'Ode On The Poetical Character' by William Collins

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Odes on Several Descriptive and Allegoric Subjects1747As once, if not with light regard,I read aright that gifted bard,(Him whose school above the restHis loveliest Elfin Queen has blest,)One, only one, unrival'd fair,Might hope the magic girdle wear,At solemn tourney hung on high,The wish of each love-darting eye;Lo! to each other nymph in turn applied,As if, in air unseen, some hov'ring hand,Some chaste and angel-friend to virgin-fame,With whisper'd spell had burst the starting band,It left unblest her loath'd dishonour'd side;Happier, hopeless fair, if neverHer baffled hand with vain endeavourHad touch'd that fatal zone to her denied!Young Fancy thus, to me divinest name,To whom, prepar'd and bath'd in Heav'n,The cest of amplest pow'r is giv'n:To few the god-like gift assigns,To gird their blest prophetic loins,And gaze her visions wild, and feel unmix'd her flame!The band, as fairy legends say,Was wove on that creating day,When He, who call'd with thought to birthYon tented sky, this laughing earth,And dress'd with springs, and forests tall,And pour'd the main engirting all,Long by the lov'd enthusiast woo'd,Himself in some diviner mood,Retiring, sate with her alone,And plac'd her on his sapphire throne,The whiles, the vaulted shrine around,Seraphic wires were heard to sound,Now sublimest triumph swelling,Now on love and mercy dwelling;And she, from out the veiling cloud,Breath'd her magic notes aloud:And thou, thou rich-hair'd youth of morn,And all thy subject life was born!The dang'rous Passions kept aloof,Far from the sainted growing woof:But near it sate ecstatic WonderList'ning the deep applauding thunder:And Truth, in sunny vest array'd,By whose the tarsel's eyes were madeAll the shad'wy tribes of mind,In braided dance their murmurs join'd,And all the bright uncounted Pow'rsWho feed on Heav'n's ambrosial flow'rs.Where is the bard, whose soul can nowIts high presuming hopes avow?Where he who thinks, with rapture blind,This hallow'd work for him design'd?High on some cliff, to Heav'n up-pil'd,Of rude access, of prospect wild,Where, tangled round the jealous steep,Strange shades o'erbrow the valleys deep,And holy genii guard the rock,Its glooms embrown, its springs unlock,While on its rich ambitious head,An Eden, like his own, lies spread.I view that oak, the fancied glades among,By which as Milton lay, his ev'ning ear,From many a cloud that dropp'd ethereal dew,Nigh spher'd in Heav'n its native strains could hear:On which that ancient trump he reach'd was hung;Thither oft his glory greeting,From Waller's myrtle shades retreating,With many 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'erturn'd th' inspiring bow'rs,Or curtain'd close such scene from ev'ry future view.

Editor 1 Interpretation

An Ode to the Poetical Character


William Collins, an 18th-century poet, wrote an ode that celebrated the nature and significance of poetry. This ode, titled "Ode on the Poetical Character," is an exploration of the essence of poetry and what makes it a vital part of human experience. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will explore the various themes in the poem, its structure and form, the use of language and imagery, and finally, its relevance today.


The central theme of the poem is the nature of poetry and the significance it holds. Collins attributes a divine quality to poetry, describing it as a "heavenly gift" and a "sacred flame." Poetry is seen as a powerful force that can inspire and uplift the soul. It is not just a form of entertainment but a means of expressing the deepest emotions and thoughts.

The ode also explores the idea of the poetical character. The poet is seen as someone who has a special gift, a unique ability to perceive the world differently and transform that perception into words. The poet is not just a writer but a visionary who can elevate the mundane into the sublime.

Another important theme is the idea of inspiration. Collins emphasizes the importance of inspiration for the poetical character. Inspiration is seen as a divine gift that comes from above and can strike at any moment. The poet must be open to this inspiration and allow it to guide their writing. This idea is summed up in the line, "The Muse, who o'er his [the poet's] unfledg'd flight / Presides, directs his way."

Structure and Form

The ode is structured into five stanzas, each with nine lines. The rhyme scheme is ABABCDCDE, and each stanza ends with a repeated line, "And wreaths around the Muses' shrine." This repetition gives the poem a sense of unity and reinforces its central theme.

The ode is written in irregular meter, which gives it a sense of freedom and spontaneity. The lines flow naturally, without a strict rhythm or rhyme. This reflects the idea that poetry is not bound by rules but is a spontaneous expression of the poet's emotions and thoughts.

Language and Imagery

Collins's use of language and imagery is one of the most striking features of the poem. He uses vivid and sensory language to create a sense of the divine and the sublime. For example, in the first stanza, he describes poetry as a "sacred flame" that can "scatter blessings o'er mankind." This image of a flame suggests the idea of inspiration as a divine spark that can transform the ordinary into something extraordinary.

In the third stanza, Collins uses the image of a bird to describe the poetical character. He writes, "The bird of Hermes! And his wand / Like Mercury's, upon the flower / So he [the poet] his magic hand / Waves." This image of a bird with a magic wand suggests the idea of the poet as a visionary who can transform reality through his words.

Relevance Today

The themes explored in "Ode on the Poetical Character" are still relevant today. Poetry continues to be a powerful means of expressing emotions and thoughts. It can inspire and uplift the soul, and it is not just a form of entertainment but a means of connecting with something deeper and more profound.

The idea of the poetical character is also relevant today. The poet is still seen as someone who has a special gift, a unique ability to perceive the world differently and transform that perception into words. The poet is not just a writer but a visionary who can elevate the mundane into the sublime.

Finally, the idea of inspiration is still relevant today. The poet must still be open to inspiration and allow it to guide their writing. Inspiration is still seen as a divine gift that can strike at any moment.


"Ode on the Poetical Character" is a beautiful and powerful exploration of the nature and significance of poetry. It celebrates the poetical character, the divine quality of poetry, and the importance of inspiration. Collins's use of language and imagery creates a sense of the sublime, and the structure and form of the ode reinforce its central theme. This poem continues to be relevant today and reminds us of the power and beauty of poetry.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Ode on the Poetical Character: A Masterpiece of William Collins

Poetry is a form of art that has the power to move, inspire, and transform the human soul. It is a medium that allows us to express our deepest emotions, thoughts, and experiences in a way that transcends language and culture. William Collins, a renowned poet of the 18th century, understood the power of poetry and its ability to capture the essence of the human experience. In his masterpiece, Ode on the Poetical Character, Collins explores the nature of poetry and the role it plays in our lives.

The poem is structured in three stanzas, each with ten lines, and follows a rhyme scheme of ABABCDECDE. The first stanza sets the tone for the poem and introduces the central theme of the poem, the poetic character. Collins describes the poetic character as a divine gift, bestowed upon a select few, who possess the ability to create beauty through their words. He compares the poetic character to a flame that burns bright and illuminates the world with its brilliance.

In the second stanza, Collins delves deeper into the nature of the poetic character and its relationship with the world. He describes the poet as a visionary, who sees the world in a way that others cannot. The poet has the ability to see beyond the surface of things and to uncover the hidden truths that lie beneath. He is a master of language, who can use words to create images that transport the reader to another world. Collins compares the poet to a magician, who can conjure up images and emotions with his words.

The third stanza is the most powerful and emotional of the poem. Collins describes the fate of the poet and the burden that comes with the poetic character. He compares the poet to a martyr, who suffers for his art. The poet is often misunderstood and ridiculed by society, who fail to appreciate the beauty of his words. The poet is also haunted by his own mortality, knowing that his words will outlive him and that he will be forgotten by history. Despite these challenges, the poet continues to create, driven by his passion and love for his art.

The language and imagery used in the poem are rich and evocative, creating a vivid picture of the poetic character and his world. Collins uses metaphors and similes to compare the poet to a flame, a magician, and a martyr, creating a sense of awe and reverence for the poetic character. He also uses imagery to describe the world of the poet, painting a picture of a world that is both beautiful and tragic.

One of the most striking aspects of the poem is its emotional depth. Collins captures the pain and suffering that comes with the poetic character, while also celebrating its beauty and power. The poem is a tribute to the poet and his art, a reminder of the importance of poetry in our lives.

In conclusion, Ode on the Poetical Character is a masterpiece of William Collins, a tribute to the power and beauty of poetry. The poem explores the nature of the poetic character and its relationship with the world, capturing the essence of the human experience. Collins' use of language and imagery is masterful, creating a vivid picture of the world of the poet. The poem is a reminder of the importance of poetry in our lives, a medium that allows us to express our deepest emotions and connect with the world around us.

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