1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Pindarics

PINDARICS, the name by which was known a class of loose and irregular odes greatly in fashion in England during the close of the 17th and the beginning of the 18th century The invention is due to Abraham Cowley, who, probably in Paris—“a place where he had no other books to direct him”—and perhaps in 1650, found a text of Pindar and determined to imitate the Greek poetry in English, without having comprehended the system upon which Pindar's prosody was built up. Cowley published, however, in 1656, fifteen Pindarique Odes, which became the model on which countless imitators founded their pindarics The erroneous form of these poems, which were absolutely without discipline of structure, was first exposed by Congreve, exactly half a century later, he very justly describing them as “bundles of rambling incoherent thoughts, expressed in a like parcel of irregular stanzas, which also consist of such another complication of disproportioned, uncertain and perplexed verses and rhymes.” This is harsh, but it describes a pindaric with absolute justice. Cowley had not been aware that “there is nothing more regular than the Odes of Pindar,” and that his poems were constructed in harmony with rigid prosodical laws in strophe, antistrophe and epode; “the liberty which Pindar took in his numbers, which has been so much misunderstood and misapplied by his pretended imitators, was only in varying the stanzas in different odes; but in each particular ode they are ever correspondent one to another in their turns, and according to the order of the ode.” These excellent critical remarks were made by Congreve in his Discourse on the Pindarique Ode of 1706, and from that date forward the use of pindarics ceased to be so lax and frantic as it had been during the previous fifty years. The time had now passed in which such a critic as Sprat could praise “this loose and unconfined measure” as having “all the grace and harmony of the most confined” It began to be felt that the English pindaric was a blunder founded upon a misconception. If we examine Cowley's “Resurrection,” which was considered in the 17th century to be a model of the style, and “truly pindarical,” we find it to be a shapeless poem of 64 lines, arbitrarily divided, not into strophes but into four stanzas of unequal volume and structure. the lines which form these stanzas are of lengths varying from three feet to seven feet, with rhymes repeated in wilful disorder, the whole forming a mere vague caricature of Pindar's brilliant odes. The very laxity of these pindarics attracted the poets of the unlyrical close of the 17th century, and they served the purpose not only of Dryden and Pope, but of a score of lesser poets among whom Oldham, Mrs Behn, Otway, Sprat, Flatman and many others ere prominent. The pindaric became the almost necessary form in which to indite a poem of compliment on a birth, a wedding or a funeral. Although the vogue of these forms hardly survived the age of Anne, something of the vicious tradition of them still remained, and even in the odes of Wordsworth, Shelley and Coleridge the broken versification of Cowley's pindarics occasionally survives. Tennyson's Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington (1852) is the latest important specimen of a pindaric in English literature.  (E. G.)