Ode on the Spring

Original Text: 
Robert Dodsley, A Collection of Poems by Several Hands (London: R. Dodsley, 1748). B-10 9141 Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto).
2      Fair Venus' train appear,
3Disclose the long-expecting flowers,
6Responsive to the cuckoo's note,
7      The untaught harmony of spring:
8While whisp'ring pleasure as they fly,
9Cool zephyrs thro' the clear blue sky
10      Their gather'd fragrance fling.
11Where'er the oak's thick branches stretch
13Where'er the rude and moss-grown beech
15Beside some water's rushy brink
16With me the Muse shall sit, and think
17      (At ease reclin'd in rustic state)
18How vain the ardour of the crowd,
19How low, how little are the proud,
20      How indigent the great!
21Still is the toiling hand of Care:
22      The panting herds repose:
23Yet hark, how thro' the peopled air
24      The busy murmur glows!
25The insect youth are on the wing,
26Eager to taste the honied spring,
28Some lightly o'er the current skim,
29Some show their gaily-gilded trim
31To Contemplation's sober eye
32      Such is the race of man:
33And they that creep, and they that fly,
34      Shall end where they began.
35Alike the busy and the gay
36But flutter thro' life's little day,
37      In fortune's varying colours drest:
38Brush'd by the hand of rough Mischance,
39Or chill'd by age, their airy dance
40      They leave, in dust to rest.
41Methinks I hear in accents low
42      The sportive kind reply:
43Poor moralist! and what art thou?
44      A solitary fly!
45Thy joys no glitt'ring female meets,
46No hive hast thou of hoarded sweets,
48On hasty wings thy youth is flown;
49Thy sun is set, thy spring is gone--
50      We frolic, while 'tis May.


1] First published, anonymously, in Dodsley's Collection of Poems by Several Hands, 1748. An early copy of this poem in Gray's handwriting is entitled "Noontide, An Ode," and at the end there is a note written by Gray: "The beginning of June 1742, sent to Fav.: not knowing he was then dead.""Fav." (i.e., Favonius) refers to his friend Richard West, who died on June 1, 1742. Back to Line
4] purple: not with definite reference to this special colour, but (as purpureus in Virgil, etc.) to suggest what is brilliant in colour. Cf. Pope, Pastorals, "Spring," 28: "And lavish Nature paints the purple year." Back to Line
5] Attic warbler: The nightingale was called Attic by the ancient poets, probably because of the story that Philomela, daughter of Pandion, a king of Athens, was changed into a nightingale. Cf. Milton, Paradise Regained, IV, 245: "Where the Attic bird /Trills her thick-warbl'd notes the summer long." pours her throat: cf. Pope, Essay on Man, III, 33: "Is it for thee the linnet pours his throat?" Back to Line
12] browner: in imitation of Milton, who speaks of "shadows brown" (Il Penseroso, 134), and tells how "the unpierc't shade Imbrown'd the noontide bowers" (Paradise Lost, IV, 245-46). Cf. also Pope, Eloisa to Abelard, 170. Back to Line
14] o'er-canopies: In a note Gray cites Shakespeare, Midsummer Night's Dream, II, i: "A bank o'ercanopied with luscious woodbine." Back to Line
27] liquid: Gray quotes, in his note on this line, Virgil, Georgics, IV, 59: "Nare per aestatem liquidam." He imitates Latin poetic usage in employing "liquid" in the sense of limpid, with the additional suggestion of fluidity. Back to Line
30] "'Sporting with quick glance,/Show to the sun their wav'd coats dropt with gold.' Milton, Paradise Lost, VII [405-6]" (Gray). Back to Line
47] painted: another epithet derived from classic usage to suggest the colouring of birds; cf. Virgil, Aeneid, IV, 525: "pictaeque volucres," and Milton, Paradise Lost, VII, 433-34: "the smaller birds with song /Solac'd the woods, and spread their painted wings." Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
G. G. Falle
RPO Edition: 
3RP 2.214.