1749
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

First Pythian Ode.

Odes of Pindar, with several other Pieces in Prose and Verse, translated from the Greek. To which is prefixed a Dissertation on the Olympick Games.

Gilbert West


21 Prior stanzas. Gilbert West's use of this rather unusual stanza was prompted by Pindar's account of the powers of poetry, which to mid-century critics might suggest "Spenser." West's highly-regarded translation does make use of Spenserian diction: "lore," "band," "thrilling," "meed." The sample stanzas from Horace Book 4, Ode 2 in the Preface are in irregular Spenserians (ababcC).

Monthly Review: "And this we may venture to say, that as this admired ancient never before appeared to so great advantage in an English dress, so perhaps he never may appear with greater" 1 (1749) 121.

Horace Walpole to George Montagu: "Now I talk to you of authors, Lord Cobham's West has published his translation of Pindar; the poetry is very stiff, but prefixed to it there is a very entertaining account of the Olympic games, and that preceded by an affected inscription to Pitt and Lyttelton" 18 May 1749; Letters, ed. Cunningham (1906) 2:163.

Massachusetts Magazine: "What a glow of Poetry, what splendid imagery in these lines! If one might hazard the expression, the Olympian harmony is almost audible" 7 (October 1795) 444.

John Wilson: "SHEPHERD. I canna read Greek — except in a Latin translation done into English — the case I suspect wi' mony a ane that passes for a sort o' scholar; but I ken pieces, fragments o' their glorious history, Pope's Homer, West's Pindar, and stray strains o' Plato, a poet in prose" Blackwood's Magazine (October 1826) in Noctes Ambrosianae (1857) 2:268.

W. J. Courthope: "West's translations appeared in 1749. Whether it was suggested by Collins's Odes which were published in 1746, or by the elder West's edition of PIndar, is not known; but it undoubtedly helped to confirm the strong Pindaric tendency in the public taste, and may indirectly have had some influence on Gray's 'Progress of Poesy,' which was not given to the world till 1757. The version, which is made on Dryden's paraphrastic principle, is both accurate and spirited" History of English Poetry (1895-1910) 5:270.

Edward Payson Morton: "In 1749, Gilbert West used the stanza, which he called 'Decades,' to translate Pindar's 'First Pythian Ode,' which seems to have inspired an anonymous translator, the next year, of Pindar's 'Eighth Isthmian" "The Spenserian Stanza in the Eighteenth Century" (1913) 369. I have not identified this second translation.

George Saintsbury: "The imitation of Spenser ... is, perhaps, the only thing that need keep alive the memory of Gilbert West (to be distinguished from Richard West, the friend of Gray). He would otherwise be 'only an excellent person,' as, indeed, he seems also to have been. In his translations from Pindar and others, it is impossible to take any interest, and his occasional poems are few and very slight. But his Spenserian pastiches, The Abuse of Travelling, and Education, are not mere sketches or mere parodies, and deserve a little study. Johnson who, more than once, protested against the practice of which 'West seems to have furnished some of the earliest examples, yet allowed them to be successful as regards 'the metre, the language and the fiction'; but a single line, taken at random, 'And all the arts that cultivate the mind' will, perhaps, induce readers to doubt the critic's praise as much as his blame. West, it is true, is not always so un-Spenserian as this; but his choice of subjects is, in itself, fatal, and his intention is generally defeated by his execution itself" Cambridge History of English Literature (1913) 9:212.

Henry James Pye also translated an ode in Prior stanzas in his supplement to West, published in 1775.

See Joseph Warton's ode "Occasion'd by Reading Mr. West's Translation of Pindar."



DECADE I.
Hail, golden Lyre! whose Heav'n-invented String
To Phoebus, and the black-hair'd Nine belongs!
Who in sweet Chorus round their tuneful King
Mix with thy sounding Chords their sacred Songs.
The Dance, gay Queen of Pleasure, Thee attends;
Thy jocund Strains her list'ning Feet inspire:
And each melodious Tongue it's Voice suspends
'Till Thou, great Leader of the heav'nly Quire,
With wanton Art preluding giv'st the Sign—
Swells the full Concert then with Harmony divine.

DECADE II.
Then, of their streaming Lightnings all disarm'd,
The smouldring Thunderbolts of Jove expire:
Then by the Musick of thy Numbers charm'd,
The Birds fierce Monarch drops his vengeful Ire;
Perch'd on the Sceptre of th' Olympian King,
The thrilling Darts of Harmony he feels;
And indolently hangs his rapid Wing,
While gentle Sleep his closing Eyelid seals;
And o'er his heaving Limbs in loose Array
To ev'ry balmy Gale the ruffling Feathers play.

DECADE III.
Ev'n Mars, stern God of Violence and War,
Sooths with thy lulling Strains his furious Breast,
And driving from his Heart each bloody Care,
His pointed Lance consigns to peaceful Rest.
Nor less enraptur'd each immortal Mind
Owns the soft Influence of inchanting Song,
When, in melodious Symphony combin'd,
Thy Son, Latona, and the tuneful Throng
Of Muses, skill'd in Wisdom's deepest Lore,
The subtle Pow'rs of Verse and Harmony explore.

DECADE IV.
But they, on Earth, or the devouring Main,
Whom righteous Jove with Detestation views,
With envious Horror hear the heav'nly Strain,
Exil'd from Praise, from Virtue, and the Muse.
Such is Typhoeus, impious Foe of Gods,
Whose hundred headed Form Cilicia's Cave
Once foster'd in her infamous Abodes;
'Till daring with presumptuous Arms to brave
The Might of Thund'ring Jove, subdued he fell,
Plung'd in the horrid Dungeons of profoundest Hell.

DECADE V.
Now under sulph'rous Cuma's Sea-bound Coast,
And vast Sicilia lies his shaggy Breast;
By snowy Aetna, Nurse of endless Frost,
The pillar'd Prop of Heav'n, for ever press'd:
Forth from whose nitrous Caverns issuing rise
Pure liquid Fountains of tempestuous Fire,
And veil in ruddy Mists the Noon-day Skies,
While wrapt in Smoke the eddying Flames aspire,
Or gleaming thro' the Night with hideous Roar
Far o'er the red'ning Main huge rocky Fragments pour.

DECADE VI.
But he, Vulcanian Monster, to the Clouds
The fiercest, hottest Inundation throws,
While with the Burthen of incumbent Woods,
And Aetna's gloomy Cliffs o'erwhelm'd he glows.
There on his flinty Bed out-stretch'd he lies,
Whose pointed Rock his tossing Carcase wounds:
There with Dismay he strikes beholding Eyes,
Or frights the distant Ear with horrid Sounds.
O save us from thy Wrath, Sicilian Jove!
Thou, that here reign'st, ador'd in Aetna's sacred Grove!

DECADE VII.
Aetna, fair Forehead of this fruitful Land!
Whose borrow'd Name adorns the Royal Town,
Rais'd by illustrious Hiero's gen'rous Hand,
And render'd glorious with his high Renown.
By Pythian Heralds were her Praises sung,
When Hiero triumph'd in the dusty Course,
When sweet Castalia with Applauses rung,
The glorious Laurels crown'd the conqu'ring Horse.
The happy City for her future Days
Presages hence Increase of Victory and Praise.

DECADE VIII.
Thus when the Mariners to prosp'rous Winds,
The Port forsaking, spread their swelling Sails;
The fair Departure chears their jocund Minds
With pleasing Hopes of favourable Gales,
While o'er the dang'rous Desarts of the Main,
To their lov'd Country they pursue their Way.
Ev'n so, Apollo, thou, whom Lycia's Plain,
Whom Delus, and Castalia's Springs obey,
These Hopes regard, and Aetna's Glory raise
With valiant Sons, triumphant Steeds, and heav'nly Lays!

DECADE IX.
For human Virtue from the Gods proceeds;
They the wise Mind bestow'd, and smooth'd the Tongue
With Elocution, and for mighty Deeds
The nervous Arms with manly Vigour strung.
All these are Hiero's: these to Rival Lays
Call forth the Bard: Arise then, Muse, and speed
To this Contention; strive in Hiero's Praise,
Nor fear thy Efforts shall his Worth exceed;
Within the Lines of Truth secure to throw,
Thy Dart shall still surpass each vain attempting Foe.

DECADE X.
So may succeeding Ages, as they roll,
Great Hiero still in Wealth and Bliss maintain,
And joyous Health recalling, on his Soul
Oblivion pour of Life-consuming Pain.
Yet may thy Memory with sweet Delight
The various Dangers, and the Toils recount,
Which in intestine Wars and bloody Fight
Thy patient Virtue, Hiero, did surmount;
What Time, by Heav'n above all Grecians crown'd,
The Prize of sov'reign Sway with thee thy Brother found.

DECADE XI.
Then like the Son of Paean didst thou war,
Smit with the Arrows of a sore Disease;
While, as along slow rolls thy sickly Carr,
Love and Amaze the haughtiest Bosoms seize.
In Lemnos pining with th' envenom'd Wound
The Son of Paean, Philoctetes, lay:
There, after tedious Quest, the Heroes found,
And bore the limping Archer thence away;
By whom fell Priam's Tow'rs (so Fate ordain'd)
And the long harrass'd Greeks their wish'd Repose obtain'd.

DECADE XII.
May Hiero too, like Paean's Son, receive
Recover'd Vigour from celestial Hands!
And may the Healing God proceed to give
The Pow'r to gain whate'er his Wish demands.
But now, O Muse, address thy sounding Lays
To young Dinomenes, his virtuous Heir.
Sing to Dinomenes, his Father's Praise;
His Father's Praise shall glad his filial Ear.
For him hereafter shalt thou touch the String,
And chant in friendly Strains fair Aetna's future King.

DECADE XIII.
Hiero for him th' illustrious City rear'd,
And fill'd with Sons of Greece her stately Tow'rs,
Where by the free-born Citizen rever'd
The Spartan Laws exert their virtuous Pow'rs.
For by the Statutes, which their Fathers gave,
Still must the restive Dorian Youth be led;
Who dwelling once on cold Eurota's Wave,
Where proud Taygetus exalts his Head,
From the great Stock of Hercules divine
And warlike Pamphilus deriv'd their noble Line.

DECADE XIV.
These from Thessalian Pindus rushing down,
The Walls of famed Amyclae once possessed,
And rich in Fortune's Gifts and high Renown,
Dwelt near the Twins of Leda, while they press'd
Their milky Coursers, and the Pastures o'er
Of neighb'ring Argos rang'd, in Arms supreme.
To King and People on the flow'ry Shore
Of lucid Amena, Sicilian Stream,
Grant the like Fortune, Jove, with like Desert
The Splendour of their Race and Glory to assert.

DECADE XV.
And do thou aid Sicilia's hoary Lord
To form and rule his Son's obedient Mind;
And still in golden Chains of sweet Accord,
And mutual Peace the friendly People bind.
Then grant, O Son of Saturn, grant my Pray'r!
The bold Phoenician on his Shore detain;
And may the hardy Tuscan never dare
To vex with clam'rous War Sicilia's Main;
Rememb'ring Hiero, how on Cuma's Coast
Wreck'd by his stormy Arms their groaning Fleets were lost.

DECADE XVI.
What Terrors! what Destruction them assail'd!
Hurl'd from their driven Decks what Numbers dy'd!
When o'er their Might Sicilia's Chief prevail'd,
Their Youth o'er-whelming in the foamy Tide;
Greece from impending Servitude to save.
Thy Favour, glorious Athens! to acquire
Would I record the Salaminian Wave
Fam'd in thy Triumphs: and my tuneful Lyre
To Sparta's Sons with sweetest Praise should tell,
Beneath Cithaeron's Shade what Medish Archers fell.

DECADE XVII.
But on fair Himera's wide-water'd Shores
Thy Sons, Dinomenes, my Lyre demand,
To grace their Virtues with the various Stores
Of sacred Verse, and sing th' illustrious Band
Of valiant Brothers, who from Carthage won
The glorious Meed of Conquest, deathless Praise.
A pleasing Theme! but Censure's dreaded Frown
Compels me to contract my spreading Lays.
In Verse Conciseness pleases ev'ry Guest,
While each impatient blames and loaths a tedious Feast.

DECADE XVIII.
Nor less distasteful is excessive Fame
To the sour Palate of the envious Mind;
Who hears with Grief his Neighbour's goodly Name,
And hates the Fortune that he ne'er shall find.
Yet in thy Virtue, Hiero, persevere!
Since to be envied is a nobler Fate
Than to be pitied: Let strict Justice steer
With equitable Hand the Helm of State,
And arm thy Tongue with Truth: O King, beware
Of ev'ry Step! a Prince can never lightly err.

DECADE XIX.
O'er many Nations art thou set, to deal
The Goods of Fortune with impartial Hand;
And ever watchful of the publick Weal,
Unnumber'd Witnesses around thee stand.
Then would the virtuous Ear for ever feast
On the sweet Melody of well-earn'd Fame,
In gen'rous Purposes confirm thy Breast,
Nor dread Expences that will grace thy Name;
But scorning sordid and unprincely Gain,
Spread all thy bounteous Sails, and launch into the Main.

DECADE XX.
When in the mouldring Urn the Monarch lies,
His Fame in lively Characters remains,
Or grav'd in Monumental Histories,
Or deck'd and painted in Aonian Strains.
Thus fresh, and fragrant, and immortal blooms
The Virtue, Croesus, of thy gentle Mind.
While Fate to Infamy and Hatred dooms
Sicilia's Tyrant, Scorn of human kind;
Whose ruthless Bosom swell'd with cruel Pride,
When in his Brazen Bull the broiling Wretches dy'd.

DECADE XXI.
Him therefore nor in sweet Society
The gen'rous Youth conversing ever name;
Nor with the Harp's delightful Melody
Mingle his odious inharmonious Fame.
The First, the greatest Bliss on Man conferr'd
Is, in the Acts of Virtue to excel;
The Second, to obtain their high Reward,
The Soul-exacting Praise of doing well.
Who both these Lots attains, is bless'd indeed,
Since Fortune here below can give no richer Meed.

[pp. 79-94]