1 Daigal

Pindar S Odes Analysis Essay

His style

Pindar was classed by the ancient rhetoricians as an exemplar of the αὐστηρὰἁρμονία, as belonging to the same class with Aischylos in tragedy, with Thukydides in history, Antiphon in oratory.1 This classification is based on grounds which do not all justify themselves at once to the modern reader, although they have their warrant in the formal system of rhetoric, with its close analysis of figures of speech and figures of thought, its minute study of the artistic effect of the sequence of sounds. But “downright,” “unstudied,” are hardly adjectives that we should apply to Pindar without much modification.2 The famous characteristic of Horace --


Od. 4, 2:

-- emphasizes the opulence of Pindar, the wealth and movement of his poetry. But in many respects Pindar does not in the least resemble a mountain-torrent, and if we accept the views of those who systematize his course of thought into the minutest channels, we should sooner think of comparing the Pindaric poems with the σεμνοὶὀχετοί of the Hipparis (O. 5.12), than with the headlong course of the Aufidus, which Horace evidently has in mind. Pindar's peculiar accumulation of paratactic sentences, clause following clause with reinforcing weight, may indeed be compared with the ever-increasing volume of the mountain-stream as it is fed from hillside and gorge, and there are many passages in which the current runs strong and fast, and needs the large utterance of the profundumos, but the other figure of the Dirkaian swan rising above the din of the torrent of poetry, his wings filled with the strong inspiration of the Muse,3 yet serene and majestic in his flight, is not to be forgotten. Quintilian (10, 1, 61) echoes Horace, as usual: “NovemlyricorumlongePindarusprincepsspiritusmagnificentia, sententiis, figuris, beatissimarerumverborumquecopia.” Let us now turn from the characteristics of Pindar, as given by others, to the poet himself. We have not to do with the naïve. Pindar is profoundly self-conscious, and his witness concerning himself is true. He distinctly claims for himself elevation, opulence, force, cunning workmanship, vigorous execution. In what seems to moderns almost unlovely self-assertion, he vindicates his rank as a poet just as he would vindicate his rank as an aristocrat. He is an eagle, his rivals are ravens and daws (O. 2.96; N. 3.82). Bellerophon shooting his arrows from the lone bosom of the chill ether (O. 13.87) is a prefigurement of his poetic exaltation, his power, his directness, and so he never wearies of calling his songs arrows or darts (O. 1.112; 2, 91. 99; 9, 5. 12; 13, 93; P. 1.12. 44; 6, 37), which sometimes fall in a hurtling shower; but sometimes a single arrow hits the mark, sometimes a strong bolt is kept in reserve by the Muse, for Pindar, as an aristocrat, is a man of reserves. Of the richness of his workmanship none is better aware than he. The work of the poet is a Daedalian work, and the sinuous folds are wrought with rare skill (O. 1.105), the art of art is selection and adornment, the production of a rich and compassed surface (P. 9.83). The splendor of the Goddesses of Triumphal Song irradiates him (P. 9.97), and he is a leader in the skill of poesy, which to him is by eminence wisdom (σοφία),4 wisdom in the art of the theme, and in the art of the treatment. Now how far does Pindar's account of himself correspond to the actual impression? What is the immediate effect of the detailed work of his poems, that detailed work by which he is at first more comprehensible? The detail of Pindar's odes produces, from the very outset of the study, an irresistible effect of opulence and elevation. Opulence is wealth that makes itself felt, that suggests, almost insultingly, a contrast, and that contrast is indigence. It is one half of an aristocrat, elevation being the other, so that in art as in thought, as in politics, as in religion, Pindar is true to his birth and to his order. This opulence, this abundance of resource, shows itself in strength and in splendor, for πλοῦτος is μεγάνωρ, πλοῦτος is εὐρυσθενής. The word splendor and all its synonyms seem to be made for Pindar. He drains dry the Greek vocabulary of words for light and bright, shine and shimmer, glitter and glister, ray and radiance, flame and flare and flash, gleam and glow, burn and blaze. The first Olympian begins with wealth and strength, with flaming fire of gold, and the shining star of the sun. The fame of Hieron is resplendent, and the shoulder of Pelops gleams. No light like the light of the eye, thought the Greek, and the ancestors of Theron were the eye of Sicily, and Adrastos longs for the missing eye of his army. So the midmonth moon in her golden chariot flashed full the eye of evening into the face of Herakles. Wealth is not enough. It must be picked out, set off. It is not the uniform stare of a metallic surface, it must be adorned with the tracery that heightens the value of the background. Pindar delights in elaboration. His epinikion itself, as we have seen, combines the two moral elements of the games πόνοςδαπάνατε. His lyre has a various range of notes, his quiver is full of arrows, and at times such is the shower of notes, such the rain of arrows, such the sparkle and flash and flame of the lights, such the sweet din and rumble and roar of the music of earth and the music of heaven, that the poet himself, overcome by the resources of his own art, confesses his defeat, and by one strong impulse of his light feet, swims out of the deluge of glory with which he has flooded the world of song.5 It requires strength to carry this opulence of splendor, but Pindar's opulence is the opulence of strength as well. He does not carve his bow with curious figures so deeply cut that at the drawing of the string the weapon snaps. His is not a sleepy but a vivid opulence, not a lazy but a swift opulence. Everything lives in his poems, everything is personified. Look at the magical way in which he lights up this great lamp of the architecture of his Odeon in the first Pythian. “O Golden Lyre, joint heirloom of Apollo and the Muses violet-tressed, thou for whom the step, the dancer's step, listeneth.” “Obeyeth” seems too faint. We see the foot poised, tremulously listening for the notes of the phorminx, as if it had a hearing of its own. A few verses further down, “snowy Aitna, nursing the livelong year the biting snow,” not “her snow,” as it has been rendered. It is not hers. It has come down to her from Heaven. It is the child of Zeus, and only rests on her cold bosom, the pillar of the sky. Yet again the couch on which the fettered giant lies goads him and galls him, as if it too had a spite against him, as well as the weight of continent and island that pinches his hairy breast. And so it is everywhere; and while this vividness in some instances is faint to us, because our language uses the same personifications familiarly, we must remember that to the Greek they were new, or, at all events, had not entirely lost their saliency by frequent attrition. Swiftness is a manifestation of strength, and Pindar is swift and a lover of swiftness, to judge by his imagery. Swiftness we readily recognize in plan, in narrative. In detail work it goes by another name, concentration — the gathering of energy to a point, a summing up of vitality in a word. It is the certainty with which Pindar comes down on his object that gives so much animation, so much strength, so much swiftness to his style. A word, an epithet, and the picture is there, drawn with a stroke. In the second Olympian he is telling of the blessedness of the souls that have overcome. When he comes to the damned, he calls them simply “those.” “The others bear anguish too great for eye to look at.” Nonragioniamdilor. In the same wonderful second Olympian he says, “Liveth among the Olympians she that was slain by the rumble of the thunder, longhaired Semele.” Semele died not “amid,” but “by” the roar. “Killed with report.” The roar was enough to destroy that gentle life, and the untranslatable τανυέθειρα gives at once the crown of her womanhood, the crown of her beauty, the crown of her suffering. Semele lives again as she appeared to Zeus, when he visited her with immortal terrors. The aristocrat must be rich, must be strong. A man may be both and yet be vulgar, for there is a vulgar beauty, a vulgar genius. The second characteristic of Pindar is elevation. This word is preferred to sublimity, because sublimity is absolute, and is incompatible with the handling of any but the highest themes. Elevation is relative. You may treat a thing loftily without treating it sublimely. Pindar is not always in the altitudes, though he loves “the lone bosom of the cold ether,” and the fruits that grow on the topmost branches of the tree of virtue, nearest the sun, and the lofty paths along which the victors of Olympia walk. He is not lacking in sportiveness, but whatever he treats, he treats with the reserve of a gentleman, a term which is no anachronism when applied to him. Hence his exquisite purity. “Secret are wise Suasion's keys unto Love's sanctities” he sings himself, and amid the palpitating beauties of Greek mythology he never forgets the lesson that he puts in the mouth of the Centaur (P. 9.42). The opulence, strength, swiftness, elevation, of Pindar's art reveal themselves in varying proportions in the various odes. Noteworthy for its opulence is the seventh Olympian, for Diagoras of Rhodes, the famous boxer, which the Rhodians copied in letters of gold, and dedicated in the temple of Athena at Lindos. What stately magnificence in the famous forefront of the sixth Olympian, in which he sets up the golden pillars of his porch of song. What vividness in his immortal description of the power of music in the first Pythian. Gray's imitation is well known: “ Perching on the sceptred hand
Of Jove, thy magic lulls the feather'd king
With ruffled plumes and flagging wing:
Quench'd in dark clouds of slumber lie,
The terror of his beak, and lightnings of his eye.
” Matthew Arnold's is not unfamiliar: “ And the eagle at the beck
Of the appeasing, gracious harmony
Droops all his sheeny, brown, deep-feather'd neck,
Nestling nearer to Jove's feet,
While o'er his sovereign eye
The curtains of the blue films slowly meet.
” But to begin to cite is never to stop. Of the various elements that go to make up this total impression of opulence and elevation, some will be considered hereafter. Something will be said of the effect of the rhythms, something of the opalescent variety of the dialect, of the high relief of the syntax, of the cunning workmanship that manifests itself in the order of the words. Let us now turn to a closer consideration of that which first attracts attention in an author, the vocabulary. Much might be said of the vocabulary, with its noble compounds,6 whether taken from the epic thesaurus, and so consecrated by the mint-mark of a religious past, or created with fresh vitality by the poet himself. In the paucity of the remains of the lyric poets, we cannot always be certain that such and such a word is Pindar's own, but that he was an audacious builder of new words7 is manifest from the fragments of his dithyrambs. Some of the most magnificent are put in the openings of the odes, as O. 2.1: “ἀναξιφόρμιγγεςὕμνοι” O. 3.4: “νεοσίγαλοντρόπον.” O. 8.3: “ἀργικεραύνου.” O. 13.1: “τρισολυμπιονίκαν” . P. 1.1: “ἰοπλοκάμων.” . P. 2, 1: “μεγαλοπόλιες . . . βαθυπολέμου” . P. 8.2: “μεγιστόπολι.” P. 10, 3: “ἀριστομάχου.” P. 11, 3: “ἀριστογόνῳ” . The epithets applied to the gods match the splendor of their position. Zeus is “αἰολοβρόντας” (O. 9. 45) , “ὀρσίκτυπος” (O. 10 [11], 89) , “ὀρσινεφής” (N. 5.31) , “ἐγχεικέραυνος” (O. 13.77) , “φοινικοστερόπας” (O. 9.6) . Poseidon is invoked as “δέσποταποντόμεδον” (O. 6.103) , is called “βαρύκτυποςΕὐτρίαινα” (O. 1.73) . Helios is “φαυσίμβροτοςὙπεριονίδας” (O. 7.39) , and Amphitrite is “χρυσαλάκατος” (O. 6.104) , and Athena “ἐγχειβρόμοςκόρα” (O. 7.43) . And so the whole world of things, animate and inanimate, is endued with life, or quickened to a higher vitality, by Pindar's compounds. The cry is “ἁδύγλωσσος” (O. 13.100) , the lyre “ἁδυεπής” (O. 10 [11], 103) . Lions acquire something of a human ostentation by “βαρύκομποι” (P. 5.57) . The majestic chambers of Zeus are “μεγαλοκευθεῖς” (P. 2.33) , and hide awful shapes of doom to punish the intruder. “ὀπιθόμβροτοναὔχημα” (P. 1.92) resounds as if the words of themselves echoed down the corridors of Time. There are no ῥήματαγομφοπαγῆ, the rivets are hidden. We have festal splendor here also, not fateful sublimity. The effect of living splendor, produced by Pindar's compounds, is not confined to the compounds. Even the most familiar words are roused to new life by the revival of the pristine meaning. It is a canon of Pindaric interpretation that the sharp, local sense of the preposition is everywhere to be preferred, and every substantive may be made to carry its full measure of concreteness. This is distinctly not survival, but revival. We are not to suppose that κρατήρ (O. 6.91) was felt by the Greek of Pindar's time as a male agent, or ἀκόνα (O. 6.82) as a shrill-voiced woman.8 Whatever personification lay in the word was dead to the Greek of that time. Pindar revived the original meaning, and the γλυκὺςκρατήρ is a living creature. In fact it is hardly possible to go wrong in pressing Pindar's vocabulary until the blood comes. It is true that in many of the long compounds the sensuous delight in the sound is the main thing, and yet even there we find φιλησίμολπε (O. 14.14) and ἐρασίμολπε (O. 14.16) used side by side, in such a way that we cannot refuse to consider how the poet meant them, just as in the same poem (v. 5) he combines the transient pleasure of τὰτερπνά with the abiding joy of τὰγλυκέα.9 In the fine feeling of language few poets can vie with Pindar; and though he is no pedantic synonym-monger, like a true artist he delights in the play of his own work. There is danger of over-subtilty in the study of antique style; but Pindar is a jeweller, his material gold and ivory, and his chryselephantine work challenges the scrutiny of the microscope, invites the study that wearies not day or night in exploring the recesses in which the artist has held his art sequestered — invites the study and rewards it. Pindar himself has made φωνάεντασυνετοῖσιν (O. 2.93) a common saying; Pindar himself speaks of his art as ἀκοὰσοφοῖς (P. 9.84); his call across the centuries is to the lovers of art as art. There is an aristocratic disdain in his nature that yields only to kindred spirits or to faithful service. The formal leisurely comparison Pindar seldom employs, though he uses it with special effect in the stately openings of two of his odes, O. 6 and O. 7. In O. 12 the comparison takes the place of the myth, and others are found here and there. But instead of “as” he prefers the implied comparison, which is conveyed by parallel structure such as we find in the beginning of O. 1, of O. 10 (11). In the metaphor, with its bold identification of object and image, Pindar abounds as few poets abound. Every realm of nature, every sphere of human life, is laid under contribution. The sea is his with its tossing waves (O. 12.6) and its shifting currents (O. 2.37). The ruler is a helmsman, whether a prince (P. 1.86; 4, 274), an order (P. 10.72), Tyche (O. 12.3), or the mind of Zeus himself (P. 5.122). To be liberal is to let the sail belly to the wind (P. 1.91). His song is a flood that sweeps away the pebble counters of a long arrear of debt (O. 10 [11], 11). Rebellious insolence is scuttled as a ship is scuttled (P. 8.11); a favoring breeze prospers the course of song (P. 4.3). An eagle, as he calls himself, he loves to dwell in the air (O. 2.97; N. 3.80), to wing his song (P. 8.34). An archer, like his master Apollo, he delights to stretch his bow, to speed his dart (O. 1.97; 2, 91. 99; 9, 5. 12; 13, 93; P. 1.12. 44; 6, 37). Of light and flame, as has been said already, he is never weary. Wealth is a bright and shining star (O. 2.58); fame shines forth (O. 1.23), fame looks from afar (O. 1.94); joy is a light that lights up life (O. 10 [11], 25); his songs in their passionate dance blaze over the dear city of the Opuntians (O. 9.22); the feet of the victor are not beautiful merely, they are radiant (O. 13.36). The games themselves furnish welcome figures — the chariot-race, reserved for grand occasions (O. 6.22; 9, 87; P. 10.65), the hurling of the dart, the wrestling-match (O. 8.25; P. 2.61). Nor does he disdain the homely range of fable and proverb and every-day life.10 The bee, it is true (P. 4.60), was a consecrated emblem before his time; the cow, for a woman (P. 4.142), is as old as Samson. The cock (O. 12.14) was to the Greek the Persian bird, and more poetic than he is to us, even as Chanticleer;11 but the fox figures in Pindar, not only as known in higher speech (O. 11 [10], 20; I. 3 [4], 65), but by the fabulistic nickname κερδώ (P. 2.48). He is not shy of trade and commerce, ledger (O. 11 [10], 2) and contract (O. 12.7). Dante has, in his Inferno, the figure of an old tailor threading his needle; Pindar is not afraid of a metaphor from adjusting clothes (P. 3.83). Aischylos speaks of the net of Ate; the figure is grand, but Aischylos sees poetry in the cork as well (Choëph. 506), and so does Pindar (P. 2.80). A glance at the list of the figures used even in the Olympians and Pythians12 is sufficient to show that life is not sacrificed to elevation. A word as to mixed metaphor in Pindar. No charge more common than this against him, as against Shakespeare; and a rhetorician of the ordinary stamp will doubtless consider the offence as a crime of the first magnitude. The number of metaphors properly called mixed is not so large in Pindar as is supposed;13 nor, in any case, are we to count as mixed metaphor a rapid shifting of metaphors. This is to be expected in the swift movement of Pindar's genius. The disjointedness of Emerson's style has been ingeniously defended on the ground that each sentence is a chapter. And so Pindar's metaphors are slides that come out in such quick succession that the figures seem to blend because the untrained eye cannot follow the rapid movement of the artist. A notorious passage occurs in the first Pythian (v. 86 foll.), in which Pindar touches in quick succession various strings. “Let not fair chances slip. Guide thy host with a just helm. Forge thy tongue on an unlying anvil. If it so chance that ought of import light escapes thee, it becomes of magnitude in that it comes from thee. Of many things thou art steward. Many witnesses are there to deeds of both kinds,” and so on, with a shift in every sentence. In such passages the absence of conjunctions is sufficient to show that no connection was aimed at, and it is the fault of the reader if he chooses to complain of an incongruous blending of things that are left apart. The next point to be considered is the plan of the epinikion. Original genius or not, Pindar was under the domination of the tradition of his department, and the fragments of Simonides are enough to show that there was a general method of handling the theme common to all the poets. The epinikion is, as we have seen, an occasional poem. The problem is to raise it out of this position, as a mere temporary adornment of the victory, to a creation of abiding worth. The general method must have been reached before Pindar's time; it is his success in execution that has to be considered here. The epinikion has for its basis the fact and the individual; but it rises through the real to the ideal, through the individual to the universal. The light that shines about the victor's head brightens into the light of eternity; the leaf of olive or of laurel becomes a wreath of amaranth. Sheer realism had no place in high Greek art. The statues of the victors in Olympia were not portrait statues. When the victor had overcome three times, then, it is true, he might set up a portrait statue, but three victories of themselves would idealize. The transfiguration which we expect of heaven the Greek sought in art. So the victor and the victory are not described at length. True, the poet sometimes labored under the frightful disadvantage of a commission that dictated an enumeration of all the prizes gained by a certain family. How gracefully, how lightly, he acquitted himself of the task may be seen in O. 7, in O. 13. But apart from such special restrictions — under which everything spiritual and artistic must groan, being burdened, in this travailing world — the poet was free to conceive his subject ideally. The special occasion secured interest and sympathy in advance, gave him the broad earth from which to rise; and not the proudest eagle that ever soared, if once on the earth, can rise without running, though it be but for a little distance, along its black surface: and the epinikion started on the earth. Now change the figure after the Pindaric fashion to the temple — Pindar himself has suggested the comparison (O. 6.1) — some fair Greek temple, repeating the proportions of the clear-cut mountains of Greece just as the Gothic cathedral repeats the forests of Germany; some temple standing on the large level of an acropolis, standing against the sky. The façade of the work is to be illuminated, but not so as to throw a garish light on every detail. Only the salient points are to be brought out, only the characteristic outline, so that as it comes out against the dark sky you seem to have one constellation more. Nay, the new constellation is strangely blended with the old groups of stars, and we cannot tell which is mythic past, which illuminated present. The sources of the myth have already been indicated. The selection is often suggested by external relations. Now it is the victor's family that furnishes the story, now the victor's home, now the scene of the contest and the presiding god or hero. Sometimes the selection is due to internal motives, and the myth is a model, a parallel, or a prophecy — perhaps all three. This, then, is the function of the myth in the epinikion, the idealization of the present, the transfiguration of the real. This was an artistic necessity for the Greek, and it was in some sort an historical necessity. It reconciled epic and lyric. It gave a new value to epic themes by using them as parallels for the present, while the drama took the last step and made the past the present. Pindar does not jumble his materials in admired disorder, nor does he sort them after the approved scientific fashion, with subdivision after subdivision, to the exhaustion of all the letters of the alphabet, Roman, italic, Greek, and Hebrew. Analysis does not show the way in which the poem was woven. The fruitful study of Pindar lies through synthesis, not through analysis, and in the introductions to the several odes an effort has been made to show how the meaning of the whole reveals itself to him who simply follows the poet's guidance. What is dignified by the name of an analysis is often nothing more than a table of contents, a catalogue, the very form of which disguises the lack of connection. Logical disposition will not avail much. Pindar is poetical, not logical. But symmetry there must be, for it is impossible for any one that studies Greek literary art not to count on symmetry. The tendency to balance, to parallelism, is universal. In Greek the tendency is a law. It is needless to enlarge on this. The law of correspondence — measure answering to measure — is fundamental, and has been applied to every sphere of Greek art — pictorial, plastic, literary — not without overstraining, yet not without great profit. In music as in architecture it is unquestioned. Even frivolous Offenbach has said: “Music is an algebra.” Poetry, like music, is made up of equations. In Pindar the symmetry of form is evident. The odes are composed either of corresponding strophes or of corresponding triads (strophe, antistrophe, and epode). But this is not enough. There must be within each strophe, each epode, another balance, another correspondence, another symmetry. Westphal first distinctly postulated this correspondence, and opened the way for the establishment of it; but the bold and brilliant originator wearied of his own work, renounced his own principles. J. H. Heinrich Schmidt began his metrical and rhythmical studies as a worker on the lines laid down by Westphal, although he differs from his forerunner at every turn; and Moriz Schmidt,14 well known as a Pindaric scholar, far from being satisfied with the results of his predecessors, has recently set up his schemes in opposition to Westphal's and J. H. H. Schmidt's. A sample of the divergencies may be given. In the epode of O. 6 Rossbach-Westphal saw three mesodic periods with an epodikon:
I. 3.2.3II. 442.44III. epod.
J. H. H. Schmidt marks five, according to his MS. revision, thus:
I. 323II. 424III. 44.43 ἐπ.IV. 33.33V. 44
Moriz Schmidt (p. 71) pronounces both wrong, and constructs a different scheme:
A 6446=20.B 4444=16.A' 66 44=20
It will be observed that the number of bars in Rossbach-Westphal and in J. H. H. Schmidt is the same. In Moriz Schmidt, owing to the greater range he allows himself in the use of τονή and pause — the power of prolonging and the power of resting — the number is slightly increased. He has fifty-six against fifty-three. But the other differences are graver. Still, whether we accept the short periods or the long, the recognition of some principle of symmetry cannot be withheld. These choral structures were made not only to balance each other, but also to balance themselves. So much for symmetry of form. Is there any corresponding symmetry of contents? We find it elsewhere in Greek poetry. We find response of antistrophe to strophe in the drama, not only in form, but to a certain degree in sense. Are we to renounce this in Pindar? Does the development of the ode go its own way regardless of the form? This has been practically the conclusion of the editors of Pindar from Erasmus Schmid, with his formidable rhetorical analysis of the odes, down to Mezger, with his reinforcement of the Terpandrian νόμος. This Terpandrian νόμος, mentioned in Pollux 4, 66, and touched on by Böckh,15contains seven parts: ἐπαρχά, μεταρχά, κατατροπά, μετακατατροπά, ὀμφαλός, σφραγίς, ἐπίλογος. ἐπαρχά Westphal identified with the old-fashioned προοίμιον, μεταρχά he changed into ἀρχά, ἐπίλογος being the same as ἐξόδιον, and he applied the Terpandrian scheme in this form to the odes of Pindar as well as to the choruses of Aischylos.16 In the same year Moriz Schmidt published his translation of the Olympian odes divided into the members of the Terpandrian νόμος,17 and in Mezger's commentary on Pindar (1880) much space has been given to the advocacy of the scheme.18 Pindar, says Mezger in substance, composed his poems for oral delivery, and consequently wished to be understood at once. But even to his contemporaries, in spite of all their advantages, the immediate comprehension of his poems would have been impossible if they had not had some outside help. Of these extraneous aids, three, melody, musical accompaniment, and dance, are lost for us irrecoverably. But there was a tradition, a fixed norm for such compositions, a τεθμός from which the epinikion must not vary, a τεθμός not only for the contents, but also for the form. To be sure, the old interpreters in their blindness knew nothing of this; but Böckh and Dissen observed certain laws of structure, certain recurrences, certain symmetrical responses. Thiersch proved the triple division προκώμιον, μέσοντοῦᾁσματος, ἐπικώμιον: but it was reserved for Westphal to set forth and establish the proposition that Aischylos, in the composition of his choruses, and Pindar, in that of his epinikia, followed the νόμος of Terpander with its sevenfold division. This Mezger considers Westphal to have made evident for all the forty-four odes except eight, at least so far as the three principal parts are concerned; and these principal parts are — beginning, middle, and end. But the establishment of these principal parts does not carry us beyond Thiersch. What we want is the normal number seven,19 as, Westphal himself seems to feel that the lover of Pindar will rebel against the thought that the great poet wrought according to a mere mechanical formula; but the Pindaric scholars that have followed Westphal seem to have no such scruples. The mystic and Delphic ὀμφαλός exercises on them a special fascination that reminds one of the days of the ὀμφαλόψυχοι,20 and there is an undeniable charm about the scheme. The three certain parts are beginning, middle, and end, and for these we have the high authority of Aristotle (Poet. c. 7). The seven normal parts remind one of the seven parts of the comic parabasis, and as the seven parts of the parabasis are seldom found in their completeness, so the Terpandrian νόμος seldom has its full number. The name ὀμφαλός is not only mystic and Delphic, it has indirectly a Platonic warrant. Plato demands of every λόγος that it shall be a ζῷον, that it shall lack neither head nor foot,21 and if neither head nor foot, why should it lack the central navel? The ὀμφαλός, then, is the organic centre of the poem, and contains a myth. True, “there is no myth in the ὀμφαλός of P. 1 and 9, N. 1 and 10, I. 2 and 6,” but the rule is not rigid22 at any rate, and we must be satisfied with an approximation. As a rule, then, the ὀμφαλός contains a myth, while the beginning (ἀρχά) and the close (σφραγίς) contain the praises of the victor and his house. Then there are transitions between the ἀρχά and the ὀμφαλός, just as in oratory the προκατάστασις prepares the way for the διήγησις: there are transitions between the ὀμφαλός and the σφραγίς. But in this way Terpandrian compositions might be made out of Demosthenes' Philippics, and it is hard to see what has been gained except two or three quaint names for familiar relations. But Mezger has reinforced Westphal's theory by a discovery of his own. While committing the odes of Pindar to memory he noticed the frequent recurrence of the same word, or close equivalent, in the corresponding parts of strophe and antistrophe, epode and epode. These recurrent words are all significant, all mark transitions, and were all intended as cues to aid the memory of the chorus and to guide the thoughts of the hearers. It is a mnemonic device, but more than a mnemonic device, for it lets us into the poet's construction of his own poem, and settles forever the disputed meanings of the odes.23 If this were true, it would hardly heighten our admiration of antique art, and although the coincidences are interesting and the observation of them a proof of loving study that deserves to be honored, the discovery of the recurrent word is not the end of all controversy — there are too many recurrent words.24 Of course, the acceptance of the Terpandrian νόμος and the doctrine of the recurrent word puts an end to anything like proportion in the contents of a Pindaric ode. Compare, for instance, Blass's analysis of a prooimion of Demosthenes, and Mezger's exhibit of the composition of an ode of Pindar. You may not agree with Blass, but there is an architectonic principle in the one, while it is utterly incredible that we should have such proportions as: O. I.: 7(π.)+16(ἀ.)+4(κ.)+69(ὀ.)+7(μ.)+11(ς.)+6(ε.) (p. 95.) O. III.: 5(π.)+8(ἀ.)+2(κ.)+18(ὀ.)+4(μ


I. Introduction

II. Main part
a.) first stanza
b.) second stanza
c.) third stanza
d.) fourth stanza
e.) fifth stanza

III. Conclusion

IV. Bibliography

V. Appendix I

VI. Appendix II

I. Introduction

Percy Bysshe Shelley is one of the most famous Romantic poets of the 19th century. Throughout his life he has written a lot of works that impressed people. One of these works is the poem ‘ Ode to the West Wind ’ which was written in 1819.

This paper is about ‘Ode to the West Wind’ and gives information on it, such as its outer appearance. It focuses on how Shelley describes the ‘wind’ and which symbols he uses in this poem.

First some information about the term ‘ode’ itself. The ode is a lyric poem with great length that deals with a “lofty theme in a dignified manner[1] ”. There are three types of English odes: the Pindaric, the Cowley and the Horation ode. The Pindaric Ode is a ceremonious poem with Pindar’s style. Pindar was “a Greek professional lyrist of the 5th century BC. He employed the triadic structure of Stesichorus, [...] consisting of a strophe [...] followed by a metrically harmonious antistrophe, concluding with a summary line in a different metre.[2] ” The most important odes were those of Abraham Cowley and Andrew Marvell. Marvell, for example, used “a simple and regular stanza [...] modelled on Horace”[3] with the rhyme scheme aabb; the first two lines had four stresses, whereas the last two lines had only three stresses. Cowley wrote Pindaric odes “which had irregular patterns of line lengths and rhyme schemes, though they were iambic.”[4]

Shelley’s Ode is of the Horation type; in it he describes the activities of the west wind on earth, on the sea and also in the sky. He also expresses “his envy for the boundless freedom of the west wind, and his wish to be free like the wind and to scatter his words among mankind”.[5]

II. Main part

The poem ‘ Ode to the West Wind ’ consists of five stanzas. Each of the stanzas consist of five stanzas – four three-line stanzas and a two-line stanza. They all have iambic pentameters. The rhyme scheme in each part follows a pattern that is called terza rima.[6] This three-line rhyme scheme was employed by Dante in his Divine Comedy. In the rhyme scheme of the three-line terza rima, the first and third line always rhyme and the second line does not. The second line of a stanza only rhymes with the first and third line of the following stanza. The final couple at the end of each part of the poem rhymes with the second line of the previous three-line stanza. To make this terza rima visually clear, the rhyme scheme of each part is the following: aba bcb cdc ded ee.

Shelley’s Ode is addressed to the West Wind, to Zephyr. The word ‘zephyr’ has puzzled etymologists for a long time. Some of them thought it came from the word ‘z ophos ’ which means darkness. Others thought it was derived from ‘ zoaphoros’, life-bearing. Actually ‘zephyr’ has nothing to do with ‘zophos’ and ‘zoaphoros’; ‘zephyrs’ are associated with ‘clear blue sky’ and they lull. For Pope, for example, the zephyr is a light breeze. He describes the zephyr the following: “Soft is the strain when Zephyr gently blows, / And the smooth stream in smoother numbers flows...”[7] Obviously, zephyr has become softer in the eighteenth century poetic. It was said that it lost its violence in the past.

In his poem, Shelley merges all things mentioned above about zephyr so that “his west wind drives dark stormclouds across the sky, and it is literally ‘life-bearing’”[8]. This shows that Shelley recreated the wind as a violent spirit and therefore created him “in dramatic opposition to the zephyrs that had soothed the slumber of many an eighteenth-century swain”[9]

The poem Ode to the West Wind can be divided in two parts: the first three stanzas are about the qualities of the ‘Wind’; the fact that these three stanzas belong together can visually be seen by the phrase ‘ Oh hear![10] at the end of each of the three stanzas. Whereas the first three stanzas give a relation between the ‘Wind’ and the speaker, there is a turn at the beginning of the fourth stanza; the focus is now on the speaker, or better the hearer, and what he is going to hear. To say it with Haines’ words: the first three stanzas are about the “treatment of the Wind’s qualities [...], but it is the treatment in the last two [stanzas] of the invoker which must chiefly determine one’s response to the attitude of the poem as a whole.”[11]

a.) first stanza

The first stanza begins with the alliteration ‘wild West Wind’. This makes the ‘wind’ “sound invigorating”[12]. The reader gets the impression that the wind is something that lives, because he is ‘wild’ – this is a personification of the ‘wind’. Even after reading the headline and the alliteration, one might have the feeling that the ‘ Ode’ might somehow be positive. But it is not, as the beginning of the poem destroys the feeling that associated the wind with the spring. The first few lines consist of a lot of sinister elements, such as the dead leaves. The inversion of ‘ leaves dead ’ (l. 2) in the first stanza underlines the fatality by putting the word ‘ dead’ (l. 2) at the end of the line so that it rhymes with the next lines. The sentence goes on and makes these ‘ dead’ (l. 2) leaves live again as ‘ ghosts’ (l. 3) that flee from something that panics them. The sentence does not end at that point but goes on with a polysyndeton[13]. The colourful context makes it easier for the reader to visualise what is going on – even if it is in an uncomfortable manner. Pirie says that ‘ Yellow’ (l. 4) can be seen as “the ugly hue of ‘pestilence-stricken’ skin; and ‘hectic red’, though evoking the pase of the poem itself, could also highlight the pace of death brought to multitudes.”[14] There is also a contradiction in the colour ‘ black’ (l. 4) and the adjective ‘ pale’ (l. 4) which underlines the fatality mentioned before. In the word ‘ chariotest’ (l. 6) the ‘est’ is added to the verb stem ‘chariot’, probably to indicate the second person singular, after the subject ‘ thou’ (l. 5). The ‘corpse within its grave’ (l. 8) in the next line is in contrast to the ‘ azure sister of the Spring’ (l. 9) – a reference to the east wind - whose ‘ living hues and odours plain’ (l.12) evoke a strong contrast to the colours of the fourth line of the poem that evoke death. The last line of this stanza (‘ Destroyer and Preserver’, l. 14) refers to the west wind. The west wind is considered the ‘ Destroyer’ (l. 14) because it drives the last sings of life from the trees. He is also considered the ‘ Preserver’ (l.14) for scattering the seeds which will come to life in the spring.

Summing this stanza up with only a few words it is important to say that Shelley calls upon the invisible power of the Wind and Spirit. It is this ‘ unseen presence’ (l. 2) that brings life to things that are dead and death to things that are alive. An example for this is the herding of the autumn leaves which are like shoals of the dead. But the wind is not the only thing Shelley talks about in this stanza; he even sees deeper “to a total pattern in which transfiguration and destruction are aspects of one creative movement”[15]. This means that there does not only exist beauty in things because the death and ugly is with them as well; the exposure of the Beauty does only work if we “are prepared to leave behind what is old and faded from its first imaginative splendour”[16] ; that is why ‘destruction’ is something that is necessary in the flow of transfiguration. Shelley’s ‘ Wild Spirit’ (l. 13) which may also be his “occult energy”[17] is able to move everywhere. He is therefore like the autumn wind that blows through the leaves and is both destroyer and preserver. There is a balance between these two aspects in the first stanza as if it were possible to confront the two with each other. As there obviously is a symmetry of life and death, autumn and spring, it becomes clear that Shelley does not mourn for the loss of beauty because he knows about the fact and “promise of nature’s flourishing once more after winter’s deprivations”. Therefore “he will deny for the sake of that vision the irreversible human reality of death”[18]. The ‘ winged seeds’ (l. 7) ‘ lie cold and low’ (l. 7) in the ground; but they are only ‘ like’ (l. 8) corpses in their graves - they do not die and wake from ‘the dreaming earth’ (l. 10) in the springtime. This is of course different with the human beings: they die and do not return again.

b.) second stanza

The second stanza of the poem is much more fluid than the first one. The sky’s ‘ clouds’ (l.16) are ‘ like earth’s decaying leaves’ (l. 16). They are a reference to the second line of the first stanza (‘ leaves dead’, l. 2). Through this reference the landscape is recalled again. The ‘ clouds’ (l. 16) are ‘ Shook[19]from the tangled boughs of Heaven and Ocean’ (l. 17). This probably refers to the fact that the line between the sky and the stormy sea is indistinguishable and the whole space from the horizon to the zenith being is covered with trialing storm clouds. The ‘clouds’ can also be seen as ‘ Angels of rain’ (l. 18). In a biblical way, they may be messengers that bring a message from heaven down to earth through rain and lightning. These two natural phenomenons with their “fertilizing and illuminating power”[20] bring a change.

Line 21 begins with ‘ Of some fierce Maenad[21]... ’ (l. 21) and again the west wind is part of the second stanza of the poem; here he is two things at once: first he is ‘ dirge/Of the dying year ’ (l. 23f) and second he is “a prophet of tumult whose prediction is decisive”[22] ; a prophet who does not only bring ‘ black rain, and fire, and hail’ (l. 28), but who ‘ will burst’ (l. 28) it. The ‘ locks of the approaching storm’ (l. 23) are the messengers of this bursting: the ‘ clouds’
(l. 16). If we bring in the thoughts of what was said at the end of the first stanza and compare it with the second stanza, we learn that Shelley “expands his vision from the earthly scene with the leaves before him to take in the vaster commotion of the skies”[23]. This means that the wind is now no longer at the horizon and therefore far away, but he is exactly above us. The clouds now reflect the image of the swirling leaves; this is a parallelism that gives evidence that we lifted “our attention from the finite world into the macrocosm”[24]. The ‘ clouds’ (l. 16) mentioned above can also be compared with the leaves; but the clouds are more unstable and bigger than the leaves and they can be seen as messengers of rain and lightning as it was mentioned above.


[1] <http://www.faculty.umb.edu/elizabeth_fay/pbsnotes.html>

[2] <http://www.britannica.com/eb/article?tocld=9060069>

[3] <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ode>

[4] <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ode>

[5] <http://www.geocities.com/sania_eq/odetothewestwind.html>

[6] <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terza_rima>

[7] http://www.tnellen.com/cybereng/poetry/sound.html

[8] Cronin, Richard, p. 233

[9] Cronin, Richard, p. 232

[10] Shelley, Percy B. Ode to the West Wind. <http://www.bartleby.com/106/275.html> line 14, 28, 42. (The quotations of the poem are taken from the poem that is at the end of this paper – see Appendix. For further information about the homepage where the poem was taken from, see also Appendix.
From now on it will be referred to quotations of the poem only as „line plus number“. As there would be too many footnotes at the bottom of each page, the quotes of the poem will be right behind the quotes in brackets from.)

[11] Haines, Simon, p. 153

[12] Pirie, David B., p. 77

[13] Polysyndeton: ‘yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red’, line 4

[14] Pirie, David, p. 77

[15] Welburn, Andrew J., p. 160

[16] Welburn, Andrew J., p. 160

[17] Welburn, Andrew J., p. 160

[18] Welburn, Andrew J., p. 161

[19] `shook‘ is an archaism and used for `shaken´

[20] Pirie, David, p. 79

[21] Maenad is a reference to Greek mythology; Maenad was a priestess of Bacchus, the God of Wine.

[22] Pirie, David, p. 79

[23] Welburn, Andrew J., p. 161

[24] Welburn, Andrew J., p. 161

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