chapter  33
8 Pages

Ode on the Poetical Character

Spenser: ' Florimel. See Spenser Leg. 4th.' Spenser describes the com­ petition amongst the various ladies of the court when the girdle was offered as a prize. The girdle, of course, had magical moral qualities: 'That girdle gave the virtue of chaste love,/ And wifehood true, to all that did it bear;/ But whosoever contrary doth prove,/ Might not the same about her middle wear,/ But it would loose, or else a sunder tear', Faerie Queene, 4.5. 3, 1-5. The competition was not attended by Florimel, the true owner of the girle; the false Florimel won the girdle but could not fasten it: 'For ever as they fastened it, it loosed/ And fell away, as feeling secret blame./ Full oft about her waist she it enclosed,/ And it as oft was from her waist disclosed', Faerie Queene, 4.5. 16, 6-9; Finally, of course, the girdle was restored to its true owner. [17-22] The magical-moral power of Florimel's girdle is an illustration of the power of the poetic imagination; yet it is worth noting that the poet's language describing the creative imagination goes further to mutate the language of myth into the language of religion. The poet's use of words like 'divinest', 'heaven', 'godlike', 'blest', 'prophetic' and 'visions' is significant of a change in perspective. The poetic persona enters the poem here in the first person, against the background of the Florimel legend which focuses on Florimel (the individual) as at once morally privileged and unique. Moving beyond the legend the poet looks into the future with strong feeling. This is suggested by 'prophetic loins', 'visions wild' and 'feel unmixed her flame'. [19] cest belt or girdle for the waist; cf.'That goodly belt was Cestus hight by name', Faerie Queene, 4.5. 6, 1. The word was often used for Aphrodite's girdle. Johnson defines cestus as: 'the girdle of Venus', Dictionary;

amplest 'unlimited; without restric­ tion', Johnson, Dictionary. [20] assigns transfers, allots. [22] gaze to look at with regard; visions wild creations of the imagination; feel unmixed her flame to experience fancy's creative power in its pure form. [24] that creating day here, the fourth day of the creation. [23-5] This passage has been variously inter­ preted. Collins goes back to the image of the girdle in 'the band', but views it now in terms of the original creation by God which parallels poetic creativity. Though Collins' idea is not new, his presentation is strikingly dramatic. Cf. 'As first a various unformed hint we find/ Rise in some god-like poet's fertile mind,/ Till all the parts and words their places take,/ And with just marches verse and music make;/ Such was God's poem, this world's new essay;/ So wild and rude in its first draught it lay;/Th'ungovemed parts no cor­ respondence knew,/ An artless war from thwarting motions grew;/ Till they to number and fixt rules were brought/ By the eternal Mind's Poetic Thought', Cowley, Davideis, i, 446-56. The idea had been explored by Akenside in Pleasures of Imagination. Col­ lins, like Akenside, suggests an interpenetrating relationship in which God is a poet and the poet is God-like. [26] tented tent-like; laughing 'In poetry. To appear gay, favourable, pleasant, or fertile' , Johnson, Dictionary. [27] dressed adorned. [28] the main engirting all The all-surrounding sea. [29] enthusiast refers back to 'Fancy' from line 17, here introduced as a female consort. The word 'enthusiast', also used by Dryden - for instance, 'The sweet enthusiast', Alexander's Feast, line 163

- meant one who is in touch with the divine. Collins is in keeping with a tra­ dition of personifying divine attrib­ utes as female companions. Cf. Milton's invocation to Urania, the Muse of sacred song: 'Before the hills appeared, or fountain flowed,/ Thou with eternal wisdom didst converse,/ Wisdom thy sister, and with her didst playI In presence of th' Almighty Father, pleased/ With thy celestial song', Paradise Lost, vii, 8-12. [31] Retiring in privacy; away from the public eye. Akenside presents God, 'deepretired/ In his unfathomed essence, viewed at large/ The uncreated images of things;/. . . till in time complete,/ What he admired and loved, his vital smile/ Unfolded into being', Pleasures of Imagination, i, 59-78. [33] The whiles an archaism, common in Spenser. [34] wires metal strings for musical instruments. [32-4] Cf. And above the firmament that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sap­ phire stone. . . . As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. (Ezekiel 1: 26, 28) Also 'Then I looked, and behold, in the firmament that was above the head of the cherubims there appeared over them as it were a sapphire stone, as the appearance of the likeness of a throne', Ezekiel 10: 1. Milton, in a passage that draws on the Ezekiel text, has 'Sapphire throne', Paradise Lost, vi, 758, as he does in At a Solemn Music, 6-13: 'That undisturbed song of pure content,/ Ay sung before the sapphire-coloured throne/ . . . Where the bright Seraphim in burning row/ Their loud uplifted angel trumpets blow,/ And the cherubic host in thou­ sand choirs/ Touch their immortal

harps of golden wires'. Collins may have been thinking of this last passage. [33-4] Whilst the music of the seraphs was heard around the cave-like shrine. [35] sublimest triumph glorious victory. Cf. "Exulting in tri­ umph now swell the bold notes', Pope, Ode for St Cecilia's Day, line 16. [36] dwelling 'to fix the mind upon', Johnson, Dictionary. [37] veiling concealing. [38] Breathed uttered. [39] rich-haired youth of mom Cf. Collins' own phrase 'bright-haired sun' in Ode to Evening, line 5. The phrase does appear to refer to the sun, the creation of which marked the high point of God's creation, of which the poetic act is a divine re-creation. The other interpretation that the phrase refers to the birth of 'the Poet', through a union of God with Fancy, cannot be ruled out but seems lacking in the fluidity that characterises this poem. [40] subject life again the phrase reverberates between life on earth that is sustained by the sun, and life as a subject of the poet's renderings. The whole passage is strongly reminiscent of visual depic­ tions of goddesses emanating radi­ antly from clouds, carrying with them connotations of Truth. [41] dangerous haughty, arrogant. It seems that Col­ lins has in mind this older sense of the word; kept aloof a Spenserian phrase. [42] sainted sacred; cf. 'Amongst the enthroned gods on sainted seats', Milton, Comus, line 11; growing woof growing fabric. [43] ecstatic wonder Addison in his Spectator, No. 412 had talked of the novel, or that which inspires wonder, as the source of imaginative pleasure. Akenside

adopts the idea of 'novelty or wonder­ fulness' in Pleasures of Imagination, i, 222-70. [44] deep applauding thunder Cf. 'I answered thee in thunder deep', Milton, Psalm, lxxxi, 29. [45] vest garment. [46] tarsel tercel, a male hawk. [46] The eyes of the hawk are as sharp and discerning as truth itself. [48] braided woven; murmurs low, indistinct sounds. [50] ambrosial divinely fragrant; capable of bestow­ ing immortality. 'Ambrosial odours and ambrosial flowers', Paradise Lost, ii, 245. [47-50] An attempt to describe the creative process reminiscent of: 'Anon ten thousand shapes,/ Like spectres. . . / Fleet swift before him. From the womb of earth,/ From ocean's bed they come: th'etemal heavens/ Dis­ close their splendors, and the dark abyss/ Pours out her births unknown. With fixed gaze/ He marks the rising phantoms. Now compares/ Their different forms; now blends them, now divides;/ Inlarges and extenuates by turns;/ Opposes, ranges in fantas­ tic bands,/ And infinitely varies', Akenside, Pleasures of Imagination, iii, 385-95. Sir William Temple in Of Poetry had written:

There must be a spritely imagination or fancy, fertile in a thousand produc­ tions, ranging over infinite ground, piercing into every comer, and by the light of that true poetical fire discover­ ing a thousand little bodies or images in the world, and similitudes among them, unseen to common eyes, and which could not be discovered without the rays of that sun. (see Lonsdale, 1969) We see here, and in the passages from Akenside and Collins, attempts to

define the poetic imagination, as different from the scientific tradition generated by Hobbes. The poem moves from the physical creation of the world (lines 25-9) and the lifegiving power of the sun (lines 37-40) to the creation of the world of the mind, the 'shadowy tribes' that await the poet's powers of articulation. These are ideas that lead up to Coleridge's definition of the imagination. [51-4] Where is the poet who can now realise his highest role and aspirations? Where is he who, blinded by rapture, believes God's creation was designed for his (the poet's) work of recreation? The 'rapture blind' harks back to Homer, and more especially to Mil­ ton's blindness. See also 'But, O Mel­ pomene, for whom/ Awakes thy golden shell again?/ What mortal breath shall e'er presume/ To echo that unbounded strain?', Akenside, On Lyric Poetry, in Odes, 1745 (see Lonsdale, 1969). [56] rude rough; prospect view or scene. [57] jealous suspiciously vigilant and protective. [58] shades shadows, darkness. [60] embrown darken or make brown. See 'and where the unpierced shade,/ Embrowned the noontide bowers', Milton, Paradise Lost, iv, 245-6; its springs unlock cf. 'Unlock your springs, and open all your shades', Pope, Windsor-Forest, line 4; this is a formula also found in Dryden: 'Once more unlock for thee the sacred spring', Georgies, ii, 245. [61] ambitious head swelling, towering, even in the sense of 'aspiring'. Cf. 'Or helps th'ambitious hill the heav'n to scale', Pope, Epistles to Several Persons, iv, 59. [55-61] Cf. 'Of Eden, where delicious Para­ dise,/ Now nearer, crowns with her enclosure green,/ As with a rural

mound the champaign head/ Of a steep wilderness, whose hairy sides/ With thicket overgrown, grotesque and wild,/ Access denied; and over head up grew/ Insuperable highth of loftiest shade', Paradise Lost, iv, 132-8; and 'Now to the ascent of that steep savage hill/ Satan had jour­ neyed on, pensive and slow;/ But fur­ ther way found none, so thick entwined,/ As one continued brake, the undergrowth/ Of shrubs and tan­ gling bushes had perplexed/ All path of man or beast that past that way', Paradise Lost, iv, 172-7. Collins con­ sciously evokes Milton's description of the difficult and arduous ascent to 'Eden' or the journey of the creative imagination; Milton, in turn, imitated God's creative powers in his imagina­ tive reconstruction of Eden. His description of the eastern gate of Para­ dise is also relevant: 'it was a rock/ Of alabaster, piled up to the clouds,/ Conspicuous far, winding with one ascent/ Accessible from earth, one entrance high;/ The rest was craggy cliff, that overhung/ Still as it rose, impossible to climb', iv, 543-8. [62] A n. . . spread referring to Milton's poetic imagination. [63-4] Milton describes himself as listening to Philomel's 'even-song': 'While Cynthia checks her dragon yoke,/ Gently o'er th'accustomed oak', II Penseroso, lines 59-60. The oak was sacred to the Druids. Once again the poetic persona asserts his presence in the first person in relation to the poets of earlier times. [65] Cf. 'Come gentle Spring, ethereal mildness, come;/ And from the bosom of yon dropping cloud', Thomson, Spring, lines 1-2. [66] Nigh sphered in heaven the allusion may be to the music of the spheres that Adam and Eve could hear in Paradise, Paradise Lost, iv, 680-8; Milton also has 'Spheared in a radiant cloud', Paradise Lost, vii, 247;