Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

stand or relish it. But, though subject to those local disadvantages, which confine its reputation within narrow limits, it is full of so much natural description, and tender sentiment, as would do honour to any poet. The characters are well drawn, the incidents affecting, the scenery and manners lively and just. It affords a strong proof, both of the power which nature and simplicity possess, to re.ch the heart in every sort of writing; and of the variety of pleasing characters and subjects, with which pastoral poetry, when properly managed, is capable of being enlivened.

I proceed next, to treat of lyric poetry, or the ode; a species of poetical composition which possesses much dignity, and in which many writers have distinguished themselves, in every age. Its peculiar character is, that it is intended to be sung, or accompanied with music. Its designation implies this. Ode is, in Greek, the same with song or hymn; and lyric poetry imports, that the verses are accompanied with a lyre, or musical instrument. This distinction was not, at first, peculiar to any one species of poetry. For, as I observed in the last lecture, music and poetry were coëval, and were, originally, always joined together. But after their separation took place, after bards had begun to make verse compositions, which were to be recited or read, not to be sung, such poems as were designed to be still joined with music or song, were, by way of distinction, called odes.

In the ode, therefore, poetry retains its first and most ancient form; that form, under which the original bards poured forth their enthusiastic strains, praised their gods and their heroes, celebrated their victories, and lamented their misfortunes. It is from this circumstance, of the ode's being supposed to retain its original union with music, that we are to deduce the proper idea, and the peculiar qualities of this kind of poetry. It is not distinguished from other kinds, by the subjects on which it is employed; for these may be extremely various. I know no distinction of subject that belongs to it, except that other poems are often employed in the recital of actions, whereas sentiments of one kind or other, form, almost always, the subject of the ode. But it is chiefly the spirit, the manner of its execution, that marks and characterizes it. Music and song naturally add to the warmth of poetry. They tend to transport, in a higher degree, both the person who sings, and the persons who hear. 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 sooth, 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 us 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 amorous 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 gayety.

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 control 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 than any other species of poetry. Hence, in the 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 show the author to be one who thinks, and not one who raves. Whateverauthority may be pleaded for the incoherence and disorder of lyric poctry, nothing can be more certain, than that any composition which

is so regular in its method, as to become obscure to the bulk of readers, is so much worse upon that account.*

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.

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

*“ La plupart de ceux qui parlent de l'ent siasme de l'ode, en parlent comme s'ils étoient eus-mêmes dans le trouble qu'ils veulent définir.

Ce ne sont que grands mots de fureur divine, de transports de l'âme, de mouvemens, de lumières, qui, mis bout-d-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 compris que par les esprits du première ordre, à la tête desquels ils se supposent, et dont ils excluent tous ceux que osent ne les 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-là tous les écarts imaginables. Un poëte n'auroit plus qu'à 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 prêtassent 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 raisonnable. Mais qui produiroit une pareille composition dans l'esprit du lecteur ? Elle ne laisseroit qu'un étour. dissement, 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 éclairer l'esprit." EUVRES DE M. DE LA Motte, tom. I. Dis. cours sur l'Ode.

a more moderate degree of elevation; and joins connected thought, and good sense, with the highest beauties of poetry. He does not often aspire beyond that middle region, which I mentioned as belonging to the ode; and those odes, in which he attempts the sublime, are perhaps not always his best.* The peculiar character, in which he excels, is grace and elegance; and in this style of composition, no poet has ever attained to a greater perfection than Horace. No poet supports a moral sentiment with more dignity, touches a gay one more happily, or possesses the art of trifling more agreeably, when he chooses to trifle. His language is so fortunate, that with a single word or epithet, he often conveys a whole description to the fancy. Hence he ever has been, and ever will continue to be, a favourite author with all persons of taste.

Among the Latin poets of later ages, there have been many imitators of Horace. One of the most distinguished is Casimir, a Polish poet of the last century, who wrote four books of odes. In graceful ease of expression, he is far inferior to the Roman. He oftener affects the sublime; and in the attempt, like other lyric writers, frequently becomes harsh and unnatural. But, on several occasions, he discovers a considerable degree of original genius, and poetical fire. Buchanan, in some of his lyric compositions, is very elegant and classical.

Among the French, the odes of Jean Baptiste Rousseau, have been much, and justly celebrated. They possess great beauty, both of sentiment and expression. They are animated, without being rhapsodical; and are not inferior to any poetical productions in the French language.

In our own language, we have several lyric compositions of considerable merit. Dryden's ode on St. Cecilia, is well known. Mr. Gray is distinguished in some of his odes, both for tenderness and sublimity; and in Dodsley's Miscellanies, several very beautiful lyric poems are to be found. As to professed Pindaric odes, they are, with a few exceptions, so incoherent, as seldom to be intelligible. Cowley, at all times harsh, is doubly so in his Pindaric compositions. In his Anacreontic odes, he is much happier. They are smooth and elegant; and indeed the most agreeable and the most perfect in their kind, of all Mr. Cowley's Poems.

* There is no ode whatever of Horace's, without great beauties. But though I may be singular in my opinion, I cannot help thinking that in some of those odes which have been much admired for sublimity, (such as Ode iv. lib. 4. "Qualem ininistrum fulminis alitem,' &c.) there appears somewhat of a strained and forced effort to be lofty. The genius of this amiable poet shows itself, according to my judgment, to greater advantage, in themes of a more temperate kind.

QUESTIONS. In the last lecture, of what was an not sufficient? What ought a good poet account given; and on what were some to give us? How is this remark illusobservations made ? To what does our trated? What will sometimes characauthor now proceed ? What order is terize a whole scene? What illustration followed? What is the subject of this is given? In what, above all things, lecture? With what does our author must the poet study variety? How begin; and of the time of which it was must he diversify his face of nature, or, first cultivated, what is observed ? What otherwise, what will be the consefancy have most authors indulged? Of quence? What is also incumbent on what does our author make no doubt; him? Repeat the illustration of this rebut of what is he persuaded ? By mark from Virgil ? With regard to the what, in the first periods of every na- characters, or persons, which are proper tion, was it inspired ? What furnished to be introduced into pastorals, what is the first themes to the bards of every not sufficient ? How is this observation country? Why was what was of a illustrated? What is one of the principastoral kind, in their compositions, inci- pal difficulties which here occurs ? Of dental only? When did pastoral poetry the shepherd, what is observed? What assume its present form? How came qualities may he possess ? But then, men to conceive the idea of celebrating what must he not do? Of what pastopastoral life in poetry? Where did rals are some of these conceits the chiet Theocritus, and where did Virgil, write blemishes ? What illustration of this retheir pastorals? Why is pastoral poetry, mark is given from Tasso ? What lana natural and very agreeable form of guage are rural personages supposed poetical composition ? From what does to speak? When they describe or reit appear that pastoral life is very fa- late, how do they do it? What illustravourable to poetry? Hence, what has tion of this remark is given ? In anobeen the effect of this species of poetry?ther passage, what does he do; and in But, notwithstanding the advantages what language? What did Mr. Pope it possesses, what follows? In what wish to do; and how does he do it? Of three different views may pastoral life what does this fall short ; and how is be considered ? Of the first and last of the natural and pleasing simplicity of these three states, what is observed ? the description destroyed ? Supposing Where must the poet therefore keep ? the poet to have formed correct ideas What must he form to himself? For concerning his characters and personawhat does the great charm of pastoral ges, what is the next inquiry; and poetry arise ? What must the poet why? What ought every good poem, therefore do? What must he display to of every kind, to have? In what lies the us; and what hide? Repeat the fol- chief difficulty of pastoral writing? lowing passage from Virgil. How Hence, what follows? From the first should he paint it? Why may distresses lines, at what can we guess? How is and anxieties be attributed to it; but this remark fully illustrated ? To what of what nature must they be? For is much of that insipidity owing, which what may the shepherd well be afflict- prevails in pastoral writing? What, ed; and why ? In short, in what man- however, is much to be questioned ; and ner only should the pastoral life be pre- what remark follows ? What would sented to us? But about what should one choose to remove from this sort of he take care ? If it be not real life that composition ? But under this limitation, is presented to us, what must it be? for what will there still be abundant That we may examine this general scope ? How is this remark illustrated ? idea of pastoral poetry more particular- Who are the two great fathers of pasly, what order shall we pursue ? As toral poetry? Who was Theocritus, and to the scene, what is clear, and on what what remark follows? Of his Idylia, does much of the poet's merit depend? what is observed ? For what is he disOf Theocritus's descriptions of natural tinguished ? From what does it appear beauties, what is observed ? Repeat the that he is the original of which Virgil passage illustrative of this remark? In is the imitator ? What, however, must every pastoral, what should be distinct- he be allowed to have done; and why? ly drawn, and set before us? What is What distinction obtains between them?

« AnteriorContinuar »