Ode to Simplicity By William Collin


Written in 1747 and published along with his other Odes, this is perhaps the most regularly constructed of Collin’s Odes. It contains nine stanzas of six lines each.

In this poem, the poet pays tribute to the virtue of simplicity in an age of artificial diction. Simplicity has been personified as a pure, truthful and humble maiden devoid of all artifice and pomp.

Although Collins hailed simplicity in theme and language, yet, he could not completely ignore the traditions of his age. We thus find that his odes not only have freshness, simplicity and imaginative nature imagery which connects them to the poets of the Romantic School but also traces of classicism, like, the use of personified abstractions and classical mythology.

Summary and Critical Appreciation

Ode to Simplicity celebrates the virtue of simplicity in poetry. It is perhaps the most regularly constructed Ode. It contains nine stanzas of six lines each. In address, it is somewhat formal. The poet characterizes Simplicity as a ‘generous maid taught by Nature, who breathes her genuine thoughts in numbers warmly pure and sweetly profound’.

She is gowned in plain Attic robes and is the meek sister of Truth. She disdains pompous display and artifice. In his emphasis on simplicity in poetic diction, Collins comes nearest to Wordsworthian poetic creed. According to him, true poetry must be written in simple language free from all artificiality. But unfortunately, the poem does not exactly conform to Collins ideal of poetry. His poetic instinct urged him to simplicity in the making of his verse but he could not break away completely from the traits of his age. Hence we find traces of artificial poetic diction in the poem such as “wavy Sweep”, “warbled Wand’rings”, “temp’rate Vale” etc.

In the first two stanzas, the poet invokes the spirit of Simplicity. In the third and fourth stanzas, he invokes her in the name of Hybla’s Shore, in the name of Philomela and in the name of the old Cephisus river. These two stanzas have a striking pictorial quality and Collins love of nature finds expression here. In the fifth stanza, the poet eulogizes simplicity and addresses her as the gentle sister of Truth. In the sixth and seventh stanzas, the poet gives a historical account of the rise and fall of Poetry in Greece and Rome and her final refuge in England. In the concluding stanzas, the poet highlights the importance of simplicity in great poetry and finally once again asks for the sublime and natural beauty and genuineness of simplicity to adorn his own poetry.

The abundant use of nature imagery as he speaks of Hybla’s shore of honey; of the nightingale singing love-lorn songs of grief; the river Cephisus flowing along its course; the flowers and mingled murmurs are typical of romantic poetry. Another noteworthy feature of romantic poetry is subjectivity in the poem. Collins introduces himself in the poem, he does so in the second, fifth and last stanzas. In the second stanza, he says “To the I call”! In the fifth stanza as a young man who admires Simplicity and seeks her guidance. In the final stanza, he seeks the patronage of simplicity so that he may be able to write poems which touch the hearts of the common men who are described as the sons of nature.

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The poem abounds in personifications, which was the favourite device of the neoclassical poets of the eighteenth century. Simplicity, Pleasure, Song, the river Cephisus, Freedom, Truth, Beauty, Love etc are all personified. The references to classical mythology and literature show Collins as a man of his age.

This Ode’s appreciation by Cazamian is worth quoting here “Collins has in a pure inspiration the supreme gift of Simplicity: it is not yet the Simplicity at once verbal and moral of Wordsworth. His vocabulary remains laboured and the Ode to Simplicity does not fulfil all its promise. But where his Classicism is perfect, it is sufficiently spiritualised by an inner youthfulness of spirit to rejoin Romanticism in its moments of soberness”

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