with images which find a mirror in every mind, and with sentiments to which every bosom returns an echo." The best stanzas I think are....
"Full many a gem of purest ray serene,
"The dark unfathom'd caves of ocean bear;
"For who to dumb forgetfulness a prey
"This pleasing anxious being e'er resign'd,
The former of these Mr. Gray has himself imitated, and I think improved in his Installation Ode....
"Thy lib'ral heart, thy judging eye,
Serene in the first line (notwithstanding the apology of my late friend G. Wakefield), if not quite an expletive, will generally be mistaken for one.
IX. LYRIC poetry may, in point of antiquity, contend with any other species, perhaps with the epic itself. Though we have no knowledge of the metre of the Hebrews, we cannot doubt but they had poetry, and as little (while the sublime book of Psalms is before us) can we doubt that much of that poetry is lyric. Many, if not most of them, we know to a certainty were sung or
set to music, which both the term ode, and the epithet lyric (from the lyre, a musical instrument) imply. If we advert to the remote origin of the ode, it will perhaps account at once for the sublimity which is required from the lyric bard, and the irregularity in which he is indulged. All the ideas of men just emerging from the savage state are wild, awful, enthusiastic, and passionate; and they express themselves concisely, and with abruptness. Such were probably the first models of the ode, from whatever quarter they were derived, and upon these models poets afterwards composed.
There is, however, an evident distinction to be made in lyric compositions. There is the serious and sublime ode; and the familiar and comic, or, in modern language, the song. The first may be regarded as the original ode: it was employed both by the Hebrews and the Pagan nations at solemn festivals in their religious ceremonies; and by the latter in praise of heroes and other distinguished personages. There is no description of poetry that requires both thoughts and language more sublime and more remote from common usage than this. A fine ode is compared by Horace to a majestic torrent from a mountain's top, which overflows its wonted limits....
"Monte decurrens velut amnis, imbres
-B. iv. O. 2.
"As when a river swollen by sudden showers
Yet with all this seeming irregularity, there is no composition that requires a more artful and judicious arrangement than a perfect ode. It may truly be said of it that the perfection of art is to conceal the art; and I will venture to say more, that to form a good ode, the poet should have the whole plan regularly digested in
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his mind before he begins to compose. The shorter the poem, the more nice should be the arrangement. It is not necessary that an ode, like an epigram, should conclude in a point; but it is absolutely necessary that it should rise in a kind of climax, and that the strongest part should be towards the conclusion.
For the Hebrew ode, with some of the most perfect specimens which a man of fine taste could select, I must refer to Bishop Lowth's Lectures on Sacred Poetry. In Greek, Pindar has long occupied the highest situation in this department; and from his exceeding popularity among his countrymen and contemporaries, the nicest and most fastidious of critics; from the applause of the best judges in succeeding generations, Horace, Quinctilian, Longinus, &c.; we must not dare to dispute that sentence which has invested him with the first honours as a lyric poet. To us, at this very distant period, the odes of Pindar seem to contain some beautiful poetical expressions; occasionally some fine, but common-place, moral sentiments; but the personages whom he celebrates, and the transactions to which he alludes, are gone so far down the stream of oblivion, that the modern reader must feel a want of interest in them. Even the harmony of his numbers, so celebrated by his contemporaries, are impaired by the lapse of time; and I must confess that some of the short odes in the tragedies of Sophocles and Euripides (the best part indeed of these poems) have for me superior charms. The subjects for this kind of ode, as well as those of the opposite description, are the odes of Anacreon defined by Horace....
Musa dedit fidibus Divos, puerosque Deorum,
De Art. Poet. v. 33.
"The muse to nobler subjects tunes her lyre;
Wrestler and steed, who gain'd the Olympic prize;
The Roman lyrist has attempted with success both descriptions of the ode; but if I feel rightly with respect to an author whom I have from infancy admired almost above every other, Horace excels in a kind of middle style, the polite, the tender, the pleasant, and the moral. The two odes (Lib. 111. O. 9. and Lib. Iv. O. 3.), of which Scaliger professes that he would rather have been the author than of most of Pindar's, and rather indeed than to have been king of Arragon, are of this description. The incomparable poem (Lib. 111. O. 3.) "Justum et Tenacem," &c. is not of the highest description of lyric poetry. It is elegant and moral, and the beginning almost sublime. In a word, Horace as a lyric writer is original; he is neither Anacreon nor Pindar; his manner is quite his own.
In our own language we have some lyric productions of the highest excellence; among the first of which I must rank the Allegro and Penseroso of Milton, though by Dr. Blair, and other critics, they have been most improperly classed among descriptive poems; but they have, in truth, every characteristic of lyric. Like Horace, Milton is indeed original, and imitates neither Pindar nor any other poet. He happily combines sentiment and description. In his Comus too, there are some happy specimens of lyric poetry, as well as in Sampson Agonistes, each suited to the nature of the drama in which they are found, and perfectly on the Greek model.
Of the two rival odes, Dryden's and Pope's, on St. Cæcilia's day, so much has been written, and some observations so well-written, by our great critic Dr. Johnson, that I may be well excused for declining to enter into the detail, and for referring you at once to his life of Pope. Dryden's is more happily planned, Pope's more carefully executed. Dryden's is a fine and interesting story, well told on the whole, at least well arranged; Pope's is an assemblage of ancient mythology, and of modern observations on the power of music. It has always struck me that there is a good deal of what Mr. Pope called namby-pamby in both....