The Poem

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 546

“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.

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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.

After the opening apostrophe to Eve, nature takes over the first section (lines 3-14), with images of water in references to “solemn springs” plus the sun’s “cloudy skirts” and “wavy bed.” The wind plays a small part in setting the scene with only the one reference to “dying gales” subsiding to the point where “air is hush’d.” An allusion to John Milton’s “Lycidas” appears in the auditory image which invades the stillness in these lines: “Now air is hush’d, save where the weak-ey’d bat,/ With short, shrill shriek flits by on leathern wing” (lines 9-10). Other noises, less ominous, come from the beetle and the bee, a “pilgrim born in heedless hum.”

The second part of the poem starts with a request to the “maid compos’d,” who is worthy of emulation. “Now teach me,” Collins says, to write lines in keeping with the atmosphere Eve creates. The term “numbers” here stands not only for versification and metrics but also for poetry in general. This section splits into the prayer itself, the details of evening’s “genial, lov’d return,” and an ominous dimension that makes the depiction more realistic than the classical allusions do. The signal for return is the appearance of Hesperus, the evening star. At this point, place deities, termed “Hours,” “elves,” and nymphs, become servants preparing evening’s chariot for her entrance.

The poet takes center stage here, injecting a view of nature with “chill blustering winds” and “driving rain” that make him reluctant to follow Eve. A scene reminiscent of William Shakespeare’s King Lear being exposed to violent weather on the heath is softened with the sound of a church bell.

Finally, the poem presents the cyclical pageant of nature. Starting with a series of images befitting “meekest Eve” and sharply summarizing each season, the ending brings together the benefits possibly resulting from devotion to the goddess.

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 418

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 stop,” “yon western tent” of the sun, the “folding star” of Hesperus, and the mountain and valley landscapes, establish the general tone of the poem and reflect Collins’s neoclassicism. The Miltonic overlay created by these images, by the imitations of Miltonic style, and by lines alluding to others by Milton cannot be ignored.

Nature imagery serves to depict how darkness begins to take over the atmosphere without fanfare and develops a personality for Eve. The combination of these details and the adjectives used to describe Eve, such as modest, chaste, and meek, creates a comfortable feeling.

The comforts of tone and quiet devotion are driven off, however, by personal references to the poet, who, in spite of “willing feet,” is hiding inside the “hut,/ That, from the mountain’s side,/ Views wilds, and swelling floods” (lines 34-36) because of the cold and rainy winds on a suggestively Shakespearean heath. The image of spring would be overpowered by this picture, despite the sound of the church bell, were it not for the compelling pictures created for the other seasons in the ending.

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Themes