Ode on the Poetical Character

Original Text: 
William Collins, Odes on several descriptive and allegoric subjects (London: A. Millar ..., 1747 [i.e. 1746]). pam Fisher Library (Rare Books).
4His loveliest Elfin Queen has blest,)
6Might hope the magic girdle wear,
7At solemn tourney hung on high,
8The wish of each love-darting eye;
9Lo! to each other nymph in turn applied,
10     As if, in air unseen, some hov'ring hand,
11Some chaste and angel-friend to virgin-fame,
12     With whisper'd spell had burst the starting band,
13It left unblest her loath'd dishonour'd side;
14          Happier, hopeless fair, if never
15          Her baffled hand with vain endeavour
16Had touch'd that fatal zone to her denied!
18          To whom, prepar'd and bath'd in Heav'n,
20          To few the god-like gift assigns,
21          To gird their blest prophetic loins,
22And gaze her visions wild, and feel unmix'd her flame!
23The band, as fairy legends say,
24Was wove on that creating day,
25When He, who call'd with thought to birth
26Yon tented sky, this laughing earth,
27And dress'd with springs, and forests tall,
28And pour'd the main engirting all,
30Himself in some diviner mood,
31Retiring, sate with her alone,
32And plac'd her on his sapphire throne,
33The whiles, the vaulted shrine around,
34Seraphic wires were heard to sound,
35Now sublimest triumph swelling,
36Now on love and mercy dwelling;
37And she, from out the veiling cloud,
38Breath'd her magic notes aloud:
40And all thy subject life was born!
41The dang'rous Passions kept aloof,
42Far from the sainted growing woof:
44List'ning the deep applauding thunder:
48In braided dance their murmurs join'd,
50Who feed on Heav'n's ambrosial flow'rs.
51Where is the bard, whose soul can now
52Its high presuming hopes avow?
53Where he who thinks, with rapture blind,
56Of rude access, of prospect wild,
57Where, tangled round the jealous steep,
58Strange shades o'erbrow the valleys deep,
59And holy genii guard the rock,
60  Its glooms embrown, its springs unlock,
61While on its rich ambitious head,
62An Eden, like his own, lies spread.
63I view that oak, the fancied glades among,
64By which as Milton lay, his ev'ning ear,
65From many a cloud that dropp'd ethereal dew,
66Nigh spher'd in Heav'n its native strains could hear:
67On which that ancient trump he reach'd was hung;
68          Thither oft his glory greeting,
70With many a vow from Hope's aspiring tongue,
71My trembling feet his guiding steps pursue;
73          Of all the sons of soul was known,
74          And Heav'n, and Fancy, kindred pow'rs,
75          Have now o'erturn'd th' inspiring bow'rs,
76Or curtain'd close such scene from ev'ry future view.


1] The poem (a regular Pindaric ode, but of a peculiar type favoured by Collins: see notes on Gray's Progress of Poesy) presents in allegorical form Collins's ideal of the poet's equipment and performance, and voices with increasing emphasis his disillusionment with his age and with his own work. Back to Line
2] gifted bard: Spenser. Back to Line
3] whose school. The reference is either to the Spenserians of the seventeenth or eighteenth century, or perhaps more generally to Spenser as the poet's poet. Back to Line
5] Collins's note to this line refers to Florimel, a character in The Faerie Queene, Book IV. Actually it was Amoret whose "vertue of chast love, / And wivehood true" entitled her to wear the magic girdle. (See canto v, 3).
love-darting eye: cf. Milton, Comus, 753: "Love-darting eyes, or tresses like the morn"; and Pope, Elegy to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady, 34: "And those love-darting eyes must roll no more." Back to Line
17] Fancy: a synonym for imagination. Back to Line
19] cest: girdle; in the allegory of the poem, the poetic faculty. Back to Line
29] enthusiast: fancy (cf. line 17). The suggestion is that the union of the Diety with Fancy results in the creation of the universe and of the magic girdle, i.e., the poetic faculty. Back to Line
39] youth of morn: the sun (cf. Ode to Evening, 5) or Apollo in his role of sun god. Back to Line
43] Wonder: symbolizing one of the effects aimed at by Collins and his group in poetry. Back to Line
45] Truth: claiming, symbolically, a truth and validity for the creations of the poetic imagination. Back to Line
46] tarsel: tercel, the male falcon. Back to Line
47] shad'wy tribes of mind: the personifications with which Collins's odes abound. Back to Line
49] bright uncounted Pow'rs: spiritual beings, fit subjects for romantic verse. Back to Line
54] This hallow'd work: "the magic girdle" (cf. lines 6, 19 and note). Back to Line
55] cliff: a symbol of Milton's poetry, followed by symbolic details. Back to Line
69] Waller's myrtle shades: the lyric verse of Edmund Waller (1605-1687). Cf. Pope, Essay on Criticism, 360-61. Back to Line
72] one alone: Milton. Cf. line 5. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
G. G. Falle
RPO Edition: 
3RP 2.207.