Nov. 17: Night poetry (Finch, Thomson, Collins)
Finch, "Nocturnal Reverie" (2239-4)
Thomson, "Autumn" (2822)
Collins, "To Evening" (2836-7)
The readings for today all focus on nighttime, and each owes something to Milton's
Paradise Lost. In particular they draw from the night scene in book four, where Adam and
Eve prepare for sleep, and in book five the representation of Eve's dream of rambling
at night. Refresh your memory of these scenes from Milton and try to understand what
the poems for today borrow from Milton. In particular, pay attention to the way that
Finch represents night rambling in "Nocturnal Reverie" and the way that Collins
represents evening as Eve in "Ode to Evening."
Reading Notes and Discussion Questions:
Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea, was an accomplished poet and contemporary with Pope and Swift. The
poem "Nocturnal Reverie" was published in a collection of her poems in 1713.
Form: The poem consists of one long sentence that describes the speaker's experience of walking
at night. The poem is punctuated by the repeated phrase "In such a night", followed by a series
of clauses that describe the sights (or lack of), sounds, smells and tactile images of the night.
Note how the third repetition of the phrase (line 47) initiates the conclusion and a sharp change in
As you read the poem, focus on the imagery. What does the poem describe? What is the feeling
evoked by the language /images? What happens to the speaker?
Based on the language, what virtues or benefits does the poem attribute to nighttime?
Is the speaker alone in the landscape?
Does the speaker experience danger at night?
How does the poem describe the animals at nighttime? What is the meaning of their release from "tyrant man"?
Does the speaker share a sympathy with these celebrating creatures? Why or why not?
Examine the lines:
"But silent musings urge the mind to seek
What do the lines mean? What does it suggest about the speaker's mind at this point in the poem?
What is the significance of this change?
Something, too high for syllables to speak;
the free soul to a composedness charmed,
Finding the elements of rage disarmed,
O'er all below a solmen quiet
Joys in the inferior world, and thinks it like her own" (41-46).
Examine closely the final two couplets. How are these lines (particularly the last couplet) different from
the rest of the poem? Consider the sound, the tone, the meaning and the structure of the lines. (Think
Pope and balance and antithesis). What is the significance of this change in poetic style?
Consider the overall meaning of the poem: What is the occasion for writing the poem? What is the purpose
of the poem? What methods does it use to achieve the purpose? How successful is it?
Consider the relationship to Milton's representation of evening, and in particularly Eve's dream. In what
ways might this "Nocturnal Reverie" be a rewriting of Eve's dream. What is the meaning of "reverie"? If
this is a rewriting, what is the point of the changes?
Ode to Evening (1747)
Describe the style of this poem. How does the line
compare with the dominant couplet form used by Pope?
How does it compare with the blank verse used by Milton?
What are the implications of the choice? Note the use
of punctuation and the fluid syntax. What are the
effects of this? What is the tone of the poem?
Describe the sound of the poem (read it out loud.)
Who is "chaste Eve" in line 2? What is the effect of
this personification? what is the effect of the allusion to Milton?
What mood is created through the imagery of lines 5-14?
What is the poet's role in this context? What is his
relationship to Eve?
Examine the closing lines. What does the poet commit
himself to? What does this suggest about the role of
nature in poetry?
Consider the overall meaning of the poem. Why does the poet
write an ode to evening? How does the poem develop the praise
of evening? What is the purpose? How effective is it?
Compare the representation of evening in Collins' poem with that
in Milton's Paradise Lost book four. What do the
poems share? What is the point of Collins' borrowings?
Compare the poems on night for today. What are their
similarities? What does this suggest about the evocative
power of nighttime? What does this suggest about the proper
subjects for poetry?
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