The Progress of Poesy. A Pindaric Ode

ϕωνᾶντα συνετοῖσιν· ἐςδὲ τὸ πᾶν ἑρμηνέων χατίζει.

Pindar, Olymp[ian Odes]. II. [85]
I. 1.
1 Awake, Aeolian lyre, awake,
Awake [up], my glory: awake, lute and harp.
David's Psalms. [Prayer Book version, lvii. 9]Pindar styles his own poetry with its musical accompanyments, [Greek sentence (omitted), translation:], Aeolian song, Aeolian strings, the breath of the Aeolian flute.
2 And give to rapture all thy trembling strings.
3 From Helicon's harmonious springs
[*] The subject and simile, as usual with Pindar, are united. The various sources of poetry, which gives life and lustre to all it touches, are here described; its quiet majestic progress enriching every subject (otherwise dry and barren) with a pomp of diction and luxuriant harmony of numbers; and its more rapid and irresistible course, when swoln and hurried away by the conflict of tumultuous passions.
4 A thousand rills their mazy progress take:
5 The laughing flowers, that round them blow,
6 Drink life and fragrance as they flow.
7 Now the rich stream of music winds along,
8 Deep, majestic, smooth, and strong,
9 Through verdant vales and Ceres' golden reign:
10 Now rowling down the steep amain,
11 Headlong, impetuous, see it pour:
12 The rocks and nodding groves rebellow to the roar.
I. 2.
13 Oh! Sovereign of the willing soul,
[*] Power of harmony to calm the turbulent sallies of the soul. The thoughts are borrowed from the first Pythian of Pindar. [See note to l. 20.]
14 Parent of sweet and solemn-breathing airs,
15 Enchanting shell! the sullen Cares
16 And frantic Passions hear thy soft control.
17 On Thracia's hills the Lord of War,
18 Has curbed the fury of his car,
19 And dropped his thirsty lance at thy command.
20 Perching on the sceptered hand
[*] This is a weak imitation of some incomparable lines in the same Ode. [Pindar, Pythian Ode I, 1-12.]
21 Of Jove, thy magic lulls the feathered king
22 With ruffled plumes and flagging wing:
23 Quenched in dark clouds of slumber lie
24 The terror of his beak, and lightnings of his eye.
I. 3.
25 Thee the voice, the dance, obey,
[*] Power of harmony to produce all the graces of motion in the body.
26 Tempered to thy warbled lay.
27 O'er Idalia's velvet-green
28 The rosy-crowned Loves are seen
29 On Cytherea's day
30 With antic Sports and blue-eyed Pleasures,
31 Frisking light in frolic measures;
32 Now pursuing, now retreating,
33 Now in circling troops they meet:
34 To brisk notes in cadence beating
35 Glance their many-twinkling feet.
[*] [Greek line (omitted)] [He (Odysseus) gazed at the quick twinkling of (the dancers') feet; and he wondered in his heart.]Homer. Od [yssey]. O. [viii. 265]
36 Slow melting strains their queen's approach declare:
37 Where'er she turns the Graces homage pay.
38 With arms sublime, that float upon the air,
39 In gliding state she wins her easy way:
40 O'er her warm cheek and rising bosom move
41 The bloom of young desire and purple light of love.
[*] [Greek line (omitted)] [And on his rose-red cheeks there gleams the light of love.]Phrynichus, apud Athenaeum. [Deipnosophistae, xiii. 604a][Modern texts give the line as follows: Greek line (omitted).]
II. 1.
42 Man's feeble race what ills await,
[*] To compensate the real and imaginary ills of life, the Muse was given to Mankind by the same Providence that sends the Day by its chearful presence to dispel the gloom and terrors of the Night.
43 Labour, and penury, the racks of pain,
44 Disease, and sorrow's weeping train,
45 And death, sad refuge from the storms of fate!
46 The fond complaint, my song, disprove,
47 And justify the laws of Jove.
48 Say, has he given in vain the heavenly Muse?
49 Night, and all her sickly dews,
50 Her spectres wan, and birds of boding cry,
51 He gives to range the dreary sky:
52 Till down the eastern cliffs afar
Or seen the Morning's well-appointed Star
Come marching up the eastern hills afar.
Cowley. [Brutus, an Ode, st. 4]
53 Hyperion's march they spy, and glittering shafts of war.
II. 2.
54 In climes beyond the solar road,
[*] Extensive influence of poetic Genius over the remotest and most uncivilized nations: its connection with liberty, and the virtues that naturally attend on it. [See the Erse, Norwegian, and Welch Fragments, the Lapland and American songs. ][solar road] ''Extra anni solisque vias '' [Beyond the paths of the year and the sun ]Virgil. [Aeneid, vi. 796] ''Tutta lontana dal camin del sole.'' [Quite far from the road of the sun.]Petrarch, Canzon 2. [Canzoniere, 'Canzone II', l. 48]
55 Where shaggy forms o'er ice-built mountains roam,
56 The Muse has broke the twilight-gloom
57 To cheer the shivering native's dull abode.
58 And oft, beneath the odorous shade
59 Of Chile's boundless forests laid,
60 She deigns to hear the savage youth repeat
61 In loose numbers wildly sweet
62 Their feather-cinctured chiefs, and dusky loves.
63 Her track, where'er the goddess roves,
64 Glory pursue, and generous Shame,
65 The unconquerable Mind, and Freedom's holy flame.
II. 3.
66 Woods that wave o'er Delphi's steep,
[*] Progress of Poetry from Greece to Italy, and from Italy to England. Chaucer was not unacquainted with the writings of Dante or of Petrarch. The Earl of Surrey and Sir Tho. Wyatt had travelled in Italy, and formed their taste there; Spenser imitated the Italian writers; Milton improved on them: but this School expired soon after the Restoration, and a new one arose on the French model, which has subsisted ever since.
67 Isles that crown the Aegean deep,
68 Fields that cool Ilissus laves,
69 Or where Maeander's amber waves
70 In lingering lab'rinths creep,
71 How do your tuneful echoes languish,
72 Mute, but to the voice of anguish?
73 Where each old poetic mountain
74 Inspiration breathed around:
75 Every shade and hallowed fountain
76 Murmured deep a solemn sound:
77 Till the sad Nine in Greece's evil hour
78 Left their Parnassus for the Latian plains.
79 Alike they scorn the pomp of tyrant-power,
80 And coward Vice that revels in her chains.
81 When Latium had her lofty spirit lost,
82 They sought, oh Albion! next thy sea-encircled coast.
III. 1.
83 Far from the sun and summer-gale,
84 In thy green lap was Nature's darling
[*] [Nature's Darling] Shakespear.
85 What time, where lucid Avon strayed,
86 To him the mighty Mother did unveil
87 Her awful face: the dauntless child
88 Stretched forth his little arms and smiled.
89 'This pencil take,' (she said) 'whose colours clear
90 Richly paint the vernal year:
91 Thine too these golden keys, immortal boy!
92 This can unlock the gates of joy;
93 Of horror that, and thrilling fears,
94 Or ope the sacred source of sympathetic tears.'
III. 2.
95 Nor second he,
[*] [He] Milton.
that rode sublime
96 Upon the seraph-wings of Ecstasy,
97 The secrets of the abyss to spy.
98 He passed the flaming bounds of place and time:
[*] '' flammantia moenia mundi.'' [ the flaming ramparts of the world].Lucretius. [De Rerum Natura, i. 74]
99 The living throne, the sapphire-blaze,
[*] For the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels - And above the firmament, that was over their heads, was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a saphire-stone. - This was the appearance [of the likeness] of the glory of the Lord. Ezekiel i. 20, 26, 28.
100 Where angels tremble while they gaze,
101 He saw; but blasted with excess of light,
102 Closed his eyes in endless night.
[Greek line (omitted)] [(the Muse) took away (his) eyes, but she gave (him the gift of) sweet song].
Homer. Od [yssey, viii. 64].
103 Behold, where Dryden's less presumptuous car,
104 Wide o'er the fields of glory bear
105 Two coursers of ethereal race,
[*] Meant to express the stately march and sounding energy of Dryden's rhimes.
106 With necks in thunder clothed, and long-resounding pace.
Hast thou cloathed his neck with thunder?
Job. [xxxix. 19]
III. 3.
107 Hark, his hands the lyre explore!
108 Bright-eyed Fancy hovering o'er
109 Scatters from her pictured urn
110 Thoughts that breathe, and words that burn.
Words, that weep, and tears, that speak.
Cowley. [ "The Prophet" in The Mistress, line 20]
111 But ah! 'tis heard no more
[*] We have had in our language no other odes of the sublime kind, than that of Dryden on St. Cecilia's day: for Cowley (who had his merit) yet wanted judgment, style, and harmony, for such a task. That of Pope is not worthy of so great a man. Mr. Mason indeed of late days has touched the true chords, and with a masterly hand, in some of his Choruses, - above all in the last of Caractacus,
Hark! heard ye not yon footstep dread? &c.
112 Oh! lyre divine, what daring spirit
113 Wakes thee now? Though he inherit
114 Nor the pride, nor ample pinion,
115 That the Theban eagle bear
[Greek line (omitted)] [against the god-like bird of Zeus].
[Pindar] Olymp. 2. [88]Pindar compares himself to that bird, and his enemies to ravens that croak and clamour in vain below, while it pursues its flight, regardless of their noise.
116 Sailing with supreme dominion
117 Through the azure deep of air:
118 Yet oft before his infant eyes would run
119 Such forms, as glitter in the Muse's ray
120 With orient hues, unborrowed of the sun:
121 Yet shall he mount, and keep his distant way
122 Beyond the limits of a vulgar fate,
123 Beneath the Good how far but far above the Great.


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About this text

Title (in Source Edition): The Progress of Poesy. A Pindaric Ode
Author: Thomas Gray
Themes: poetry; literature; writing
Genres: ode

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Thomas Gray: English poems. Web. Oxford: Thomas Gray Archive, 2002, p. .

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