The Progress of Poesy

by Thomas Gray
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What is the form and structure of Gray's "The Progress of Poesy"?

Thomas Gray's "The Progress of Poesy" features the form and structure of a Pindaric ode, with some variations. The poem actually consists of three sets of strophe, antistrophe, and epode. The rhyme schemes run parallel in the strophe and antistrophe stanzas and vary in the epode stanzas. Gray uses the iambic meter but varies his line lengths, especially in his epode stanzas.

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Thomas Gray labels his poem "The Progress of Poesy" as a Pindaric ode, and indeed, it is, although Gray varies the ode form a bit to accommodate his own purposes. Let's look closely at the form and structure of this poem.

A Pindaric ode consists of three parts:...

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Thomas Gray labels his poem "The Progress of Poesy" as a Pindaric ode, and indeed, it is, although Gray varies the ode form a bit to accommodate his own purposes. Let's look closely at the form and structure of this poem.

A Pindaric ode consists of three parts: a strophe, an antistrophe, and an epode. The strophe presents the primary debate or subject of the ode. The antistrophe offers a response of some sort, sometimes a complication, sometimes an addition to the argument. The epode provides a sort of conclusion. While the strophe and antistrophe typically parallel each other structurally, the epode has its own form.

In Gray's ode, the strophe, antistrophe, and epode structure repeats three times. Stanzas I.1, I.2, and I.3 provide the first set, followed by the same pattern in stanzas II.1, II.2, and II.3 and stanzas III.1, III.2, and III.3. Each set essentially forms a mini ode in its own right. Some scholars argue that the three sections form an overall set of strophe (section I), antistrophe (section II), and epode (section III). In so doing, Gray adapts the ode to better express his own subject matter.

We should also note Gray's rhymes and rhythms. Stanzas I.1, I.2, II.1, II.2, III.1, and III.2 all follow the abbaccddeeff rhyme scheme. Look at the first stanza as an example. Lines 1 and 4 form the a rhyme with “awake” and “take”; lines 2 and 3 form the b rhyme with “strings” and “springs.” Lines 5 and 6 exhibit the c rhyme with “blow” and “flow,” while lines 7 and 8 show the d rhyme with “along” and “strong.” Finally, lines 9 and 10 feature the e rhyme in “reign” and “amain,” and lines 11 and 12 have the f rhyme with “pour” and “roar.” This is a strophe stanza, and the other two strophe stanzas match the rhyme scheme, as do the three antistrophe stanzas. This is expected in an ode.

The epode stanzas, however, are different although related. Stanza I.3 shows the rhyme scheme aabbaccdedefafagg. Notice the variations and the extra lines. Stanza II.3 presents the rhyme scheme aabbacdedefgfghh. This is different even from the first epode stanza. Stanza III.3 matches stanza II.3. Since epodes generally show their own form in an ode, Gray's varying structures here are not surprising.

Gray also varies his line lengths and rhythms in this poem. He typically uses the iambic meter (the alternation of unstressed followed by stressed syllables), but some lines contain four poetic feet, others five, and still others two. The greatest variations appear in the epode stanzas with their more fluid and flexible forms.

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