William Collins paints a beautiful picture of an evening in his poem, ‘Ode to Evening’. As the title is, it is a thoughtful meditation on the eve when the weary sun starts to get ready to rest. Collins directly addresses the eve as if it can hear the poet. He intends to please her. Thus he can get some inspiration in writing poetry that will be suitable to paint a mood depicting calmness and serenity. The serene beauty just before the night when darkness plays with the little light available is portrayed in this piece.
This picturesque poem presents a variety of images that beautifully depict the natural setting in the evening. The speaker of this piece who represents Collins’ poetic voice, converses directly with “Eve” or evening to please her. At first, by describing the sky, he details how the day is about to end and the night is approaching. The creatures like a bat and beetle give the readers an auditory effect. By painting the ambiance, he tries to depict the calmness in nature in the evening. In the end, Collins presents the effect of seasons on her (Eve).
This poem is about the poetic address to evening and a trial to please it. Collins compares the evening to a divine being and seeks divine inspiration from her. He hopes to please her with his poetry. At some point, he feels there is a dearth of appropriate expressions in his poetry. For this reason, he tries to imitate the natural mood that can be felt at the end of the day, just before the night.
Besides, the poet presents several images to depict the natural scene after the day-end. Those images are not uncommon and can be observed easily. As it is an ode to evening, readers can find some movements inside the text. For example, the first part deals with the description of nature in the evening. Moving on, it explores the poet’s plea to it. Lastly, it depicts the seasonal change and its reflection on it.
This poem is separated into two parts. The first part is longer than the following one. There is not any specific rhyme scheme in this text. It is in free verse. The rhythm mostly depends on the rhyming of neighboring words in a single line. Therefore, the internal rhythm sustains the flow.
The contraction and expansion of the lines depict the speaker’s mood. There is a specified metrical pattern in this poem. It is composed in the iambic pentameter and iambic trimeter alternatively. As the structure imitates the poet’s state of mind, so does its metrical scheme. The rising rhythm depicts how he feels while talking about the evening.
Collins uses several literary devices that make this impassioned address to evening more engaging and thought-provoking to the readers. In this poem, readers come across the use of metonymy at first. The “oaten stop” contains metonymy.
The poet uses personification for infusing human-like qualities in the evening. He compares it to the chaste spirit in the second line. In the third line, readers come across a simile. The comparison is made between the solemn sound during the evening to the song of the poet.
In “dying gales,” there is a personal metaphor. One can find the use of an apostrophe in the line, “O nymph reserved, while now the bright-haired sun.” In the phrase, “short shrill shriek,” there is an alliteration of the “s” sound. This phrase also contains an onomatopoeia.
Some important themes of ‘Ode to Evening’ are transition or change, nature, darkness, life, and death. The most important theme is transition. Collins depicts how nature takes a new shape after the day-end. In the critical juncture of the evening, he shows the natural change that is similar to the cycle of life. It seems the evening is a metaphorical reference to the moment just before death. It also depicts a new beginning that is unlike that of the day.
Another important theme is darkness. To be specific, Collins revolves around the theme of light vs darkness. Besides, the theme of nature is impregnated into this piece. How the natural scene takes a calm shape after the daylong spontaneity gets featured here. Last but not least, there are several implicit references to death. For example, the line, “Cheers the lone heath, or some time-hallowed pile” contains this theme.
If aught of oaten stop, or past’ral song,
May hope, chaste Eve, to soothe thy modest ear,
Like thy own solemn springs,
Thy springs and dying gales,
O nymph reserved, while now the bright-haired sun
Sits in yon western tent, whose cloudy skirts,
With brede ethereal wove,
O’erhang his wavy bed;
‘Ode to Evening’ contains a reference to the tune of an oaten flute and the pastoral poetry at the very beginning. In a pastoral poem or eclogue, a shepherd is often shown playing the oaten flute enjoying the spontaneity of the day and the lush, green pasture. In contrast, as the day is about to end and the night is arriving quickly in the scene, Collins’ poetic persona takes permission from the spirit of Eve to allow him to compose something else.
At such a critical juncture, nothing other than an ode is the best medium to convey the evening’s calm mood. Therefore, the speaker hopes to compose an ode to soothe Eve’s “modest ear.” In the quoted phrase, the poet uses a transferred epithet and synecdoche as well.
This ode imitates the sound of the “solemn springs” and “dying gales.” Readers can feel how the poet creates a monotonous mood from the beginning.
By addressing directly to the evening as a reserved nymph, the speaker shows how the “bright-haired sun” sits in the western sky, metaphorically the “western tent.” The cloudy skirts of the sky are woven with “ethereal brede.” It overhangs behind the sun’s “wavy bed.”
Now air is hushed, save where the weak-ey’d bat
With short shrill shriek flits by on leathern wing,
Or where the beetle winds
His small but sullen horn
As oft he rises ‘midst the twilight path
Against the pilgrim, borne in heedless hum:
The air is hushed as if it is also sad as the day is about to end. Peace lingers everywhere. But a few creatures such as the bat and beetle begins their soft musical composition praising the night-break. The “weak-eyed bat” with its short shrill shriek flies by on its “leathern wing.”
There is a humming sound of the beetle that winds its small but sullen horn. It rises amidst the “twilight path” against the sun, referred to as a “pilgrim.” He is borne by the beetle’s “heedless hum.” In the quoted phrase, readers can find the use of consonance and onomatopoeia.
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.
After providing an auditory and visual picture of the evening, the speaker requests the “composed maid” to teach him “some softened strain.” It is a reference to the ode that the poet is composing. The lines of the ode imitate the mood of the “darkening vale.” It is not unseemly with natural stillness. With this slow musing, Collins wishes to return Eve’s “genial love.” It is important to note here that this section of ‘Ode to Evening’ contains an inversion as the lines are reverted from the conventional order.
For when thy folding star arising shows
His paly circlet, at his warning lamp
The fragrant Hours, and elves
Who slept in flowers the day,
And many a nymph who wreathes her brows with sedge
And sheds the fresh’ning dew, and lovelier still,
The pensive pleasures sweet
Prepare thy shad’wy car.
When the folding star, another metaphorical reference to the sun, shows its “paly circlet,” it appears as a “warning lamp,” marking the “fragrant Hours.” The elves who sleep in flower in the morning and the nymph who wreathes her brows with the sedge (a grasslike plant) are shedding the “freshening dew.” They are lovelier still. With the sweet but pensive pleasures (an example of an oxymoron), nature prepares Eve’s “shadowy car.” The scenes of the evening are sweet to look at. But, they trigger a pensive mood in the onlooker’s mind.
Then lead, calm votress, where some sheety lake
Cheers the lone heath, or some time-hallowed pile
Or upland fallows grey
Reflect its last cool gleam.
The “calm votress,” or the personified evening, leads the speaker to some other scenes in ‘Ode to Evening’. “Votress” means a nun who has dedicated herself to religion by taking vows. She leads him to some “sheety lake” that cheers the lonely heath or some “time-hallowed pile” or pyre. The quoted phrase acts as a symbol of death. Besides, there are “grey fallows” that reflect Eve’s “last cool gleam.” Collings uses sensory imagery to portray how the cold evening breeze feels like.
But when chill blust’ring winds, or driving rain,
Forbid my willing feet, be mine the hut
That from the mountain’s side
Views wilds, and swelling floods,
And hamlets brown, and dim-discovered spires,
And hears their simple bell, and marks o’er all
Thy dewy fingers draw
The gradual dusky veil.
In this section, the speaker talks about a situation when he is unable to enjoy the calm beauty of the evening. If the “chill blustering wind” or “driving rain” forbids his willingness to go outside, he implores her to be with her in his little hut.
From there he can watch the mountain’s side viewing on the wilds, swelling floods, brown hamlets, and dim-discovered spires. Readers can see that here the poet uses a repetition of the conjunction “and”. It is an example of polysyndeton and is used to portray continuity.
He can hear the toll of the spire-bell and observe the day-end. The use of a beautiful image soothes a reader’s mind in the last two lines. Here, Eve is shown drawing the dusky veil over the sky with her dewy fingers.
While Spring shall pour his showers, as oft he wont,
And bathe thy breathing tresses, meekest Eve;
While Summer loves to sport
Beneath thy ling’ring light;
While sallow Autumn fills thy lap with leaves;
The second stanza of ‘Ode to Evening’ deals especially with the seasonal change and how it transforms the evening scene. According to Collins, in Spring, the showers bathe Eve’s “breathing tresses.” It is a reference to someone’s nearing death. Often there is no rain at all that can drench the meekest Eve.
While Summer loves to sport beneath her lingering light. The sallow Autumn fills her lap with withering leaves. In this way, the poet uses several colors for painting different pictures of the evening in a reader’s mind.
Or Winter, yelling through the troublous air,
Affrights thy shrinking train
And rudely rends thy robes;
So long, sure-found beneath the sylvan shed,
Shall Fancy, Friendship, Science, rose-lipp’d Health,
Thy gentlest influence own,
And hymn thy fav’rite name!
In Winter, the yell of the troublesome air affrights the shrinking strain of Eve. It rudely rends her robes. The repetition of the “r” sound creates a trembling sensation. Moving on to the following lines, the speaker found some personified beings beneath the “sylvan shed.” There are Fancy, Friendship, Science, and “rose-lipped Health.”
Here, the absence of conjunction presents asyndeton. In the quoted phrase, the poet uses synecdoche and metaphor as well. Besides, the poet personifies health as a beautiful lady.
They own the “gentlest influence” of the evening and sing a hymn dedicated to her favorite name. Readers can understand that here Collins is referring to his ‘Ode to Evening’.
William Collins, the poet of ‘Ode to Evening,’ was one of the important poets of the 18th century. He was second in influence only to Thomas Gray. His lyrical odes mark a transition from the Augustan poetry of Alexander Pope‘s generation and towards the imaginative aspect of romanticism.
His odes were largely formal and showed his liking for pindarics. This poem was published in his “Odes on Several Descriptive and Allegorical Subjects” in 1747. He also wrote several pastoral eclogues that made him famous for his art of versification, though sometimes his poetry lacked unique expression and exceptional imagination.
Here is a list of a few poems that similarly revolves around the serene beauty of nature during the evening. They are similar to themes present in William Collins’ ‘Ode to Evening’.
- To the Evening Star by William Blake – It’s one of Blake’s best-known poems and talks about the goddess Venus, the guiding spirit of the evening. Explore more poems of William Blake.
- A Hymn to the Evening by Phillis Wheatley – This poem describes a speaker’s desire to take on the glow of evening so that she may show her love for God. Read more Phillis Wheatley poems.
- Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost – It’s one of the best poems of Robert Frost. There is a narration of a man’s account, standing deep in the woods in the winter torn between two choices. Explore more poetry of Robert Frost.
- The Evening Wind by William Cullen Bryant – This poem describes the impact of the evening on varying parts of the earth, human, and inanimate objects. Read more poems of William Cullen Bryant.