In quest of the sublime: Manner and intent in the greater English ode/sublime lyric

John Donald Ponomarev, Fordham University


Since previous scholarship on the Greater English Ode has not succeeded in defining the genre according to a tradition of form which can be consistently attributed to Pindar, this study defines the Greater English Ode/Sublime Lyric in terms of both the enduring conventions of Pindar's manner of lyric address and the theoretical postulation of a sublime intent appropriate to such poetry. The Greater Ode's emergence in England during the late seventeenth century coincided with the popularization of Hellenic conceptions (exemplified by Longinus) of the poetic craft. Abraham Cowley's adaptations of Pindar in "an English habit" created a modern English genre imitating Pindar's "way and manner of speaking." The new Ode conveyed sublime thoughts and passions inspired by address to personified qualities. Dryden was the first major English poet to excel in this novel "kind of verse," and the glorious precedent of Milton's sublime flights of the Imagination further motivated English Pindarists. Cultivation of the sublime in the Ode challenged the preeminence of "Beauty" in neo-classical aesthetic theory. Numerous eighteenth-century authors contributed toward perfecting a doctrine of sublime poetic endeavor. This doctrine directly informed the conventions of the Ode: ceremonial invocation of and extended address to personified qualities presiding over the poet's contemplation of sublime prospects in Nature, an "enthusiasm" of manner elevating thought and passion, and the initiation of rites honoring such qualities as deities. This mode of interacting with the presence of 'otherness' raised the Imagination towards conceptions of a "Universal Mind" animating the Creation. Address culminated in transport, succeeded by a descent back to mortal selfhood modified by vision. In explaining the creative process as a form of interaction between the poetic psyche and powers in Nature, the eighteenth century invigorated again the Hellenic tradition in the Ode whereby the poet acted as the priest of Nature, a seer and guardian of the spiritual and intellectual values pertaining to his culture. One discerns in Keats's Odes and in his profoundly Hellenic ideas about poetry the triumphant continuity of the sublime manner of address in the Ode with the Romantic quest of an infinitely perfect "supersensual" reality.

Subject Area

British and Irish literature

Recommended Citation

Ponomarev, John Donald, "In quest of the sublime: Manner and intent in the greater English ode/sublime lyric" (1988). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI8809481.