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ENL 3230
British Literature 1616-1780


Reading Assignment:

    William Collins,"Ode to Evening" (1748)
    Recommended: "Ode on a Poetical Character" (1747) Demaria, pp. 771,769

DUE: Weekly Post#15 for Scotland and Ireland

In this our final class, we will finish our discussion of the aesthetic ideas represented in Collin's poetry -- think beauty. And we will try to draw to a close some of the many threads of discussion in which we have been involved all semester.

Additionally, you will receive your final examination, to be completed and turned in by class time on April 27.

Notes and Discussion Questions:

Ode to Evening (1747)


Recall Burke's description of beauty. In what ways does this poem exemplify the effects of beauty? To what extent is gender involved?

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? How does this differ from "nature" as represented by Pope in Essay on Criticism? What is the role of society in this poem?

Comparisons to Consider in Conclusion


These questions derive from the stated course description and objectives. They approach the material we have covered already, but they do so from a different perspective. Forming new groups and switching the order or organization of the literature can sometimes prompt new insights. This exercise is intended to bring some ideas from the class to closure, but it also models a useful strategy for preparing for the final.

Consider the representation of gender roles in Paradise Lost, The Rape of the Lock, "Washing Day," "An Essay on Woman" (Leapor), Fantomina, and Burke's Philosophical Enquiry. What patterns emerge? How might you explain these patterns? How do they differ from gender roles in our culture? Why?

Group all of the working class poets together. Group the aristocratic writers together (there are two on our syllabus). What remains? What does this pattern indicate about the role of authorship and class? From what class do most of our authors come? What is the significance of this in the history of literature? What does this suggest about the literature that is produced? How are the issues and characters that are represented in the literature reflective of class?

Examine the pursuit of knowledge in Paradise Lost, "Macflecknoe," Essay on Criticism, Gulliver's Travels, and Rasselas. What do these have to say about the attainment of knowledge? Compare Rochester's "Satire on Reason and Mankind" as well as Leapor's "Epistle to a Lady."

Examine the question: how does one know truth or gain access to the truth? CHoose three works from the syllabus that address this question is different ways. For example Paradise Lost, "Epistle to Wilberforce," and Fantomina. Ultimately, the pursuit of truth deals with our ability to see and apprehend the real and verifiable. It involves an explanation of human nature, a notoriously ambiguous and slippery category of knowledge. Revolving around big issues (in this case SIN, SLAVERY, SEX), the literature of the period presents complex moral issues through narrative, rhetoric, and style. What picture of human nature emerges? What experiences does the literature privilege?

Alternatively, choose three works that represent the pursuit of pleasure, such as The Rape of the Lock, "Washing Day," and Rasselas. What constitutes pleasure? How about "The Spleen," "On Sensibility," and "Elegy Wrote in a Country Church yard"?

Put all of the works of the syllabus in chronological order by date of publication. What does this chronology suggest about the representation of feelings?

What does this chronology suggest about the representation of slavery and Africans?

What does this chronology suggest about the patterns in poetic voice?

What does this chronology suggest about the importance of Milton?

Ode on the Poetical Character (1747)


These notes and questions are for your information only.

Here again we find the poet attempting to create a mythical origin for poetic inspiration, but Collins draws more directly from the English school of poets. Namely, he chooses Spenser and Milton as the great predecessors from which to weave his girdle or band of poetry.

"This is one of Collins' most difficult poems, and it shows an emergent power of myth-making in its condensation of images and themes. The Poetical Character becomes a divine gift difficult to merit; it is a power akin to God's own creative energies and has been realized only by such committed and heroic bards as Milton. There is a sense of poetry as a sacred power, terrifying in its demands and yet compelling in its claims, and this poem seems to mark Collins' ascent from the eclogue to the far greater and more exacting odes" (Martin Price The Restoration and the Eighteenth Century, p. 646).

In the first stanza (strophe), Collins' compares the wearing of the girdle or belt of Spenser's Florimel (only the virtuous woman could wear the belt), with the wearing of the "Cest" of Fancy, or the ability to create poetry. What does the comparison say about the ability to create poetry? What is the speaker's attitude toward poetry?

Stanza 2 (antistrophe) describes the creation of Apollo or the god of poetry. Examine the imagery of the stanza. How is this scene like the biblical creation scene when God calls into being the earth and the human race? What are the implications for the birth of Apollo? What are the implications for poetry?

The stanza ends with the question: "Where is the Bard, whose Soul can now / Its high presuming Hopes avow? / Where He who thinks, with Rapture blind / This hallowed Work for Him designed?" (52-55). What do these rhetorical questions indicate about the state of poetry in 1747? Who does Collins think can take up the cest of poetry?

In the final stanza, the epode, Collins describes the scene of poetry as a Cliff of "rude Access, of Prospect wild" (56-57). What does this indicate about the nature of poetry now? How might Burke's category of the sublime help us to understand this?

The speaker imagines the scene of Milton's poetic creation. What power does the poet attribute to Milton? How does this differ from, say, Pope's tribute to Homer?

Examine the final lines of the poem:

    With may a Vow from Hope's aspiring Tongue,
    My trembling Feet his guiding Steps pursue;
    In vain -- Such bliss to One alone,
    Of all the Sons of Soul was known,
    And Heav'n, and Fancy, kindred pow'rs,
    Have now o'erturned th'inspiring Bow'rs,
    Or curtained close such Scene from every future View.

How hopeful is Collins about his success in following Milton? Why? What does this suggest about the transition in literary values at the mid-century?

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