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They justify, therefore, a bolder and more passionate strain, than can be supported in simple recitation. On this is formed the peculiar character of the ode. Hence the enthusiasm that belongs to it, and the liberties it is allowed to take, beyond any other species of poetry. Hence that neglect of regularity, those digressions, and that disorder which it is supposed to admit; and which, indeed, most lyric poets have not failed sufficiently to exemplify in their practice.
The effects of music upon the mind are chiefly two; to raise it above its ordinary state, and fill it with high enthusiastic emotions; or to soothe and melt it into the gentle pleasurable feelings. Hence, the ode may either aspire to the former character of the sublime and noble, or it may descend to the latter, of the pleasant and the gay; and between these there is, also, a middle region, of the mild and temperate emotions, which the ode may often occupy to advantage.
All odes may be comprised under four denominations. First, sacred odes; hymns addressed to God, or composed on religious subjects. Of this nature are the Psalms of David, which exhibit to u this species of lyric poetry in its highest degree of perfection. Secondly, heroic odes, which are employed in the praise of heroes, and in the celebration of martial exploits and great actions. Of this kind are all Pindar's odes, and
some few of Horace's. These two kinds ought to have sublimity and elevation for their reigning character. Thirdly, moral and philosophical odes, where the sentiments are chiefly inspired by virtue, friendship, and humanity. Of this kind are many of Horace's odes, and several of our best modern lyric productions; and here the ode possesses that middle region, which, as I observed, it sometimes occupies. Fourthly, festive and aniorous odes, calculated merely for pleasure and amusement. Of this nature are all Anacreon's, some of Horace's, and a great number of songs and modern productions, that claim to be of the lyric species. The reigning character of these ought to be elegance, smoothness, and gaiety.
One of the chief difficulties in composing odes, arises from that enthusiasm which is understood to be a characteristic of lyric poetry. A professed ode, even of the moral kind, but more especially if it attempt the sublime, is expected to be enlivened and animated in an uncommon degree. Full of this idea, the poet, when he begins to write an ode, if he has any real warmth of genius, is apt to deliver himself up to it without controul or restraint; if he has it not, he strains after it, and thinks himself bound to assume the appearance of being all fervour and all flame. In either case, he is in great hazard of becoming extravagant. The licentiousness of writing without order, method, or connexion, has infected the ode more
Hence, in the
than any other species of poetry. class of heroic odes, we find so few that one can read with pleasure. The poet is out of sight in a moment. He gets up into the clouds; becomes so abrupt in his transitions, so eccentric and irregular in his motions, and of course so obscure, that we essay in vain to follow him, or to partake of his raptures. I do not require that an ode should be as regular in the structure of its parts, as a didactic or an epic poem. But still, in every composition, there ought to be a subject; there ought to be parts which make up a whole; there should be a connexion of those parts with one another. The transitions from thought to thought may be light and delicate, such as are prompted by a lively fancy; but still they should be such as preserve the connexion of ideas, and shew the author to be one who thinks, and not one who raves. Whatever authority may be pleaded for the incoherence and disorder of lyric poetry, nothing can be more certain, than that any composition which is so irregular in its method as to become obscure to the bulk of readers, is so much worse upon that account.*
* "La plupart des ceux qui parlent de l'enthousiasme de "l'ode, en parlent comme s'ils étoient aux-mêmes dans le "trouble qu'ils veulent definir. Ce ne sont que grands mots "de fureur divine, de transports de l'âme, de mouvemens, de "lumières, qui mis bout-à-bout dans des phrases pompeuses, "ne produisent pourtant aucune idée distincte. Si on les en "croit, l'essence de l'enthousiasme est de ne pouvoir être com
The extravagant liberty which several of the modern lyric writers assume to themselves in the versification, increases the disorder of this species of poetry. They prolong their periods to such a degree, they wander through so many different measures, and employ such a variety of long and short lines, corresponding in rhyme at so great a distance from each other, that all sense of melody is utterly lost. Whereas lyric composition ought, beyond every other species of poetry, to pay attention to melody and beauty of sound; and the versification of those odes may be justly accounted the best, which renders the harmony of the measure most sensible to every common ear.
"pris que par les esprits du première ordre, à la tête desquels "ils se supposent, et dont ils excluent tous ceux que ôsent ne "lės pas entendre.-Le beau désordre de l'ode est un effet de "l'art; mais il faut prendre garde de donner trop d'étendue "à ce terme. On autoriseroit par la tous les écarts imagin"ables. Un poëte n'auroit plus qu'a exprimer avec force "toutes les pensées qui lui viendroient successivement; il se "tiendroit dispensé d'en examiner le rapport, et de se faire "un plan, dont toutes les parties se pretassent mutuellement “des beautés. Il n'y auroit ni commencement, ni milieu, ni "fin, dans son ouvrage; et cependant l'auteur se croiroit "d'autant plus sublime, qu'il seroit moins raisonable. Mais qui produiroit une pareille composition dans l'esprit du "lecteur? Elle ne laisseroit qu'un étourdissement, causé par "la magnificence et l'harmonie des paroles, sans y faire naître que des idées confuses, qui chasseroient l'une ou l'autre, au "lieu de concourir ensemble à fixer et à eclairer l'esprit." EUVRES DE M. DE LA MOTTE, tome i. Discours sur l'Ode.
Pindar, the great father of lyric poetry, has been the occasion of leading his imitators into some of the defects I have now mentioned. His genius was sublime; his expressions are beautiful and happy; his descriptions picturesque. But finding it a very barren subject to sing the praises of those who had gained the prize in the public games, he is perpetually digressive, and fills up his poems with fables of the gods and heroes, that have little connexion either with his subject, or with one another. The ancients admired him greatly; but as many of the histories of particular families and cities to which he alludes, are now unknown to us, he is so obscure, partly from his subjects, and partly from his rapid, abrupt manner of treating them, that, notwithstanding the beauty of his expression, our pleasure in reading him is much diminished. One would imagine, that many of his modern imitators thought the best way to catch his spirit was to imitate his disorder and obscurity. In several of the choruses of Euripides and Sophocles, we have the same kind of lyric poetry as in Pindar, carried on with more clearness and connexion, and at the same time with much sublimity.
Of all the writers of odes, ancient or modern, there is none that, in point of correctness, harmony, and happy expression, can vie with Horace. He has descended from the Pindaric rapture to a more moderate degree of elevation; and