The Bard: A Pindaric Ode

Thomas Gray

‘The Bard: A Pindaric Ode’ written by Thomas Gray, depicts the ruthless torment unleashed upon poets by the tyrant King Edward I.

Cite

Thomas Gray

Nationality: English

Thomas Gray was an English poet, professor, and scholar.

He is best known for his Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,’ published in 1751.

Key Poem Information

Central Message: Power is easily abused

Speaker: The last bard who survived the genocide

Emotions Evoked: Anger, Courage, Freedom, Hope

Poetic Form: Ode

Time Period: 18th Century

'The Bard: A Pindaric Ode' speaks about the genocide of the bards that occurred in the reign of King Edward I and how it was the King's central pursuit.

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The poem ‘The Bard: A Pindaric Ode,‘ by the 18th-century English poet Thomas Gray (1716-1771), was written in 1755. It is said that the poem took two years to complete because the poet suffered from writer’s block. In 1757, Thomas Gray completed the masterpiece, which is another example of his poetic excellence.

The first word from the title, i.e., “Bard,” means poet. The poem is an ode written in the Pindaric form in which Thomas Gray portrays the blood-stained time of King Edward I.

The Bard: A Pindaric Ode
Thomas Gray

I.1."Ruin seize thee, ruthless King!Confusion on thy banners wait,Tho' fann'd by Conquest's crimson wingThey mock the air with idle state.Helm, nor hauberk's twisted mail,Nor even thy virtues, tyrant, shall availTo save thy secret soul from nightly fears,From Cambria's curse, from Cambria's tears!"Such were the sounds, that o'er the crested prideOf the first Edward scatter'd wild dismay,As down the steep of Snowdon's shaggy sideHe wound with toilsome march his long array.Stout Glo'ster stood aghast in speechless trance;To arms! cried Mortimer, and couch'd his quiv'ring lance.

I.2.On a rock, whose haughty browFrowns o'er old Conway's foaming flood,Rob'd in the sable garb of woe,With haggard eyes the poet stood;(Loose his beard, and hoary hairStream'd, like a meteor, to the troubled air)And with a master's hand, and prophet's fire,Struck the deep sorrows of his lyre;"Hark, how each giant-oak, and desert cave,Sighs to the torrent's awful voice beneath!O'er thee, O King! their hundred arms they wave,Revenge on thee in hoarser murmurs breathe;Vocal no more, since Cambria's fatal day,To high-born Hoel's harp, or soft Llewellyn's lay.

I.3."Cold is Cadwallo's tongue,That hush'd the stormy main;Brave Urien sleeps upon his craggy bed:Mountains, ye mourn in vainModred, whose magic songMade huge Plinlimmon bow his cloud-topp'd head.On dreary Arvon's shore they lie,Smear'd with gore, and ghastly pale:Far, far aloof th' affrighted ravens sail;The famish'd eagle screams, and passes by.Dear lost companions of my tuneful art,Dear, as the light that visits these sad eyes,Dear, as the ruddy drops that warm my heart,Ye died amidst your dying country's cries—No more I weep. They do not sleep.On yonder cliffs, a griesly band,I see them sit, they linger yet,Avengers of their native land:With me in dreadful harmony they join,And weave with bloody hands the tissue of thy line:—

II.1."'Weave the warp, and weave the woof,The winding sheet of Edward's race.Give ample room, and verge enoughThe characters of hell to trace.Mark the year, and mark the night,When Severn shall re-echo with affrightThe shrieks of death, thro' Berkley's roofs that ring,Shrieks of an agonising King!She-Wolf of France, with unrelenting fangs,That tear'st the bowels of thy mangled mate,From thee be born, who o'er thy country hangsThe scourge of Heav'n. What terrors round him wait!Amazement in his van, with Flight combin'd,And Sorrow's faded form, and Solitude behind.

II.2."'Mighty victor, mighty lord,Low on his funeral couch he lies!No pitying heart, no eye, affordA tear to grace his obsequies.Is the Sable Warrior fled?Thy son is gone. He rests among the dead.The swarm, that in thy noon-tide beam were born?Gone to salute the rising Morn.Fair laughs the Morn, and soft the Zephyr blows,While proudly riding o'er the azure realmIn gallant trim the gilded vessel goes;Youth on the prow, and Pleasure at the helm;Regardless of the sweeping Whirlwind's sway,That, hush'd in grim repose, expects his evening prey.

II.3."'Fill high the sparkling bowl,The rich repast prepare;Reft of a crown, he yet may share the feast.Close by the regal chairFell Thirst and Famine scowlA baleful smile upon their baffled guest.Heard ye the din of battle bray,Lance to lance, and horse to horse?Long years of havoc urge their destin'd courseAnd thro' the kindred squadrons mow their way.Ye towers of Julius, London's lasting shame,With many a foul and midnight murther fed,Revere his consort's faith, his father's fame,And spare the meek usurper's holy head.Above, below, the rose of snow,Twined with her blushing foe, we spread:The bristled Boar in infant-goreWallows beneath the thorny shade.Now, brothers, bending o'er th' accursed loomStamp we our vengeance deep, and ratify his doom.

III.1."'Edward, lo! to sudden fate(Weave we the woof. The thread is spun)Half of thy heart we consecrate.(The web is wove. The work is done.)'Stay, oh stay! nor thus forlornLeave me unbless'd, unpitied, here to mourn!In yon bright track, that fires the western skies!They melt, they vanish from my eyes.But oh! what solemn scenes on Snowdon's heightDescending slow their glitt'ring skirts unroll?Visions of glory, spare my aching sight,Ye unborn Ages, crowd not on my soul!No more our long-lost Arthur we bewail.All-hail, ye genuine kings, Britannia's issue, hail!

III.2."Girt with many a baron boldSublime their starry fronts they rear;And gorgeous dames, and statesmen oldIn bearded majesty appear.In the midst a form divine!Her eye proclaims her of the Briton-line;Her lion-port, her awe-commanding face,Attemper'd sweet to virgin-grace.What strings symphonious tremble in the air,What strings of vocal transport round her play!Hear from the grave, great Taliessin, hear;They breathe a soul to animate thy clay.Bright Rapture calls, and soaring, as she sings,Waves in the eye of Heav'n her many-colour'd wings.

III.3."The verse adorn againFierce War, and faithful Love,And Truth severe, by fairy Fiction drest.In buskin'd measures movePale Grief, and pleasing Pain,With Horror, tyrant of the throbbing breast.A voice, as of the cherub-choir,Gales from blooming Eden bear;And distant warblings lessen on my ear,That lost in long futurity expire.Fond impious man, think'st thou, yon sanguine cloud,Rais'd by thy breath, has quench'd the orb of day?To-morrow he repairs the golden flood,And warms the nations with redoubled ray.Enough for me: with joy I seeThe different doom our Fates assign.Be thine Despair, and scept'red Care,To triumph, and to die, are mine."He spoke, and headlong from the mountain's heightDeep in the roaring tide he plung'd to endless night.


Summary

In the poem ‘The Bard: A Pindaric Ode,‘ the poet expresses anger at King Edward I for the genocide of the bards and commemorates their deaths.

The poem tells the story of a Welsh bard who, after seeing the defeat of his people by Edward I of England, curses the conquerors and throws himself to his death from a cliff. The poem has three parts, written in different styles, featuring vivid imagery and displaying emotional intensity.

The first part of the poem, ‘The Bard: A Pindaric Ode’ by Thomas Gray, describes the bard’s prophetic vision of the future, in which the glory of Wales is restored, and the English are defeated. In this stanza, Gray sets the scene for the poem and establishes a mood of gloom and foreboding.

The stanza begins with the description of a “ruined” and “lonely” tower that stands “amidst the desert” of a Welsh landscape. The tower is said to have been the dwelling of a legendary bard, who is now long dead. The stanza goes on to describe the “awful” sound of the bard’s harp, which is said to have echoed through the valley and struck fear into the hearts of the English invaders who once tried to conquer Wales. 

The second stanza of ‘The Bard: A Pindaric Ode‘ continues to describe the bard’s mournful song, which is directed now towards the English conquerors. The bard curses them and calls upon the spirits of the Welsh heroes who have died in battle to rise and seek revenge. He imagines the fallen warriors as ghosts who haunt the battlefield, seeking vengeance for their defeat.
The stanza ends with the bard warning the English that their victory is temporary and that the Welsh will one day rise again and reclaim their land. The language in this stanza is powerful and intense, reflecting the bard’s anger and grief over the defeat of his people.

The third stanza is a highly emotional description of the bard’s rage and despair. The stanza begins with the bard calling on the spirits of his ancestors and the gods of his people to avenge the defeat of the Welsh. He then describes a series of violent and destructive natural phenomena, such as thunder, lightning, and earthquakes, which symbolize the anger of the gods and the power of the people of Welsh. The stanza ends with the bard throwing his harp into the sea and declaring that he also will join his people in death by throwing himself from the cliff.

Theme

The main theme of ‘The Bard: A Pindaric Ode‘ by Thomas Gray is the idea of national identity and the struggle of a people to resist conquest and preserve their cultural heritage. The poem explores the tensions between the Welsh and the English and how conquest and defeat can lead to feelings of anger, despair, and a desire for revenge. It also examines the poet as a voice of the people and a defender of their history and culture.

Additionally, the poem touches on the themes of heroism, sacrifice, and the power of prophecy and myth to shape our understanding of the past and the future. Overall, ‘The Bard: A Pindaric Ode’ is a complex and powerful exploration of the themes of nationalism, historical memory, and the poet’s role in society.

Tone

The tone of ‘The Bard: A Pindaric Ode’ is grand and tragic, conveying a sense of grief, anger, and defiance. The language used throughout the poem is highly emotive and dramatic, with vivid images and powerful metaphors that create a sense of epic grandeur.

At times, the tone is also mournful and elegiac as the bard laments the loss of his people’s freedom and the ruin of their culture. The tone becomes increasingly intense and emotional as the poem continues culminating in the bard’s dramatic decision to throw himself to his death.

Overall, the style of the poem is passionate intensity, reflecting the bard’s deeply felt emotions and his commitment to preserving the memory of his people’s struggle against conquest and oppression.

Historical Context

‘The Bard: A Pindaric Ode‘ was written in 1757 during a period of great political and cultural tension between the Welsh and the English. At this time, Wales was still an independent principality, but it had been conquered by the English in the 13th century and gradually brought under English control. The poem was written in response to an event that took place in 1746 when a group of Welsh rebels led by the adventurer Charles Edward Stuart (also known as Bonnie Prince Charlie) attempted to overthrow the English government and restore the Stuart dynasty to the throne. 

The rebellion was unsuccessful, and the English army defeated the Welsh rebels at the Battle of Culloden. ‘The Bard: A Pindaric Ode’ is a lament for this defeat and a celebration of Welsh culture and identity in the face of English domination. In addition, the poem reflects Gray’s own interest in history and mythology, as he draws on the legends and myths of ancient Welsh culture to create a sense of epic grandeur and tragedy.

Overall, the historical context of ‘The Bard: A Pindaric Ode’ reflects the tensions and conflicts that characterized the relationship between England and Wales in the 18th century and the broader cultural and intellectual currents of the time.

Form and Structure

‘The Bard: A Pindaric Ode’ by Thomas Gray is a complex and highly structured poem that is divided into three sections, each of which contains three stanzas, each with a different number of lines and different rhyme schemes. The structure of the poem is influenced by the Pindaric ode, a type of poem that originated in ancient Greece and was often used to celebrate victories in athletic or artistic competitions. The Pindaric ode consists of a series of three-part stanzas, each of which is composed of a strophe, an antistrophe, and an epode.

Here is the form and structure of each part of ‘The Bard: A Pindaric Ode’:

Part I: The introductory stanza

  • This stanza has 48 lines.
  • The rhyme scheme of the first part is ABABCCDDEFEFGG.
  • The rhyme scheme of the second part is also the same 
  • The rhyme scheme of 29-41 lines of the third part is ABCBACDEEDFGFG, and after this, the rhyme is irregular.

Part II: The Vision of the Past

  • This stanza has 47 lines.
  • The rhyme scheme of the first part is ABABCCDDEEFFGG.
  • The rhyme scheme of the second part is also the same.
  • The rhyme scheme of the third part is ABCBACDEEDFGFGHIHIJJ.

The stanza is divided into three sections: the first part describes the historical events that led to the fall of the Welsh king and his ancestors, and the remaining parts describe the details of his doom and the new beginning of the Tudor Dynasty.

Part III: The Prophecy and the Lament

  • This part has 47 lines.
  • The rhyme scheme of the first part is ABABCCDDEFEFGG.
  • The rhyme scheme of the second part is also the same.
  • The rhyme scheme of the third part is ABCBACDEEFGHGHIJFJKK.

The part is divided into three stanzas: the first 27 lines describe the prophecy of the bard and the fate of the English King as well as the result of his actions.  The remaining lines describe the lament of the bard for the loss of his people and the downfall of his culture.

Literary Devices

Thomas Gray’s ‘The Bard: A Pindaric Ode’ is a poem that utilizes various literary devices to create an atmosphere of grandeur and tragedy. Some of the literary devices used in the poem are:

  • Apostrophe: The poem begins with an apostrophe, a rhetorical device in which the speaker addresses someone or something that is absent or cannot respond. The speaker addresses the “ruthless King,” Edward I, in an accusatory and threatening tone, effectively setting the tone for the rest of the poem. Also, the words “Mountains, ye mourn in vain” and “Dear lost companions of my tuneful art” are examples of apostrophes, where the poet addresses the mountains and his deceased colleagues as if they were present and could hear him. This device creates a sense of intimacy and emotional connection between the poet and his subject matter.
  • Alliteration: Gray uses alliteration to create a sense of rhythm and emphasis. Examples include “Conquest’s crimson wing” and “couch’d his quiv’ring lance.” 
  • “Cold is Cadwallo’s tongue,” “Modred, whose magic song,” “far, far aloof,” “griesly band,” “dreadful harmony,” and “bloody hands” are other examples of alliteration that create a musical quality to the poem and add emphasis to certain words.
  • Imagery: The poet uses vivid imagery to paint a picture of the scene. The “crested pride” of Edward’s army is contrasted with the “shaggy side” of Snowdon, emphasizing the natural beauty of the Welsh landscape. The image of Mortimer “couching” his lance adds to the tension and drama of the moment. “On a rock, whose haughty brow,” “giant oak,” “desert cave,” “torrent’s awful voice,” “cloud-topp’d head,” “dreary Arvon’s shore,” “famish’d eagle,” “yonder cliffs” are examples of the vivid visual images created by the poet. The use of sensory details helps to bring the setting and characters to life in the reader’s mind.
  • In the second part, the poet uses vivid imagery to evoke powerful emotions and sensory experiences. For instance, the image of the poet with his beard and hoary hair, which streams like a meteor in the troubled air, or the image of the mountains mourning in vain for their fallen heroes. The imagery of the She-Wolf tearing the bowels of her mate or the towers of Julius being fed with foul and midnight murder are also potent and disturbing. And in the last part, the instances are “Visions of glory, spare my aching sight” and “Her lion-port, her awe-commanding face.”
  • Metaphor: Gray uses metaphor to describe the futility of Edward’s efforts to conquer Wales. The banners that are “fanned by Conquest’s crimson wing” are said to “mock the air with idle state,” suggesting that their triumphs are ultimately meaningless and empty. Also, “weave with bloody hands the tissue of thy line” is a metaphor that compares the avengers to weavers, emphasizing their role in shaping the future of the King’s lineage.

In the second part, the poet employs metaphor to describe the impending downfall of the King’s dynasty, comparing it to a winding sheet. The characters of hell are also used as a metaphor to describe the evil deeds of the King. In the third part, the examples are-“Weave we the woof. The thread is spun,” where the thread is a metaphor for the fate of Edward’s race.

  • Repetition: The phrase, “From Cambria’s curse, from Cambria’s tears!” is repeated twice, emphasizing the Welsh people’s sense of outrage and resentment towards the English invaders. And the repeated use of the word “dear” emphasizes the poet’s fondness for his lost companions, while the repetition of “mighty” emphasizes the King’s power and might. The repetition of the phrase, “The web is woven. The work is done,” adds a sense of finality and completion to the poem.
  • Personification: “Revenge on thee in hoarser murmurs breathe” personifies the emotion of revenge by attributing human qualities to it.
    • “Mountains, ye mourn in vain” personifies mountains and ascribes the human quality of mourning to them.  The poet personifies several objects and concepts. For instance, the banners of the King are said to mock the air with idle state, and the oak trees and cave are said to sigh and breathe out revenge. Amazement, Flight, Sorrow, and Solitude are also personified. “Bright Rapture calls, and soaring, as she sings, Waves in the eye of Heav’n her many-colour’d wings,” where Rapture is personified and described as having wings.
  • Assonance: “Sighs to the torrent’s awful voice beneath” is an example of assonance, where the repetition of the vowel sound “i” creates a musical effect.
  • Hyperbole: the phrase “hundred arms they wave” is a hyperbole that exaggerates the number of arms of the giant oak trees, emphasizing their power and menace.
  • Simile: Also, “Stream’d, like a meteor, to the troubled air” is a  simile that compares the poet’s hair to a meteor, emphasizing the wildness and unpredictability of his emotions.
  • Anaphora: “Dear, as the light that visits these sad eyes, Dear, as the ruddy drops that warm my heart” is an example of anaphora, where the repetition of the word “dear” at the beginning of each phrase emphasizes the poet’s strong emotional attachment to his deceased colleagues.
  • Symbolism: The ‘bristled Boar’ is used as a symbol of the King’s dynasty, while the rose of snow and the thorny shade are symbols of the Lancastrian and Yorkist factions in the Wars of the Roses. Snowdon’s height is used as a symbol for the passage of time and the unfolding of history.
  • Irony: The contrast between the King’s past glory and his current downfall is ironic, as is the image of Thirst and Famine scowling at the King’s feast. The final lines of the poem are ironic, as the Bard, who has been singing about the glories of the past, chooses to jump to his death rather than face the reality of the present.


Detailed Analysis

Part I

Stanza One

“Ruin seize thee, ruthless King!

Confusion on thy banners wait,

Tho’ fann’d by Conquest’s crimson wing

They mock the air with idle state.

Helm, nor hauberk’s twisted mail,

Nor even thy virtues, tyrant, shall avail

To save thy secret soul from nightly fears,

From Cambria’s curse, from Cambria’s tears!”

Such were the sounds, that o’er the crested pride

Of the first Edward scatter’d wild dismay,

As down the steep of Snowdon’s shaggy side

He wound with toilsome march his long array.

Stout Glo’ster stood aghast in speechless trance;

To arms! cried Mortimer, and couch’d his quiv’ring lance.

‘The Bard: A Pindaric Ode‘ by Thomas Gray is a poem that tells the story of the last surviving bard of Wales, who, in a fit of despair and anger, curses the English King Edward I and predicts his downfall. The first 14 lines of the poem set the scene and introduce the bard and how he curses the king. Gray uses vivid and evocative language to describe the rugged and desolate landscape of Wales, with its misty mountains and roaring waterfalls. The “lofty” crags and “hollow” caves suggest the rugged and inhospitable terrain of Wales, which contrasts with the more civilized and ordered world of the English. 

The poet curses the ruthless king that he will be ruined and his dynasty and ancestors will go through many dark nights for his deeds. His flag (crimson wing), now flying, is stained with the blood of innocents. The King assumes that his win over the execution brought him an idle state, but it is so wrong. The poet says that neither his spear nor his shield, the virtues of heaven, can protect his soul from the fearful nights. His soul will be doomed because of the curses and tears of the Cambrian people for the suffering he brought upon them.

The King has done wrong to the poets that the bard’s curse will be there moving in the air.  As the army comes down from “Snowdon’s shaggy side,” the bard’s curse becomes clearer. His father-in-law comes to hear the bard’s curse and is struck with fear and becomes speechless. The army captain senses something awful, calls the army, and takes his spear when he hears the bard’s curse. In the stanza, the imagery sets up the central conflict of the poem: the struggle between the Welsh bards, who represent the spirit of Wales, and the English invaders, who seek to subjugate them.

Stanza Two

On a rock, whose haughty brow

Frowns o’er old Conway’s foaming flood,

Rob’d in the sable garb of woe,

With haggard eyes the poet stood;

(Loose his beard, and hoary hair

Stream’d, like a meteor, to the troubled air)

And with a master’s hand, and prophet’s fire,

Struck the deep sorrows of his lyre;

“Hark, how each giant-oak, and desert cave,

Sighs to the torrent’s awful voice beneath!

O’er thee, O King! their hundred arms they wave,

Revenge on thee in hoarser murmurs breathe;

Vocal no more, since Cambria’s fatal day,

To high-born Hoel’s harp, or soft Llewellyn’s lay.

In the second part of ‘The Bard: A Pindaric Ode,‘ Thomas Gray shifts his focus from the subject of the bard’s curse against the English King Edward I to the description of the last bard. The stanza begins with a description of the bard’s attire. He is standing on a high rock, which he compares with a brow, and the Conway River flows beneath him. The bard is wearing a furry robe, and his eyes are exhausted after everything he experienced. His beard and hair are unruly and float like a meteor in “the troubled air.” 

He shows his gratitude to the “ master,” i.e., the god, for saving his life and sings a poem about how the giant oak trees and caves disrespect the torrent’s voice. The bard curses the brutal king as he silences all the Cambrian bards, they will come back with hundred arms to take revenge upon him. The stanza ends with a warning that the king will also suffer the extreme because he killed the innocent poet Hoel and the king of Wales, Llewellyn. The bard’s curse continues with a vision of Wales rising against its conquerors, with the “maddening” sound of war drums and the “terrible array” of battle. 

The bard predicts that the “mighty chiefs” of Wales will lead their people to victory and that the “fiends of hell” will join the battle on their side. This suggests that the bard sees the conflict as a struggle between good and evil, with the Welsh fighting for their cultural and spiritual survival.

The language in this stanza is emotive and powerful, conveying the bard’s grief and anger at the loss of his nation’s freedom and the betrayal of some of his people. This suggests that the bard’s curse is so powerful and full of rage that it consumes him, leading to his downfall. Overall this stanza highlights the bard’s role as a prophet and his belief in the triumph at the end.

Stanza Three

“Cold is Cadwallo’s tongue,

That hush’d the stormy main;

Brave Urien sleeps upon his craggy bed:

Mountains, ye mourn in vain

Modred, whose magic song

Made huge Plinlimmon bow his cloud-topp’d head.

On dreary Arvon’s shore they lie,

Smear’d with gore, and ghastly pale:

Far, far aloof th’ affrighted ravens sail;

The famish’d eagle screams, and passes by.

Dear lost companions of my tuneful art,

Dear, as the light that visits these sad eyes,

Dear, as the ruddy drops that warm my heart,

Ye died amidst your dying country’s cries—

No more I weep. They do not sleep.

On yonder cliffs, a griesly band,

I see them sit, they linger yet,

Avengers of their native land:

With me in dreadful harmony they join,

And weave with bloody hands the tissue of thy line:—

In the third part of the first stanza, the poet is reminiscing about his fellow bard and how much potential they had. He first remembers Cadwallo, a talented poet who could stop the storm with his poetry. He recalls the brave poet Urien, who is now sleeping in the mountains. The mountains also mourn his death, but everything is in vain now.

He then remembers Modred, the magical poet who can make the highest mountain Plinlimmon, bow before him with his poetry. All these great poets are now lying on the shore of the river Avron. Their blood-stained bodies become pale, and even the crows are afraid to come near. The ravenous eagle also passes away without eating them.

The bard is now crying for his companions. He says that these are the lost companions of his art, and his eyes can not help getting teary, leaving his heart aching for their presence. These three poets he mentioned, along with the other innocent bards executed by King Edward I, are not sleeping, and for that reason, he will not weep more. 

They are planning to avenge the brutal King Edward I for the massacre he did with the Cambrian bards. The stanza ends with the poet’s desire to join in this end game of King Edward I by weaving the death robe for those bloody hands. The language in this stanza is highly emotive, conveying the intense emotions of the bard as he confronts the reality of his people’s defeat.

Part II

Stanza One

”Weave the warp, and weave the woof,

The winding sheet of Edward’s race.

Give ample room, and verge enough

The characters of hell to trace.

Mark the year, and mark the night,

When Severn shall re-echo with affright

The shrieks of death, thro’ Berkley’s roofs that ring,

Shrieks of an agonising King!

She-Wolf of France, with unrelenting fangs,

That tear’st the bowels of thy mangled mate,

From thee be born, who o’er thy country hangs

The scourge of Heav’n. What terrors round him wait!

Amazement in his van, with Flight combin’d,And Sorrow’s faded form, and Solitude behind.

These lines from the poem ‘The Bard: A Pindaric Ode‘ by Thomas Gray present a vivid and powerful image of the downfall of Edward’s race. The language is dramatic, and the imagery is intense and haunting. The lines convey the idea of the horrors that await those who dare to challenge the natural order of things.

The first two lines of the stanza set the tone of the poem. The “warp” and “woof” refer to the threads used in weaving. Here, the poet is weaving the “winding sheet” of Edward’s race, which means that he is symbolically preparing for their death. This imagery sets the stage for the rest of the stanza, focusing on the characters of hell that will soon be at work.

The poet urges the reader to “give ample room, and verge enough” to the characters of hell. This implies their vast and overwhelming power, and they will not have to be in a small space. The poet then asks the reader to “mark the year, and mark the night,” which creates a sense of foreboding and urgency. Something terrible is about to happen, and the reader must be aware of it.

The following lines focus on the death of a king. The poet describes the “shrieks of death” that will echo through Berkley’s roofs. The use of the word “agonising” emphasizes the pain and suffering that the king will endure. The poet then introduces She-Wolf of France and describes her as having “unrelenting fangs.” This image is both powerful and terrifying. It presents her as a predator who will stop at nothing to achieve her goals.

The She-Wolf of France is asked to “give birth” to a son who will be the scourge of heaven. The word “scourge” suggests that this son is a punishment by the gods. The stanza ends with a description of the terrors that will surround this son. Amazement, flight, sorrow, and solitude will all be his companions.

Stanza Two

“Mighty victor, mighty lord,

Low on his funeral couch he lies!

No pitying heart, no eye, afford

A tear to grace his obsequies.

Is the Sable Warrior fled?

Thy son is gone. He rests among the dead.

The swarm, that in thy noon-tide beam were born?

Gone to salute the rising Morn.

Fair laughs the Morn, and soft the Zephyr blows,

While proudly riding o’er the azure realm

In gallant trim the gilded vessel goes;

Youth on the prow, and Pleasure at the helm;

Regardless of the sweeping Whirlwind’s sway,

That, hush’d in grim repose, expects his evening prey.

In the second stanza of part two of ‘The Bard: A Pindaric Ode,’ Thomas Gray brings together the various themes and motifs he explores throughout the poem. The stanza begins with  the bard’s prophecy, which is said to be a “voice of woe.” The bard shifts the focus to Edward II and addresses him as the “mighty lord,” the “mighty Victor.” Though the King has so much power, he is now lying dead on his couch, and no one is there to shed tears for him or mourn his loss.

The most striking aspect of this passage is the bard’s prophecy itself. He predicts the downfall of Edward III and the triumph of Welsh independence, a bold and revolutionary statement at the time. The bard says that Edward III, son of Edward II, will die before him and lie among the dead. Then the bard asks what happened with the people who were with the wealthy king and answers that those people have left to pay homage to the new King Richard II.

The imagery used in this section of the poem is particularly striking.  The bard describes the new bright morning, and with the morning, there is a new ship proudly riding on the “azure” sea. On the front part of the ship, there is youth, and on the back, there is pleasure mingled up with each other to make the time better. The sea is very much calm, but in reality, it is violent.

Though the ship is unable to look for danger in its silence, the sea is quietly waiting for its evening prey. The poet used historical allusion. The danger he was warning about was the series of wars like the Hundred Years’ War, peasant revolts, etc., which started in the reign of Richard II.

Stanza Three

“Fill high the sparkling bowl,

The rich repast prepare;

Reft of a crown, he yet may share the feast.

Close by the regal chair

Fell Thirst and Famine scowl

A baleful smile upon their baffled guest.

Heard ye the din of battle bray,

Lance to lance, and horse to horse?

Long years of havoc urge their destin’d course

And thro’ the kindred squadrons mow their way.

Ye towers of Julius, London’s lasting shame,

With many a foul and midnight murther fed,

Revere his consort’s faith, his father’s fame,

And spare the meek usurper’s holy head.

Above, below, the rose of snow,

Twined with her blushing foe, we spread:

The bristled Boar in infant-gore

Wallows beneath the thorny shade.

Now, brothers, bending o’er th’ accursed loom

Stamp we our vengeance deep, and ratify his doom.

The lines in this section are part of a larger portion of the poem where the Bard prophesies the future of Britain and the fate of the Welsh people. The stanza begins with an exhortation to celebrate, urging those present to “fill high the sparkling bowl” and prepare a rich feast. The reason for the celebration is not immediately clear, but it becomes apparent that the occasion is the defeat of an enemy, most likely the English, who have long been the oppressors of the Welsh people.

The next line, “Reft of a crown, he yet may share the feast,” refers to the defeated English king, who, though he has lost his crown and power, is still alive and present at the feast. The Bard mocks the fallen king by suggesting that he is now a guest at his table, forced to share in the revelry of his conquerors.

The following lines introduce two unwelcome guests at the feast, Thirst and Famine, who “scowl a baleful smile” at the defeated king. This imagery reinforces the idea of the English king’s downfall and suffering, as he is forced to share a table with those who have defeated him, even as he is tormented by hunger and thirst. The mood then shifts as the Bard invites his audience to imagine the sounds of battle, with “the din of battle bray, lance to lance, and horse to horse.” The Bard describes a scene of violent conflict, with soldiers on both sides charging at each other with weapons drawn.

The stanza then turns to a series of allusions to historical events in Britain. The “towers of Julius” refer to the Tower of London, which was built by Julius Caesar and later became a symbol of oppression and tyranny. The “foul and midnight murder” refers to the many bloody events that have occurred within its walls. The Bard calls on the people of Britain to “revere” the English king’s “consort’s faith” and his “father’s fame,” suggesting that despite his defeat, the king is still worthy of respect.

The final lines of the stanza are the most chilling, as the Bard calls for revenge against the English king. The “rose of snow” and “blushing foe” refer to the English rose and its red color, which has long been associated with England. The “bristled Boar in infant-gore” is a reference to the symbol of Wales and the bloody battle that has taken place between the two nations. The “accursed loom” may refer to the idea that the English have been weaving a plot against the Welsh for centuries, and the time has come for the Welsh to take their revenge.

Part III

Stanza One

“Edward, lo! to sudden fate

(Weave we the woof. The thread is spun)

Half of thy heart we consecrate.

(The web is wove. The work is done.)’

Stay, oh stay! nor thus forlorn

Leave me unbless’d, unpitied, here to mourn!

In yon bright track, that fires the western skies!

They melt, they vanish from my eyes.

But oh! what solemn scenes on Snowdon’s height

Descending slow their glitt’ring skirts unroll?

Visions of glory, spare my aching sight,

Ye unborn Ages, crowd not on my soul!

No more our long-lost Arthur we bewail.

All-hail, ye genuine kings, Britannia’s issue, hail!

The first part of the third stanza of ‘The Bard: A Pindaric Ode’ by Thomas Gray depicts the Bard as a figure of prophecy, foretelling the doom that awaits the English soldiers who have killed his people. This section of the poem is notable for its use of vivid and evocative language as well as its depiction of the Bard as a powerful and mysterious figure.

The language used in these lines is particularly striking. The bard addresses Edward I and says that the cloth is complete. The cloth the bards started weaving to write all the curses his family would face. The next moment, he asks The spirits of his fellow bards, who helped him to weave the cloth, not to leave him alone to mourn. Thomas Gray uses panoramic images to show the emotions of the bard. The spirits are fading away from his bright sight and vanishing in the western sky.

The bard asks what these slowly descending solemn scenes of the mountain Snowdon are, which he could not understand. The poet requests the vision of glory to spare his aching eyes and forbids it to weigh down his heart. The Bard’s prophecy also is presented in powerful terms. The word “long-lost Arthur” signifies the belief of the welsh people that the dead King Arthur, with the Tudor Dynasty, will resurrect someday and conquer his land again.

These lines highlight the transformative power of prophecy and tell that the fate of nations can be shaped by the words of a single individual.

Stanza Two

“Girt with many a baron bold

Sublime their starry fronts they rear;

And gorgeous dames, and statesmen old

In bearded majesty appear.

In the midst a form divine!

Her eye proclaims her of the Briton-line;

Her lion-port, her awe-commanding face,

Attemper’d sweet to virgin-grace.

What strings symphonious tremble in the air,

What strings of vocal transport round her play!

Hear from the grave, great Taliessin, hear;

They breathe a soul to animate thy clay.

Bright Rapture calls, and soaring, as she sings,

Waves in the eye of Heav’n her many-colour’d wings.

Gray describes the haunting music of the Welsh bard as he foretells the downfall of Edward I and the triumph of Welsh independence in these lines. This stanza describes a scene of great pomp and ceremony as the Welsh bards gather to honor their fallen warrior prince. The language is richly descriptive, painting a vivid picture of the scene and its participants.

The first four lines set the stage for the arrival of the people in the palace. They are described as  “girt with many a baron bold,” suggesting that powerful and influential men surround them. The bard described these men as having “starry fronts,” which adds a sense of grandeur and nobility to their appearance. The presence of “gorgeous dames” and “statesmen old” further reinforces the idea of a grand and salient occasion. 

Amid this gathering, a “form divine” appears. This figure is portrayed as having the attire of a British royal, with a “lion-port” and an “awe-commanding face.” However, she is also described as having a sweet and graceful demeanor, which adds a touch of femininity to her powerful presence. This figure is likely a representation of Queen Elizabeth I, who is believed to have descended from the Welsh royal line of Cadwaladr. The divine lady is also a symbol of the rise of the Tudor dynasty.

The following lines describe the music that accompanies the queen’s appearance. The “strings symphonious” and “strings of vocal transport” suggest a powerful and emotional musical performance, perhaps performed by the bards. The mention of the great Welsh poet Taliesin, who is called upon to hear the music from his grave, adds to the sense of the occasion’s importance.

The final lines of this section describe the effects of the music on those who hear it. The image of “Bright Rapture” soaring and waving her “many-colour’d wings” suggests a sense of spiritual ecstasy, as though the music is capable to lift the soul to new heights. This image reinforces the idea of the transformative power of music and poetry, the key theme of the poem as a whole.

Above all, these lines are richly detailed and evocative descriptions of a grand and salient occasion. The language is rich and musical, echoing the power of the music. The image of Queen Elizabeth I adds a sense of historical importance to the scene, while the focus on the power of music and poetry reinforces the idea that these art forms can transcend time and connect us to the past.

Stanza Three

“The verse adorn again

Fierce War, and faithful Love,

And Truth severe, by fairy Fiction drest.

In buskin’d measures move

Pale Grief, and pleasing Pain,

With Horror, tyrant of the throbbing breast.

A voice, as of the cherub-choir,

Gales from blooming Eden bear;

And distant warblings lessen on my ear,

That lost in long futurity expire.

Fond impious man, think’st thou, yon sanguine cloud,

Rais’d by thy breath, has quench’d the orb of day?

To-morrow he repairs the golden flood,

And warms the nations with redoubled ray.

Enough for me: with joy I see

The different doom our Fates assign.

Be thine Despair, and scept’red Care,

To triumph, and to die, are mine.”

He spoke, and headlong from the mountain’s height

Deep in the roaring tide he plung’d to endless night.

The stanza is the monologue spoken by the Welsh bard, who is prophesying the future of his nation and marking the end of the bard’s speech, and describing his dramatic suicide. The idea of “buskin’d measures” suggests the grandeur and drama of these tales as they are performed on a grand stage. The bard describes the power of poetry to “adorn again,” i.e., the poetry will win again and will be everywhere in the themes of war, love, truth, grief, pain, and horror

The poet draws the lines of Spenser’sThe Faerie Queene’ (“Fierce wars and faithful loves shall moralize my song”[l. 9]). He also describes the power of music to evoke a sense of spiritual transcendence. The poet speaks of Shakespeare in the line “Pale Grief, and pleasing Pain….”.

The bard goes on to describe the power of music to evoke a sense of transcendence. He speaks of “buskin’d measures” that can move the emotions of the listener, evoking feelings of “pale Grief” and “pleasing Pain.” He also describes music as being capable of summoning the “voice of the cherub choir” and bringing the distant warblings of the past to life. The image of music carrying the sounds of Eden suggests that it has the power to transport the listener to a higher realm of spiritual awareness.

The bard is talking about a man who will convey the voice of God, and here the poet is talking about the “Eden Garden” episode of Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” where he will say what God says about the man of the earth.

The image of the “distant warblings” that “lessen on my ear” suggests a sense of loss and nostalgia, as though the bard is aware that this moment of inspiration is fleeting and will soon be gone. The bard then addresses Edward I as a “fond impious man,” suggesting that human beings often fail to understand the true power and significance of the world around them. He says that the brutal king may think that he killed all the bards and all the poetry, but he is wrong.

Finally, the bard plunges “headlong from the mountain’s height” into “endless night.” After telling that everyone will be doomed in their assigned way, he jumps from the cliff into the river. This dramatic image suggests that his death is both a tragic and heroic act, evoking the image of a noble warrior falling in battle. It reinforces the idea that the themes of war, love, and truth are deeply connected to our sense of mortality and that our deaths are an integral part of the stories we tell about ourselves.

About Thomas Gray

Thomas Gray (1716-1771) was a renowned English poet, scholar, and letter-writer, best known for his elegiac poem Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.’ He was born in London to a wealthy family and was educated at Eton and Cambridge University, where he studied classics and literature. Gray was known for his erudition and scholarly interests, which included history, antiquarianism, and classical literature.

In addition to his poetry, Gray was also a respected scholar and critic, and he was instrumental in the revival of interest in medieval Welsh literature. He was a fluent speaker of Welsh and spent time in Wales studying its language and culture. This interest in Welsh culture is reflected in his poem ‘The Bard: A Pindaric Ode,’ which celebrates the history and cultural identity of the Welsh people in the face of English domination.

Gray’s poetry is characterized by its elegance, precision, and formal structure, as well as its melancholy and introspective tone. He was a master of poetic form and technique, and his work was highly influential on later poets, including the Romantic poets. Gray’s impact on English literature has been enduring, and his work continues to be celebrated for its beauty and emotional depth.

FAQs

What is the poem ‘The Bard: A Pindaric Ode’ about?

The poem is about a Welsh bard who, after witnessing the defeat of his people by the English, curses the English King and prophesizes future victories for the Welsh.

Why is the poem called a Pindaric ode?

The poem is called a Pindaric ode because it is written in the form of a Pindaric ode, which is a type of ode named after the ancient Greek poet Pindar. The Pindaric ode consists of a series of three-part stanzas, each of which is composed of a strophe, an antistrophe, and an epode.

What is the theme of ‘The Bard: A Pindaric Ode?’

The poem explores themes of Welsh identity, national pride, and resistance to oppression. It emphasizes the contrast between Welsh and English cultures and histories and celebrates the strength and resilience of the Welsh people.

What literary devices does ‘The Bard: A Pindaric Ode’ use?

The poem uses various literary devices, including imagery, metaphor, personification, symbolism, allusion, and repetition. These devices are used to create a sense of grandeur and tragedy and to emphasize important themes and motifs.

What is the historical context of ‘The Bard: A Pindaric Ode?

The poem was written in the 18th century, during a time of political tension between England and Wales. The poem reflects the Welsh struggle for independence and their resistance to English domination.

What is the poem ‘The Bard: A Pindaric Ode’ about?

The poem is about the last Welsh bard who, after witnessing the defeat of his people by the English, prophesies their downfall and sacrifices himself by jumping off a cliff.

What is the rhyme scheme of ‘The Bard: A Pindaric Ode?’

The rhyme scheme of the poem is mixed, mainly focusing on ABAB, CCDD, EFEF, and GG, with each letter representing a different rhyme.

What themes does ‘The Bard: A Pindaric Ode’ explore?

The poem explores themes of Welsh identity, national pride, resistance to oppression, and the cyclical nature of history.

What is the significance of the bard’s sacrifice?

The bard’s sacrifice represents the willingness of the Welsh people to fight for their freedom and independence, even in the face of defeat and oppression.

What is the mood of ‘The Bard: A Pindaric Ode?’

The poem has a melancholic and tragic mood as it deals with the defeat and oppression of the Welsh people. However, it also contains themes of resilience and hopes for the future.


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Dipayan Mustafi Poetry Expert
About
Dipayan Mustafi is an enthusiastic literature practitioner who loves to wield his pen in English and to work with different kinds of poetry. He did his graduation as well as his Masters in English literature. He has a blog targeting mainly literature and its criticism.

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