Ode to Liberty

Original Text: 
William Collins, Odes on several descriptive and allegoric subjects (London: A. Millar ..., 1747 [i.e. 1746]). pam Fisher Library (Rare Books).
2And call in solemn sounds to life
3The youths, whose locks divinely spreading,
5At once the breath of Fear and Virtue shedding,
6     Applauding Freedom lov'd of old to view?
8Shall sing the sword, in myrtles drest,
9     At Wisdom's shrine a-while its flame concealing,
10(What place so fit to seal a deed renown'd?)
11     Till she her brightest lightnings round revealing,
12It leap'd in glory forth, and dealt her prompted wound!
13                O Goddess, in that feeling hour,
14           When most its sounds would court thy ears,
15                Let not my shell's misguided pow'r,
16           E'er draw thy sad, thy mindful tears.
18How Rome, before thy weeping face,
19With heaviest sound, a giant-statue, fell,
20Push'd by a wild and artless race,
21From off its wide ambitious base,
22When Time his northern sons of spoil awoke,
23     And all the blended work of strength and grace,
24     With many a rude repeated stroke,
25And many a barb'rous yell, to thousand fragments broke.
27   Th' admiring world thy hand rever'd;
28   Still 'midst the scatter'd states around,
29   Some remnants of her strength were found;
30   They saw by what escap'd the storm,
31   How wond'rous rose her perfect form;
32   How in the great the labour'd whole,
33   Each mighty master pour'd his soul!
34   For sunny Florence, seat of Art,
35Beneath her vines preserv'd a part,
37(O who could fear it?) quench'd her flame.
38And lo, an humbler relic laid
39In jealous Pisa's olive shade!
41Tho' least, not last in thy esteem:
43To those whose merchant sons were kings;
44To him, who deck'd with pearly pride,
45In Adria weds his green-hair'd bride;
46Hail Port of Glory, Wealth, and Pleasure,
48Nor e'er her former pride relate,
50Ah no! more pleas'd thy haunts I seek,
52(Where, when the favor'd of thy choice,
54Forth from his eyrie rous'd in dread,
55The rav'ning eagle northward fled.)
58Those whom the rod of Alva bruis'd,
60The magic works, thou feel'st the strains,
62The perfect spell shall then avail,
63Hail Nymph, ador'd by Britain, hail!
64   Beyond the measure vast of thought,
65   The works, the wizard Time has wrought!
66        The Gaul, 'tis held of antique story,
67   Saw Britain link'd to his now adverse strand,
68        No sea between, nor cliff sublime and hoary,
69   He pass'd with unwet feet thro' all our land.
70        To the blown Baltic then, they say,
71        The wild waves found another way,
74A wide wild storm ev'n Nature's self confounding,
75     With'ring her giant sons with strange uncouth surprise.
77               By winds and inward labours torn,
78          In thunders dread was push'd aside,
79               And down the should'ring billows borne.
80And see, like gems, her laughing train,
81     The little isles on ev'ry side,
83     Where thousand elfin shapes abide,
84And Wight who checks the west'ring tide,
85     For thee consenting Heav'n has each bestow'd,
87     To thee this blest divorce she ow'd,
88For thou hast made her vales thy lov'd, thy last abode!
89   Then too, 'tis said, an hoary pile,
90   'Midst the green navel of our Isle,
92   O soul-enforcing Goddess, stood!
93   There oft the painted native's feet,
94   Were wont thy form celestial meet:
95   Tho' now with hopeless toil we trace
96   Time's backward rolls, to find its place;
97   Whether the fiery-tressed Dane,
98Or Roman's self o'erturn'd the fane,
99Or in what Heav'n-left age it fell,
100'Twere hard for modern song to tell.
102Which guide at once, and charm the Muse,
103Beyond yon braided clouds that lie,
104Paving the light-embroider'd sky:
105Amidst the bright pavilion'd plains,
106The beauteous model still remains.
109The chiefs who fill our Albion's story,
110In warlike weeds, retir'd in glory,
111Hear their consorted Druids sing
112Their triumphs to th' immortal string.
113     How may the poet now unfold
114What never tongue or numbers told?
115How learn delighted, and amaz'd,
116What hands unknown that fabric rais'd?
118In Gothic pride it seems to rise!
119Yet Græcia's graceful orders join,
120Majestic thro' the mix'd design;
121The secret builder knew to choose,
122Each sphere-found gem of richest hues:
123Whate'er Heav'n's purer mould contains,
124When nearer suns emblaze its veins;
125There on the walls the patriot's sight,
126May ever hang with fresh delight,
127And, grav'd with some prophetic rage,
128Read Albion's fame thro' ev'ry age.
129     Ye forms divine, ye laureate band,
130That near her inmost altar stand!
131Now soothe her, to her blissful train
132Blithe Concord's social form to gain:
133Concord, whose myrtle wand can steep
134Ev'n Anger's blood-shot eyes in sleep:
135Before whose breathing bosom's balm,
136Rage drops his steel, and storms grow clam;
137Her let our sires and matrons hoar
138Welcome to Britain's ravag'd shore,
140Play with the tangles of her hair,
141Till in one loud applauding sound,
142The Nations shout to her around,
143O how supremely art thou blest,
144Thou, Lady, thou shalt rule the West!


1] "The tradition is that the Spartans before entering battle combed and adorned their locks as for a festival. Probably there is in the lines a special reference to the fight at Thermopylae, where, it is said, the scouts of the Persians, peering into the narrow pass before the battle, were amazed and awed to see the little band of Spartans gaily combing their long hair" (Bronson).
The poem, like Gray's Progress of Poesy (and in a measure also the Ode to Simplicity), is what is known as a "progress piece," tracing the fortunes of its subject through from earliest times and finding in this chronological order its structural principle. It is the most elaborate of Collins's regular Pindaric odes. Back to Line
4] like vernal hyacinths: cf. Paradise Lost, IV, 301-3: "... and hyacinthine locks / Round from his parted forelock manly hung / Clust'ring...." "Hyacinthine" is "a poetic or rhetorical epithet of hair, after Homer, Od. vi, 231, ... locks, like the hyacinthine flower, which in the next line seems to be compared to gold" OED. Back to Line
7] Alcaeus: Collins's note refers to "that beautiful fragment of Alcaeus," which he proceeds to quote. But his quotation (which he partially paraphrases in lines 7-12) is not by Alcaeus of Lesbos, the famous Greek lyric poet, neither does it seem to be a "fragment." By Hesychius the lines are attributed to Callistratos.
Lines 7-12 refer to Athens, as the preceding lines to Sparta. Back to Line
17] Collins cites lines from Callimachus' Hymn to Demeter, which, translated, read: "Nay, let us not speak of these things which made Demeter weep."
Lines 17-25 refer to the overthrow of the Roman civilization by the barbarians. Back to Line
26] The epode deals with the Renaissance; Collins projected and worked upon a history of the revival of learning (now lost). Back to Line
36] they, whom Science lov'd to name: the Medici, Florentine bankers, patrons of learning and the arts, but also tyrants of the republic.
Science: knowledge in general. Cf. Gray, Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College, 3 and note. Back to Line
40] Marino: the little republic of San Marino. Back to Line
42] The reference is to Venice, her commercial wealth, her republican (if oligarchic) constitution, and the annual ceremony, performed by the Doge, of wedding the Adriatic Sea. Back to Line
47] Lydian measure. The ancient Lydian style of music was soft and sensuously sweet. Cf. Milton, L'Allegro, 135-36: "And ever against eating cares, /Lap me in soft Lydian airs." Back to Line
49] Liguria: Genoa. In this line Collins probably had in mind the capture of Genoa by the Austrians in the fall of 1746. Back to Line
51] Helvetia: Switzerland. The devotion to liberty of the Swiss mountain-dwellers was proverbial. Back to Line
53] The reference is to William Tell's part in freeing Switzerland from the domination of Austria. Back to Line
56] The lines refer to the persecution of Protestantism in Holland by Spain under the cruel Duke of Alva (1567). Back to Line
57] "The Dutch, amongst whom there are very severe penalties for those who are convicted of killing this bird. They are kept tame in almost all their towns, and particularly at The Hague, of the arms of which they make a part. The common people of Holland are said to entertain a superstitious sentiment, that if the whole species of them should become extinct, they should lose their liberties." (Collins) Back to Line
59] British queen: Queen Elizabeth I, who aided the Dutch Protestants but prudently refused to assume sovereignty over them (1575). Back to Line
61] One holier name: Britain. Back to Line
72] Orcas: the Orkney Islands (Latin Orcades). Cf. Pope, Epistle to Augustus, 328-29. Back to Line
73] the banded West: probably the spirits assigned by occult philosophy to nature and to the different quarters of the earth. Back to Line
76] According to the explanation current in an earlier day, earthquakes were caused by imprisoned winds within the earth. Back to Line
82] Mona: the Isle of Man (not as in Lycidas). Collins had probably been reading George Waldron's History and Description of the Isle of Man; his footnote, too long to reproduce, refers to a tradition regarding the mist that shrouds the island, which is otherwise unknown. Back to Line
86] her: Britain's. Back to Line
91] Probably a reference to a Druidic temple (usually located in an oak grove), which would be an appropriate shrine of Liberty since the Druids played an important part in the Britons' resistance to Rome. Back to Line
101] Cf. Ode on the Poetical Character, 45 and note. Back to Line
107] islands blest: the Happy Isles, where the souls of dead heroes were said to live in complete bliss. Back to Line
108] Hebe: goddess of youth and spring. Back to Line
117] The reconciliation of the classic and Gothic styles was an ideal of the mid-eighteenth century. The mixture signifies that "ideal freedom ('the beauteous model,' 1. 106) combines all that is good in ancient and modern states" (Bronson). Back to Line
139] Cf. Milton, Lycidas, 68-9. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
G. G. Falle
RPO Edition: 
3RP 2.210.