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In the ode, poetry retains its first form, and its original union with music. Sentiments commonly constitute its subject. It recites not actions. Its spirit, and the manner of its execution, mark its character. It admits a bolder and more passionate strain than is allowed in simple recital Hence the enthusiasm that belongs to it. Hence that neglect of regularity, those digressions, and thai disorder it is supposed to admit.
All odes may be classed under four denominations. 1. Hymns addressed to God, or composed on religious subjects. 2. Heroic odes, which concern the celebra. tion of heroes and great actions. 3. Moral and philos. ophical odes, which refer chiefly to virtue, friendship and humanity. 4. Festive and amorous odes, which are calculated merely for amusement and pleasure.
Enthusiasm being considered as the characteristic of the ode, it has often degenerated into licentiousness. This species of writing has above all others been infected by want of order, method and connexion. The poet is out of sight in a moment. He is so abrupt and eccentric, so irregular and obscure that we cannot follow him. It is not, indeed, necessary that the structure of the ode be so perfectly regular as an epic po
But in every composition there ought to be a whole ; and this whole should consist of connected parts. The transition from thought to !hought may be light and delicate, but the connexion of ideas should be preserved ; the author should ok, and not rave.
Pindar, the father of lyric poetry, has led his imitators into enthusiastic wildness. They imitate his disorder without catching his spirit. In Horace's odes, every thing is correct, harmonious, and happy. His elevation is moderate, not rapturous.
Grace and elegance are his characteristics. He supports a moral sentiment with dignity, touches a gay one with felicity, and has the art of trifling most agreeably. His language, too, is most fortunate.
Many Latin poets of later ages have imitated him. Casimir, a Polish poet of the last century, is of this number; and discovers a considerable degree of origi
nal genius and poetic fire. He is, however, far inferior to the Roman in graceful expression. Buchapan, in some of his lyric compositions, is very elegant and classical.
In our own language, Dryden's ode on St. Cecilia is well known. Mr. Giray, in some of his odes, is celebrated for tenderness and sublimity ; and in Dodsley's Miscellanies are several very beautiful lyric poems. Professedly Pindaric odes are seldom intelligible. Cowley is doubly harsh in his Pindaric compositions. His Anacreontic odes are happier and perhaps the most agreeable and perfect in their kind of all his poems.
Or didactic poetry it is the express intention to convey instruction and knowledge. It may be executed in different ways.
The poet may treat some instructive subject in a regular form ; or, without intending a great or regular work, he may inveigh against particujar vices, or make some moral observations on human life and characters.
The highest species of didactic poetry is a regular treatise on some philosophical, grave or useful subject, Such are the books of Lucretius de Rerum Natura, the Georgics of Virgil, Pope's Essay on Criticism, Akenside's Pleasures of the Imagination, Armstrong on Health, and the Art of Poetry by Horace, Vida, and Boileau,
In all such works, as instruction is the professed object, the chief merit consists in sound thought, just principles, and apt illustrations. It is necessary, however, that the poet enliven his lessons by figures, incidents, and poetical painting. Virgil in his Georgics embellishes the most trivial circumstances in rural life. When he teaches that the labour of the farmer must begin in spring, he expresses himself thus :
Vere novo gelidus canis cum montibus humor
Ingemere, et sulco attritus splendescere vomer. In all didactic works such method is requisite as will olearly exhibit a connected train of instruction. With regard to episodes and embellishments, writers of di. dactic poetry are indulged great liberties. For in a poetical performance a continued series of instruction without embellishment soon fatigues. The digres. sions in the Georgics of Virgil are his principal beauties. The happiness of a country life, the fable of Aristeus, and the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice, canhot be raised too much.
A didactic, poet ought also to connect his episodes with his subject. In this, Virgil is eminent. Among modern didactic poets, Akenside and Armstrong are distinguished. The former is rich and poetical ; but the latter maintains greater equality, and more chaste and correct elegance.
Of didactic poetry, satires and epistles run into the most familiar style. Satire seems to have been at first a relic of ancient comedy, the grossness of which was corrected by Ennius and Lucilius. At length, Horace brought it into its present form. Reformation of man. ners is its professed end ; and vice and vicious characters are the objects of its censure. There are three different modes in which it has been conducted by the three great ancient satirists, Horace, Juvenal, and Persius.
The satires of Horace have not much elevation. They exhibit a measured prose.
Ease and grace characterize his manner ; and he glances rather at the follies and weaknesses of mankind, than at their vices. He smiles while he reproves. He moralizes like a sound philosopher, but with the politeness of a courtier. Juvenal is more declamatory and serious ; and has greater strength and fire. Persius has distinguished himself by a noble and sublime morality.
Poetical epistles, when employed on moral or critical subjects, seldom rise into a higher strain of poetry, than satires. But in the epistolary form, many other subjects may be treated ; as love, poetry, or elegiac. Tbe ethical epistles of Pope are a model ; and in them he shows the strength of his genius. Here he had a full opportunity for displaying his judgment and wit, bis concise and happy expression, together with the harmony of his numbers.
His imitations of Horace are so happy, that it is difficult to say, whether the original or the copy ought to be most admired.
Among moral and didactic writers, Dr. Young ought not to be passed over in silence. Genius appears in all his works ; but his universal passion may be considered as possessing the full merit of that animated conciseness, particularly requisite in satirical and didactic compositions. At the same time it is 10 be obserý. ed, that his wit is often too sparkling, and his sentences too pointed. In his Night Thoughts there is great energy of expression, several pathetic passages, many happy images, and many pious reflections. But the sentiments are frequently overstrained and turgid, and the style barsh and obscure.
In descriptive poetry the highest exertions of genius. may be displayed. In general, indeed, description is introduced as an embellishment, not as the subject of a regular work. It is the test of a poet's imagination, and always distinguishes an original from a second rate genius. A writer of an inferior class sees nothing new or peculiar in the object he would paint ; his conceptions are loose and vague ; and his expressions feeble and general. A true poét places an object before our eyes. He gives it the colouring of life ; a painter might copy from him.
The great art of picturesque description lies in the selection of circumstances. These ought never to be. vulgar or common. They should mark strongly the object. No general description is good; all distinct ideas are formed upon particulars. There should also be uniformity in the circumstances selected. In describing a great object, every circumstance brought forward should tend to aggrandize ; and in describing a gay object, all the circumstances should tend to beautify it. Lastly, the circumstances in description should be expressed with conciseness and simplicity.
The largest and fullest descriptive performance in perhaps any language, is Thompson's Seasons; a work which possesses very uncommon merit. The style is splendid and strong, but sometimes harsh and indis. tinct. He is an animated and beautiful describer ; for he had a feeling heart and warm imagination. He studied nature with care ; was enamoured of her beau. ties; and had the happy talent of painting them like a master. To show the power of a single well chosen circumstance in heightening a description, the following passage may be produced from his summer, where, relating the effects of heat in the torrid zone, he is led to take notice of the pestilence that destroyed the Eng. lish feet at Carthagena, under Admiral Vernon.
You, gallant Vemon, saw
The frequent corse. All the circumstances here selected tend to heighten the dismal scene; but the last image is the most strike ing in the picture.
Of descriptive narration there are beautiful examples in Parnell's Tale of the Hermit. The setting forth of the Hermit to visit the world, his meeting a compan. ion, and the houses in which they are entertaided, of the vain man, the covetous man, and the good man, are