Hymn on Solitude

James Thomson


James Thomson

Nationality: English

James Thomson was an 18th-century British poet who is remembered for a few select poems.

He’s one of the sixteen Scottish poets on the Scott Monument.

‘Hymn on Solitude’ is separated into five stanzas with differing numbers of lines. The poem has a simple rhyme scheme, each line rhymes with the one directly following it creating an AABBCCDDEE… pattern throughout the piece. While simple in plot, in this poem Thomson describes in a way in which his speaker appreciates and understands Solitude, how it is more than just a lack of company, but a presence that can move throughout the landscape.

Hymn on Solitude by James Thomson


Hymn on Solitude Analysis

Hail, mildly pleasing solitude,
Companion of the wise and good;
But, from whose holy, piercing eye,
The herd of fools, and villains fly.
Oh! how I love with thee to walk,
And listen to thy whisper’d talk,
Which innocence, and truth imparts,
And melts the most obdurate hearts.

Thomson begins ‘Hymn on Solitude’ with a greeting, “Hail, mildly pleasing solitude / Companion of the wise and good:” In this address, the speaker is reaching out and talking to the essence of Solitude. He greets Solitude, and then begins to describe it. He refers to it as a companion of both the “wise and good” but from which, those who he condemns as fools and villains, fly from. These first opening lines set the tone for the rest of the poem in which Thomson will praise and celebrate the many qualities of Solitude and the way in which it promotes mystery, internal analysis, and spiritual speculation.

The speaker continues on to describe Solitude as a companion that he loves to walk and talk with. He is imbuing the concept of Solitude with human attributes, a technique that is commonly referred to as personification. To finish the stanza, Thomson describes Solitude as being innocent and without deceit, so much so that anyone that is in its presence even those with the “most obdurate hearts” will come to love and appreciate it as the speaker does.

A thousand shapes you wear with ease,
And still in every shape you please.
Now wrapt in some mysterious dream,
A lone philosopher you seem;
Now quick from hill to vale you fly,
And now you sweep the vaulted sky;
A shepherd next, you haunt the plain,
And warble forth your oaten strain;
A lover now, with all the grace
Of that sweet passion in your face:
Then, calm’d to friendship, you assume
The gentle-looking Hertford’s bloom,
As, with her Musidora, she,
(Her Musidora fond of thee)
Amid the long withdrawing vale,
Awakes the rival’d nightingale.

The next stanza is filled with descriptions of what Solitude looks like. Thomson describes it’s “thousand shapes” it “wear[s] with ease” and how each of these shapes is pleasing. The speaker continues on to tell of Solitude’s flightiness. How it flies quickly from “hill to vale,” and takes on the forms of philosopher, and shepherd as it “haunts the plain.” Thomson uses a number of archaic words that have fallen from common use in this piece, these include some of those which follow in the next line which describes the action taken by the shepherd: “And warble forth your oaten strain.” In this context, the shepherd is playing on a pipe that is made of oat straw.

Next, Solitude becomes a lover that is just as internally graceful or lovely, as it appears on the outside. Solitude’s final form, and its loveliness, is compared to a good friend of Thomson’s, Frances Thynne, Countess of Hertford. The next lines appear differently in various versions of the poem, in one, the name used is “Philomena” which was the pen name of a fellow poet, Elizabeth Singer Rowe. Philomena is spoken of as rivaling the nightingale, due to the fact that in Greek mythology Philomena, daughter of the king of Athens was transformed into a nightingale.

In another version of the poem, the name used is Musidora, which is Greek for ‘gift of the muses.’ This is also the name a female character in Thomson’s poem Summer. In Summer, Musidora is seen bathing naked by Damon, her eventual lover, and he is torn between his lust and his morality. The following lines, “Amid the long withdrawing vale, / Awakes the rival’d nightingale,” describe how Musidora sings as she bathes, in assumed solitude, and the song is so beautiful it challenges the nightingale.

Thine is the balmy breath of morn,
Just as the dew-bent rose is born;
And while meridian fervours beat,
Thine is the woodland dumb retreat;
But chief, when evening scenes decay,
And the faint landskip swims away,
Thine is the delightful dear decline,
And that best hour of musing thine.

Further descriptions of Solitude are given in this stanza of ‘Hymn on Solitude’. In this stanza, Thomson creates a contrast, comparing Solitude not to the intense heat, but to the silence of a woodland retreat. Finally, and best of all to the speaker, is the metaphor concerning Solitude’s similarity to the end of the day in which the sun is setting, (“evening scenes decay”), and the landskip, or landscape, “swims away.” The last two lines reiterate this point, making clear that this metaphor is the clearest and most poignant so far.

Descending angels bless thy train,
The virtues of the sage, and swain;
Plain Innocence in white array’d,
Before thee lifts her fearless head:
Religion’s beams around thee shine,
And cheer thy glooms with light divine:
About thee sports sweet Liberty;
And rapt Urania sings to thee.

At the beginning of this stanza, the train of Solitude’s dress is being blessed by angels, and the embodiment of Innocence, a repetition of a comparison seen in stanza one in which solitude has qualities of innocence. The next four lines see three more virtues to which solitude is compared, the first appears in additional versions of this poem in which line four of stanza four reads, “And Contemplation rears the head,” the second is Religion, and then Liberty. Finally, Solitude is being sung to by Urania, the muse of Milton in the opening of Paradise Lost Book VII.

Oh, let me pierce thy secret cell!
And in thy deep recesses dwell!
Perhaps from Norwood’s oak-clad hill,
When meditation has her fill,
I just may cast my careless eyes
Where London’s spiry turrets rise,
Think of its crimes, its cares, its pain,
Then shield me in the woods again.

In the last stanza of the poem Thomson brings the speaker back into the real world, and out of this deep contemplation of the perfection and importance of solitude that he has thus far been describing. The speaker once again speaks directly to Solitude as he did in the first stanza. He pleads to be let into “thy secret cell” and allowed to dwell in “they deep recesses.” The speaker moves on to contemplate a situation in which he is about to leave his Solitude and is in Norwood, an estate in Kent, and is casting his eyes down to see the “turrets” of London. The speaker describes how he would see all the crime and pain that exists there and then be taken back to solitude again.


About James Thomson

James Thomson (1700-1748) was a poet born in Roxburghshire, Scotland. After receiving education at Edinburgh College, Thomson moved to London in 1725 and worked as a tutor. During this time he created his four-part masterpiece entitled, The Seasons, which was completed in 1730. Thomson was known for his revolutionary way of creating a poem in which there is little to no plot, surprising avid poetry readers. Thomson died in 1748 in Richmond, England.

Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.

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