Analysis

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Last Updated September 23, 2023.

As an ode, this poem is a lyrical and elevated form of poetry that celebrates and pays tribute to the evening as a subject of admiration and contemplation. Odes are characterized by their formal structure, elaborate language, and emotional depth. They often express intense feelings of reverence, beauty, and a profound connection to the subject matter—in this case, the evening and its natural surroundings.

Even though “Ode to Evening” contains many of the elements of a pastoral ode—through its discussion of nature and country life—it follows more in the tradition of the ancient Roman poet Horace and is more correctly identified as a Horatian ode. Like Horace’s odes, “Ode to Evening” consists of a mostly regular metrical structure and is not divided into rhyming couplets or triads.

In fact, there is no rhyme scheme in this poem at all. Instead, the rhythm is defined by alternating couplets of short and long lines. Each long line contains ten syllables—or two pentameters—while the short ones each have six syllables composed of two trimeters. This creates an alternating rhythm that represents the cyclical shift that occurs as day gives way to night.

Not surprising for a work at least partially inspired by Horace, there are numerous classical allusions (referring to Greek or Roman ideas, elements, or mythology) in “Ode to Evening.” Classical allusions were often used in poetry in the 18th century to create a sense of elegance and sophistication, and Collins' use of classical allusions in this poem is no exception.

The poem's use of elevated language and imagery, combined with its classical allusions, creates a sense of grandeur and beauty. For instance, the sun is depicted with masculine features, a choice most likely made to reference Apollo, the sun god. Evening itself is seen by Collins as a Classical muse he invokes to help him write this tribute:

Now teach me, maid composed,

To breathe some softened strain,

Whose numbers stealing through thy dark'ning vale

May not unseemly with its stillness suit,

As musing slow, I hail

Thy genial loved return.

But “Ode to Evening” contains Judeo-Christian religious imagery as well. Referring to the evening as “chaste Eve” emphasizes the purity of this time of day by making comparisons to the biblical Eve before she has fallen from grace. A bumblebee is a “pilgrim, borne in heedless hum.” The metaphor of evening as a "calm votaress" personifies this time of day as a serene and devoted figure, akin to a worshiper. A votaress is a woman who has taken her vows, so this metaphor of evening as a devout woman provides it with a sense of reverence and divine glory, all of which suggests that evening holds a sacred place in the natural world.

However, despite the sacred and pure personification of the evening, there is also a sexual element in many of Collins’ metaphors. The final set of lines concerning the seasons gives the evening a more carnal existence. Phrases like “breathing tresses” and “lap of leaves,” give evening attributes reminiscent of the human body. When Winter “rudely rends thy robes,” the audience cannot help but think of a sexual act.

All in all, evening is given a very feminine identity as it was often considered in Collins’ day. Evening is the opposite of the masculine day with its “bright-haired sun.” Instead, she is gentle, calm, and sensuous. In this way, “Ode to Evening” uses a vision of femininity as a way of characterizing and beautifully representing the evening in all its cyclical, recurring glory.

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