Abraham Cowley

(1618 – 28 July 1667 / London)

The Praise of Pindar in Imitation of Horace His Second Ode, Book 4


Pindarum quisquis studet oemulari, &c.


I.
Pindar is imitable by none;
The phoenix Pindar is a vast species alone.
Whoe'er but Daedalus with waxen wings could fly
And neither sink too low nor soar too high?
What could he who followed claim
But of vain boldness the unhappy fame,
And by his fall a sea to name?
Pindar's unnavigable song,
Like a swollen flood from some steep mountain, pours along;
The ocean meets with such a voice
From his enlarged mouth as drowns the ocean's noise.

II.
So Pindar does new words and figures roll
Down his impetuous dithyrambic tide,
Which in no channel deigns to abide,
Which neither banks nor dikes control.
Whether the immortal gods he sings
In a no less immortal strain,
Or the great acts of god-descended kings,
Who in his numbers still survive and reign,
Each rich embroidered line,
Which their triumphant brows around
By his sacred hand is bound,
Does all their starry diadems outshine.

III.
Whether at Pisa's race he please
To carve in polished verse the conquerors' images,
Whether the swift, the skillful, or the strong
Be crowned in his nimble, artful, vigorous song,
Whether some brave young man's untimely fate
In words worth dying for he celebrate,
Such mournful and such pleasing words
As joy to his mother's and his mistress' grief affords,
He bids him live and grow in fame;
Among the stars he sticks his name;
The grave can but the dross of him devour,
So small is death's, so great the poet's power.

Lo, how the obsequious wind and swelling air
The Theban swan does upwards bear
Into the walks of clouds, where he does play,
And with extended wings opens his liquid way,
Whilst, alas, my timorous Muse
Unambitious tracks pursues;
Does, with weak, unballast wings,
About the mossy brooks and springs,
About the trees' new-blossomed heads,
About the gardens' painted beds,
About the fields and flowery meads,
And all inferior beauteous things,
Like the laborious bee,
For little drops of honey flee,
And there with humble sweets contents her industry.

Submitted: Monday, April 19, 2010

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