Margaret M Koehler

A useful illustration of the two broad phases of the ode as a Restoration and eighteenth-century poetic form arises by comparing two odes that call for calm: William Congreve's "Upon a Lady's Singing. Pindarick Ode" (1692) and Joseph Warton's "To Solitude" (1746). Congreve's ode is occasioned by an external event, an arresting vocal performance. Warton, on the other hand, is not moved by a particular event but rather summons an internal state of mind by imagining an unreal scene, detached from distinct time — "at deep dead of night" — and secluded in space — "by the dusky nooks, / And the pensive-falling brooks" (ll. 15—16). Both poets explore their subjects through personification, a literary device increasingly associated with the ode by the middle of the eighteenth century. Interestingly, Congreve's singing lady and his personification of Silence are separate (and aurally opposite), while Warton's personification of Solitude is the addressee and central subject of his ode. Congreve's personified Silence is isolated in a single stanza, one of a broad company of human, heavenly, and allegorical agencies in the poem:

And lo! Silence himself is here; Methinks I see the Midnight God appear, In all his downy Pomp aray'd,

Behold the rev'rend Shade: An ancient Sigh he sits upon, Whose Memory of Sound is long since gone, And purposely annihilated for his Throne: Beneath, two soft transparent Clouds do meet, In which he seems to sink his softer Feet. A melancholy Thought, condens'd to Air,

Stol'n from a Lover in Despair, Like a thin Mantle, serves to wrap In Fluid Folds his visionary Shape.

A Wreath of Darkness round his Head he wears, Where curling Mists supply the Want of Hairs.

Although the apparition of Silence retains a haze of mystery, Congreve details its self-contained components meticulously: a sigh for a throne, a melancholy thought for a mantle, curling mists for hairs. Just as silence is a physical state, Silence is a physically articulated personification. The speaker of the poem does not address Silence or absorb any aspects of the personification; when he finishes the description, Silence disappears to be replaced by "Exstasy of Sound."

Warton, by contrast, addresses Solitude — notably a female personification — and identifies himself as her votary:

Musing maid, to thee I come, Hating the tradeful city's hum; O let me calmly dwell with thee, From noisy mirth and bus'ness free.

Solitude is thus set against noise and bustle; no singing would be welcome. Solitude is physically embodied, in "robes of flowing black array'd"; importantly, she is abstracted from a dark, secluded scene, of which the poet and the reader can become a part. Warton's desire to "dwell with" Solitude foregrounds his identification with the personified state in a way that Congreve does not imagine. Congreve aspires to perfect silence as he listens to the singing, but he wishes to remain a passive though intent viewer:

Stir not a Pulse, and let my Blood, That turbulent, unruly Flood,

Be softly staid: Let me be all, but my attention, dead.

That wish of Congreve's captures how the Restoration ode moves to more intense vision by exalting a compelling external subject — in this case, even the power of another artist beside the poet. This earlier ode aspires to a sacred attention to gain access to poetic power. Warton's later ode aspires not to a suspension of all powers except awareness, but instead to poetic vision gained by the power of the poet's imagination. While Congreve's Silence clears the way for a powerful subject — the lady's singing — Warton's Solitude requires the departure of any subject except the poet and the personified power. For Congreve, calm emerges though an erasure of self before a powerful scene (and sound); for Warton, calm arises when the self can enter that powerful scene and be transformed by the self s own imaginative powers. The two odes, written fifty-four years apart, reveal several of the form's central concerns, notably negotiation of an encounter with some powerful subject and claims to poetic power through movement from an ordinary realm to a sacred realm.

The ode makes an excellent exemplary case among eighteenth-century poetic forms because it embodies tension between a particular poetic kind traceable to the ancients and the eighteenth century's transformation of that kind to suit new directions in poetry. Ancient Greek poets invented the form, ancient Roman poets used it, and British (as well as other European) poets revived it during the Renaissance. The ode attracted eighteenth-century British poets for various and evolving reasons. As inherited from the classical and Renaissance past, the ode was a poem of address honoring some public occasion in a lofty style. The form suited the Restoration and early eighteenth-century propensity for public poetry celebrating political events and heroes. In the hierarchy of poetic genres inherited from the ancients, the ode held a middle position, below epic and tragedy but above comedy, satire, and lesser lyrics. It thus also answered the eighteenth-century desire to write poetry within a pre-existing set of genre categories. But the ode also carried with it a less orderly expectation. Ancient odes had also been used to express wild enthusiasm and poetic inspiration. The form offered eighteenth-century poets what James Sutherland has called "a holiday from the Rules." Poetic genres like the ode did not simply dictate what a poet would produce but allocated places for a wide range of poetic expression and effect. In the terrain of the ode, a poet had license to undergo passionate transport and to move beyond the everyday to some extravagant exaltation of a powerful subject. It was this capacity of the ode that attracted eighteenth-century poets most strongly and that was best able to absorb the new directions poetry took during the period. To trace the distinct phases of the ode during the Restoration and eighteenth century is to discern the period's evolving conception of lyric poetry.

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