The Augustan

A commonplace but mistaken assumption sets the eighteenth-century ode and Augustan satirical poetry at odds with one another. Several Augustan parodies are at least partly responsible for this assumption, perhaps most notoriously Peri Bathous, or The Art of Sinking in Poetry, a parody of Longinus published by Alexander Pope and his fellow Scriblerians in 1728. Elsewhere, for instance in his Essay on Criticism (1711), Pope praises Longinus as a model critic (see ll. 675-80). Pope himself wrote a St. Cecilia's Day ode in 1708, entitled "Ode for Musick, on St. Cecilia's Day." Swift's endeavors with the ode were more prolonged; early in his career he wrote a series of lengthy Pindarics celebrating such subjects as his patron Sir William Temple, King William, and William Congreve. But the most interesting convergences between Augustan poetry and the ode have less to do with the handful of odes written by satirists than with shared poetic values and techniques. Margaret Doody points out that the ode satisfied the "Augustan wish for unconstricted versing, formless form" (Doody 1985: 250). The couplet — the verse form that dominated the early decades of the eighteenth century - managed, when well handled, to capture the lively rhythms of speech and an incredibly wide range of sentiments and utterances within its seemingly orderly container. Likewise, the ode challenged a poet to experiment and to address diverse and sometimes unlikely or unruly concerns within an intricate pattern.

Anne Finch used the Pindaric ode in innovative ways to explore such subjects as the hurricane that struck Britain in 1703 and her own bouts of melancholy. In "Upon the Hurricane" (1713) she applies Pindaric reverence and seriousness to an awesomely destructive natural event:

You num'rous Brethren of the Leafy Kind, To whatsoever Use design'd, Now, vain you found it to contend With not, alas! one Element your Friend; Your Mother Earth, thro' long preceding Rains, (Which undermining sink below) No more her wonted Strength retains; Nor you so fix'd within her Bosom grow, That for your sakes she can resolve to bear These furious Shocks of hurrying Air.

Finch shares with her contemporaries an impulse to examine both the intricate literal details of this event — the process by which storms uproot trees, for instance — and its larger social, political, and moral meaning. Her ranging eye perceives both the close-ups and the panorama of this scene, and in that sense she marks her Pindaric as an Augustan poem. "The Spleen" (1701), another Pindaric ode, scrutinizes "the spleen" — the eighteenth century's name for melancholy or depression — as a cultural phenomenon but also illustrates its painful personal effects: "I feel my Verse decay, and my crampt Numbers fail. / Through thy black Jaundies I all Objects see, / As dark and terrible as thee" (ll. 76—8). Margaret Doody is again helpful in articulating how the Augustan ode navigates between literal particulars and grander transformations: "it is almost the most journalistic of poetic forms in its turning to the topical, but it seeks to give large archetypal meaning to the history it discusses" (Doody 1985: 255). She argues that the Augustan ode, like the couplet, works by juxtaposing contrasting ideas, sounds, tones, voices, and languages, and then requiring an active reader to work these juxtapositions against one another.

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