chapter  10
23 Pages

‘The Pindarick Way’

Cowley’s Pindarics and the English Libretto
WithIsaac Harrison Louth

Isaac Harrison Louth trains belated attention on the musical influence of Cowley’s corpus. In his Pindarique Odes (1656), Cowley refashioned the ancient Greek poet, Pindar, in English. His aim was to imitate not merely the sense of Pindar’s poetry but its sound. But his reputation as ‘Anglorum Pindarus’ has been tarnished in literary history by Johnson’s criticism of the Pindarics. As Louth argues, however, Johnson’s bookish reaction to the irregularity of Cowley’s Pindarics on the page betrays deafness to their rich capacity for rhythmic variety in performance. As early as 1648, Joseph Beaumont had praised the musicality of Pindaric verse; and when Restoration poets crafted the libretti for early English operas, they turned to the example of Cowley’s Pindar in an attempt to resound ancient lyric on the contemporary stage and find a new voice for musical verse in the English vernacular. As Louth shows, works such as Davenant’s The Siege of Rhodes, Dryden’s Albion and Albanius and Congreve’s Semele are testament to the fertile reception which Cowley’s Pindaric style achieved in texts composed for musical performance.