Collins' Ode to Evening as a Transitional Poem- More Romantic than Classical

Collins is renowned as the Via media, the transitional mediator between the said classicism of the preceding poets like Pope and Dryden on the one hand and bridled romanticism of his successors like, Wordsworth and Shelly on the other. In a poem like Ode to Evening what he ushered in were emotion and imagination in place of reason, the rustic and the homely in place of metropolitan sophistry, lyric freedom in place of rigid couplets, and finally external nature and passion in place of ethical moralism. Rightly did Stoopford Brooke comment that ‘this poem seems to precedent the poetic temper of his successors - -- - - - - and prophecy the romantic poetry to come in the future’ (Naturalism in English poetry ).

Romantic poets showed an inordinate concern for external nature, and Wordsworth the revolutionary romantic, himself can be epitomized as a ‘worshipper of Nature’ (Tintern Abbey). It is Collins who first serves the link between poetry and the metropolis. The very ostensible theme of Ode to Evening is nature, nature as seen and enjoyed in the twilight of the imagination. If in Ode to Simplicity he only ‘seeks to find the temperate vate’, in Ode to Evening he would entreat the ‘calm votaress’ to lead him to a ‘sheety lake’. Further his nature, Like those of the romantics, and particularly like that of Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind, is not a tame and domesticated nature but rather a nature which can be wild, almost volcanic in its power:            
“-   - - - - - - -  be mine the hut
That from the mountains side
Views wild and swelling floods - - - - - - -"
‘I am certain of nothing but - - - -the truth of the imagination’, wrote Keats, and indeed the most distinctive feature of the romantics is their soaring imagination. Like Wordsworth, he, too invests nature with ‘the light that never was on land or sea’, with a pristine and supernatural quality which is rarely apparent to the unimaginative. Instead of looking at the sun as merely a star, an ordinary source of light, he looks upon it as living and almost divine.

Another aspect of Collins’ imagination is his love for the medieval, specifically of medieval superstitions. Whereas the neoclassicists were chiefly concerned with the present or contemporary reality and the daily goings on in life, Collins would concern himself with medieval folklore and fairy tale, with the genii and the giants of the imagination. He conjures up a romantic and almost supernatural atmosphere where in the twilight the ‘elves/who slept during the day’ are awakened by the starlight mirroring from the sky.

If the poems of the Augustan, in Arnold’s ironic phrase, were the classics of prose’, Collins’ poems are certainly noteworthy for their contrary quality – lyricism. He abandoned (the stilted heroic couplets of Dryden and pope for musical harmonies never achieved before. Such was the effect of this lyricism that even Swinburne - --  - one of the most lyrical poets ever born - - - commented there was but one man in the time of Collins who had in him a pure lyric song, a pulse of inborn music irresistible, indubitable, and Collins was that man’. Such lyricism is also entwined with the sweet melancholy that so pervades Gray’s Elegy, and which was to be a pervasive feature of Shelleyan romanticism. The ‘darkening vale’, the ‘pensive pleasure sweetest’, and the sorrow of the poet at the sight of the ‘shrinking train’ of the evening in winter are all fraught with melancholy.

Even of Collins failed to be a full – fledged romantic he is in many ways more important than numerous minor romantic poets by virtue of his being a precursors, a pioneer. The comment of Phelps does nothing but justice to the poem: "--- - -  its composition is interesting as showing in what direction the mind of Collins was working, and that Romantic tastes were being generally, secretly, cultivated."


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