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Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Ostensibly, “Ode to Evening” is a nature poem, one of those often considered a prelude to the Romantic movement or a deliberate and intentional antidote to the heroic genres most prominent in the earlier part of the Augustan age. The poem looks forward to the Age of Sensibility, a label which poems such as Thomson’s The Seasons (1730) and Warton’s The Enthusiast: Or, The Love of Nature (1744) helped to create. Collins’s ode promotes scenic nature, as do these poems, in contrast to the neoclassical emphasis upon human nature. Similarly, it even hints at the sublime in the section describing the mountain storm and the view from the hut as well as in the images of winter at the end. Nevertheless, just as evening is neither day nor night, this poem is neither fully pre-Romantic nor conventionally neoclassical. It is transitional, subtle, and generally quiet, like its subject.

Even though Collins follows convention in imagery, diction, and verse form, he demonstrates that he is not a slave to it. The ode exerts the “gentlest” of influences, as its subject does. Even the superlatives Collins uses are not exaggerations, but the superlative forms of adjectives such as “gentle” and “meek.”

The striking passages are, first, those depicting the prospect of a violent mountain storm as well as attack by winter on Eve’s entourage and her flowing garments; and second, the images which are more sharply focused in the pageant of seasons which ends the poem. These seem to establish the grounds for the earlier prayer in hopes of adopting evening’s calm demeanor and reserved behavior. Especially poignant are the lines describing how the wind and rain of the storm keep the poet’s “willing feet” from obeying their desire to follow Eve. These lines seem highly personal in light of Samuel Johnson’s famous phrase describing the poet, “poor dear Collins.” Contemporaries’ accounts of Collins’s life, including those by his friends, record mental breakdowns which are entirely relevant if one notes the poet’s own signals in this and other poems. The allusion to Lear on the heath is not the poet’s personal equation of himself with...

(The entire section is 545 words.)