The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Ode to Evening,” a single stanza of fifty-two lines, is addressed to a goddess figure representing the time of day in the title. This “nymph,” or “maid,” who personifies dusk, is “chaste,” “reserv’d,” and meek, in contrast to the “bright-hair’d sun,” a male figure who withdraws into his tent, making way for night. Thus “Eve,” or evening, is presented as the transition between light and darkness.

William Collins further stresses a female identity in his appellation “calm vot’ress.” With this feminine form of “votary” he designates a nun, or one who vows to follow the religious life. This combination of modesty, devotion, and “pensive Pleasures” alludes to the dominating figure of John Milton’s “Il Penseroso.”

The poem has three parts: the opening salutation, locating Eve in sequence and in the countryside; the center, a plea for guidance in achieving a calm stoicism, with a qualification, showing the reason for the request, and a shift to a personal view-point; and a grand finale with a roll call of the seasons and a return to a universal dimension.

Throughout most of the poem, Collins acknowledges Eve’s authority and twilight’s pleasures, combining pastoral imagery with classical allusions. These give the poem a Miltonic overtone, familiar to readers of Collins’s day, and a close connection to his contemporaries, such as James Thomson and Joseph Warton.


(The entire section is 546 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Written in imitation of the Roman poet Horace, this poem is considered a Horatian rather than a pastoral ode, although it contains rural imagery and some conventions associated with pastoral poetry. The verse is unrhymed, with a metrical pattern developing as follows: alternating sets of two iambic pentameter lines and two shorter lines of iambic trimeter.

The sequence of longer and shorter couplets is more important for purposes of unity here than it would have been had the lines been rhyming couplets. Collins’s use of couplets follows the neoclassical tradition, but his introduction of the short trimeter lines is viewed, in that context, as an aberration. His balancing of long and short couplets helps to structure a poem considered too short for the verse paragraphs of blank verse and too long for one stanza. If each four-line set is viewed as a unit, the poem could be divided into thirteen stanzas. Ultimately, the metrical balance reflects the alternation of day and night, although only a transitional part of this cycle is the focus of the content and the imagery.

Collins uses conventional neoclassical poetic diction without resorting to extreme or ridiculous phraseology. One possible exception is the “pilgrim born in heedless hum,” a metaphor for a bee. Primarily, however, Collins’s metaphors stand on their own merits, sometimes coming close to clichés but not overcome by them. Language depicting pastoral images, such as “oaten...

(The entire section is 418 words.)