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and, if such a term may be allowed, his theological sentiments: in which respect he rose as far above the level of the heathen vulgar, as in the exuberant fertility, and wildness, and splendour of his genius, he excelled the rest of the Grecian minstrelsy. The modern poet who in these respects the most nearly resembled him, is Dante, who, in the moral attributes of his mind, towered not less eminently above his age, and was not less the boast and favourite of his fellow countrymen. The poems of Dante are said to to have excited so general an enthusiasm throughout Italy, that they were sung instead of the popular songs of the country, as the poems of Homer were recited by the rhapsodists; and, after his death, professors were appointed at several universities, expressly to lecture
his Commedia. Both Pindar and Dante availed themselves of the popular fictions, the childish legends of superstition, as sources of impressive imagery, while it is evident that in the mind of the poet appe they were far from ranking among the objects of faith. Both wrote, however, for those with whom they passed for realities. It was not as fictions, but as truths, that they were introduced into their verses. Poetry, in those rude ages, summoned the imagination to listen to her fables as to religious verities; and faith mingled itself with curiosity and wonder. The reign of imagination is passed when we have outlived the credulity of childhood. The periods at which the poet 26 has been able to exert the strongest sensible influence, lille
, by acting upon the passions of mankind, have been re the those at which the credulity of childhood was carried at fer- forward into the matured powers of the man, and nus, be when what assumed the character of religion was a
The superstition which aimed no further than to captivate nearly and domineer over the fancy. Such was the age at ibutes which the Theban flourished. Traditions then held
bis the place of histories, and songs and poems, learned of his and recited with enthusiasm, served instead of books. : said With these the memory was filled; by these the ghout intellectual character was greatly determined. When, songs therefore, the favourite poet of his nation came to ecited recite some new composition before an audience thus
educated to receive the full impression of his verse,
that impression being aided by the musical accompaDante
niment which formed so essential a circumstance of
the Ode, it is easy to conceive that an effect must im.' have been produced, to which nothing in our own port days presents a parallel.
The fictions of the poet, however they may please the fancy by the elegance of invention, or by their allegorical beauty, no longer command the involuntary homage of the imagination, or for a moment agitate the passions. Nevertheless, a sort of reflected interest in some instances attaches to them. We know that they were once received with superstitious credulity, and by strong sympathy with those who did believe in them, we are capable of being made to feel as if they had an existence independent of our imagination. They have, indeed, an historical existence, as belonging to a system which once had upon men's minds all the power of reality; and conscious of an instinct answering to that from which the belief of those dark ages proceeded, we can at once, by transporting ourselves into their circumstances, realize the feelings which belonged to them, and please ourselves by sporting with the objects of their earnest terror and religious awe.
ign Ehe set
Something of this reflected kind of interest attaches, perhaps, to the Ode itself. Its alliance to music remains undissolved to the imagination, and a still more powerful charm results from the classic recollections which are connected with it. What but this
power of association could impart to hundreds of imitations and translations any charm, even in the eyes of their authors? They are, in themselves, any thing rather than poetry, but they are like rude sketchings, which recall to those acquainted with the original the objects of enthusiastic delight. But it is obvious that modern literature can have little in common, either in its purpose or its character, with the hymns and songs and recitals which breathed the first warm feelings of poetry in ruder ages. Modern poetry, so far as it appeals to the feelings at all, appeals to them as so essentially modified by the altered state of society, that the kind of emotion which it excites, and
ce to and a Jassic t but ds of the
the mode in which it affects us, are altogether different. The finer expedients of art, which are adapted' to touch the springs of feeling in the closet, are far from being the same as those by which, under other circumstances, a much stronger impression could with greater certainty be calculated upon. The emotions which the early poet sought to awaken were but the ebullition of the simple feelings of our nature in uncultivated minds; but the pleasures derivable from literary composition in a cultivated age, those to which the poet especially seeks to minister, result from the complicated emotions of taste. These seldom rise to the height of enthusiasm, the most poignant being those which partake of pity and tenderness; a very high degree of pleasure, however, attends the feeling of admiration, as awakened by beauty of style, or by elevation of sentiment. Sentimental poetry, to which class the Ode may be referred, depends for its pleasurable effect, almost entirely upon those qualities which address the perceptions of taste; and it is in the exhibition of these qualities that Gray's great excellence as a poet consists. His Odes are the rich and rare production of a mind of native elegance in the highest state of literary culture. Music itself could scarcely add to the harmony of his numbers, while the splendour of his imagery fills the mind, and like the romantic and picturesque in nature, at once stirs and solemnizes the fancy.
“The Bard,” and “ The Progress of Poetry,” are,
of course, the poems to which the preceding remarks have chiefly alluded.. It may be admitted that neither of these is a faultless composition. The petulance of his criticism may discover in both some minute verbal inaccuracies; but they are indisputably two of the most perfect, as well as of the most impressive, pieces of poetry in the language. Gray entitled them Pindaric Odes, because, priding himself more upon
his learning than upon
powers of composition, it was his aim to rescue the Odes of Pindar from the misapprehension which Cowley and his imitators had been de the means of rendering general on the subject of their style and versification. Odes written for music, as the Odes of Pindar were, might be expected to exhibitor's a regularity, or a methodical recurrence of stanza, very different from the lawless eccentricity of modern Pindaric verse. The Strophe, Antistrophe, and Epode of the ancient lyric, whatever was their precise object, were certainly not arbitrary or useless divisions. These names, indeed, convey no meaning to an English ear, and perhaps their introduction rather savours of pedantry; but the reduction of the ode to some uniformity of construction was a service rendered to taste.
It was not in the lawlessness of his versification only, that Cowley abused the epithet by which he chose to distinguish his eccentric but often beautiful productions : nothing can present a more direct op