Thracian filly, why these scornful glances?
Why so cruelly run from me,
dismissing me as artless?
Trust me, I could slip the curb in deftly,
then with reins in hand could whirl
you round the turn-posts swiftly.
But instead you gambol in the pasture,
since you have no rider who's
a proper mounting-master.Anacreon 417
Why can't you see what's obvious?
The racehorse is Enetian,
while cousin Hagesichora
has gleaming hair of purest gold,
and her complexion silvery –
what need to tell you this so plain?
Here's Hagesichora – her looks
come second after Agido –
she'll gallop, a Colaxian
against a swift Ibenian;
because the Pleiades are here
advancing through the deathless night,
which clash like Sirius with us
who bring a robe for Orthria.extract from Alcman 1 (vv. 50–63)
You galleons of the Greeks,
which singe like Sirius,
you massacred so many,
wiped out in their prime, my age.
Those boats shall not ship them back:
the force of black-smoke flame
shall burn them in its brutal body.
And there shall be groans and grief
through all the Persian provinces.
you weighty fall of fate
that dragged me here to Greece!extract from Timotheus, Persians (fr. 791.178–88): Xerxes at Salamis
DEFINITIONS AND PERSPECTIVES
‘Lyric’ in contemporary literary criticism is a term as elusive as it is suggestive. It exists both as an adjective, expressing a poetic quality, and as a noun denoting a poetic mode, and both are notoriously difficult to define. It is this protean quality that has allowed ‘lyric’ to become a powerful creative stimulus for both poets and theorists.
A foundational period for today's sense of ‘lyric’ was the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century. Romantic thinkers, especially in Germany, expanded earlier, looser ideas into a systematic theory of three fundamental forms – lyric, epic and drama – each characterised by distinctive qualities. Even though the triad of genres never acquired the same prominence in Anglophone writing, the primary quality accorded within this system to lyric certainly did: despite strong counter-currents in twentieth-century criticism, ‘subjectivity’, a form of poetic self-expression, often couched in the first person (the ‘lyric “I”’), still remains a chief feature of ‘lyric’ for many readers, maintaining a special place on the long list of lyric qualities, alongside inwardness, emotionality, concision, truth, poeticity and musicality.