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ODES, SONNETS, AND EPIGRAMS

INTRODUCTION

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ODES.—A study of the ode shows that since Spenser's time its form has rounded out a full cycle and returned to something like what it was in his and Milton's hands,-a dignified, eloquent, and organlike rather than lyrical strain of music whose stanzaic and metrical form is not prescribed by very strict laws. In the Prothalamion Spenser's stanzas all eighteen lines in length and have a scheme of six rhymes which is approximately the same for each; in the Epithalamion he uses more freedom in varying the number of lines in a stanza and the method of the rhyme; in both poems there is the free variation of the number of stresses in a line which may be taken as characteristic of most English odes. These two poems show the two directions which the ode has taken,—the

an ode in regular stanzaic form bearing strongly in the direction of the lyric; the other a freely varying poem not songlike at all, but finding its kindred in the oration, the prayer, and the panegyric.

These two varieties are seen still more plainly in Milton's odes. The Hymn on the Morning

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of Christ's Nativity has a regular though complex stanza and is hymn-like, as its name implies. At a Solemn Music and On Time are fine examples of the freely varying ode. Rhythm and rhyme, not stanza and metre, are the harmonic principles. The rhythm is one of paragraph, as in the blank verse of the mature Shakespeare and in Paradise Lost. The line is lost sight of, its artificiality clearly demonstrated; the paragraph is the unit.

Ben Jonson's odes follow classical models, Latin as well as Greek. The Pindaric Ode in this volume shows his following of strophe, antistrophe, and epode after the manner of Pindar as he understood it. Not less interesting as regards form are his Ode to Himself, and several others where Horace, rather than Pindar, is the model. The only English ode on the Latin model which is universally recognized as a masterpiece is Marvell's stately and finely tempered Horatian Ode upon Cromwell's Return from Ireland; that, however, because of other things than form. The period of the imitation of the classic ode produced, indeed, very little of value; the form was perhaps too artificial and the imitation so close as to be deadening. With this movement, however, is to be connected the famous mistake of Abraham Cowley which gave the world the anomaly known as the English Pindaric ode. Pindar was believed by Cowley (though we now know much better, and it seems Ben Jonson knew much better) to have written without regularity of line or stanza. Cowley wrote rhyming odes after this supposed model, striving only to fit as nearly as he could the form to the sense. His lead was followed by poets for more than a century, and his is still perhaps the prevailing popular notion of the ode. That is, a poem made up of irregular lines and strophes, beginning usually with a capital O. It was not so much of a discovery as Cowley doubtless thought it, as it is, after all, not far different from poems by Jonson, Donne, and Milton. Cowley's form fitted roughly the English ode-writing genius, and has been endowed with a heritage inferior to few forms in English poetic literature. Here Dryden wrote his best short poems, Alexander's Feast and A Song for St. Cecilia's Day, and another, To the Pious Memory of Mrs. Anne Killigrew, perhaps greater than either, but, unfortunately, not suited to our purpose. Gray, whose reserved and contemplative genius had in it much that is typical of the ode-writer, gave to the form its true infiuence, so strong upon the poets of his own and two succeeding generations. We have not included The Bard, fine as it is, in this collection, because Gray has there cast into this congenial mould inappropriate material.

Wordsworth and Coleridge, Shelley and Byron, all wrote odes of the irregular variety, each after his own age and his own genius. Added to this list are Bryant, Lowell, Coventry Patmore, and many others, and from them and some of our greater living poets we

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