Published online by Cambridge University Press: 23 June 2022
Abraham Cowley’s 1656 Poems is one of the landmark volumes of the seventeenth century. Less studied than Milton’s 1645 Poems, it was markedly more influential: both the Pindarique Odes and the Davideis inaugurated or revived major literary trends. Anyone reading widely in fashionable verse, especially religious and devotional lyric of the later seventeenth and early eighteenth century is struck by the vogue for increasingly loose Pindarics, a trend attributed directly to Cowley; and the Davideis is often cited as a precursor for Paradise Lost. This chapter argues that while the influence of the 1656 volume is undeniable, its formal originality has been overstated by critics who have taken Cowley’s self-conscious remarks on this topic at face-value, and have not considered the extent to which the volume successfully imported into English verse a range of formal features already well established in contemporary Latin poetry. By placing Cowley’s volume back into the bilingual literary context from which it emerged, we can reassess both Cowley’s claims to formal innovation, and how those formal features were understood by his contemporaries.