Last Updated September 23, 2023.
In lyrical verse, the English poet William Collins praises the night sky in his “Ode to Evening.” First published in 1746, this ode was part of the then-budding Romantic literary tradition and reflects the poet's contemplation of the beauty and tranquility of the evening as both a natural and spiritual phenomenon.
Collins lived at a time when early industrialization and increasing urbanization were beginning to rapidly change England’s landscape. With that in mind, he wrote a number of odes praising a romanticized rural past in which the forces of nature were something to be praised rather than conquered. In many ways, Collins was paving the way for later Romantic poets, such as Wordsworth and Burns, who frequently wrote about the inspirational power of nature.
As was popular with other English poets of his day, Collin’s poetry relied on rich and expressive language to form a connection between the speaker and the poem’s subject. In “Ode to Evening,” his imagery and symbolism create a vivid and evocative image of the evening landscape in the reader's mind. For instance, the image of the "folding star," symbolizing the transition from day to night, helps the reader imagine the setting of the sun.
Collins' ode celebrates the calming and restorative power of evening. Over the 52 lines of this poem, Collins addresses the deified incarnation of evening itself, whom he calls Eve. The poem begins with a description of the evening sky, with its fading light and the emergence of stars. It then paints a vivid picture of the setting sun, the deepening twilight, and the hush that descends upon the world in its wake.
Throughout the poem, Collins personifies evening as a gentle, nurturing presence, comparing it to a goddess or nymph who brings comfort and peace to the weary soul. This personification reflects a fascination with nature and its ability to evoke profound emotions and contemplation.
Not only does Collins directly address the evening, but he also describes the effect it has on the landscape. For instance, as the sun sets, all is silent except for the fluttering of bats, the scurrying of beetles, and the buzzing of bees:
Now air is hushed, save where the weak-ey'd bat
With short shrill shriek flits by on leathern wing,
Or where the beetle winds
His small but sullen horn
As oft he rises 'midst the twilight path
Against the pilgrim, borne in heedless hum
Collins also explores the contrast between the bustling activities of daytime and the serene stillness of evening. He suggests that evening provides a welcome rest from the cares and worries of the day, allowing individuals to connect with their inner thoughts and emotions.
Collins ends the poem with a vivid description of how the different seasons each affect the evening. Despite the rains of spring, the light of summer, the changing leaves of autumn, and the storms of winter, which “Affrights thy shrinking train/And rudely rends thy robes,” evening will continue to provide him with comfort and inspiration.
The ode is not just a celebration of the beauty of the evening; it also carries a deeper philosophical and spiritual message. Collins subtly suggests that evening serves as a reminder of the temporary nature of life and the inevitability of death. However, rather than being a somber reflection, the poem encourages the reader to embrace the fleeting moments of beauty and tranquility that evening offers.