Ode to Fear.

Odes on Several Descriptive and Allegorical Subjects.

William Collins

The concluding couplet of William Collins's allegorical ode is taken from Milton's companion poems: "His Cypress Wreath my Meed decree, | And I, O Fear, will dwell with Thee!" Fear and Daunger appear in Spenser's Masque of Cupid, Faerie Queene 3.12.11-12, and Daunger in the Temple of Venus, Faerie Queene 4.10.16-20; compare also Redcross's encounter with Despair: "Still as he fled, his eye was backward cast, | As if his feare still followed him behind" Faerie Queene 1:9.21.5-6. Mark Akenside's To Suspicion in Odes (1745) seems to have suggested the self-reflexive pattern that makes this ode such a striking poem.

Monthly Review: "The Ode to Fear is so nervous, so expressive, and so picturesque throughout, that we have seen no lyric performance superior to it in the English language.... The abbreviation of the measure in the fifth and sixth verses is most nervously expressive, and most happily adapted to the suddenness of the motion excited. — Danger, which is properly introduced as a personage in the train of Fear, is so characteristically described, that there is no looking upon the picture without horrour" in Scots Magazine 26 (August 1764) 440.

John Aikin: "Collins, who in his Ode to Fear has personified Danger, mixes the two ideas, of an author of danger, and a person exposed to it; and a degree of confusion is the necessary result.... Danger, as a giganitic figure, terrible to the sight and hearing, is properly formed to excite the apprehensions of fear; but he is not more an object of terror for throwing himself on the ledge of a rock to sleep; on the contrary, any hazard to which he is exposed, takes off from the dread he inspires" "Personification in Poetry" Monthly Magazine 6 (October 1798) 263.

Maria Edgeworth to Sophy Ruxton: "My father is employed making out Charts of History and Chronology, such as are mentioned in 'Practical Education.' He has just finished a little volume containing Explanations of Poetry for children: it explains the 'Elegy in a Country Churchyard,' 'L'Allegro,' 'Il Penseroso,' and the 'Ode to Fear." It will be a very useful schoolbook" 20 October 1800; in Life and Letters, ed. Hare (1895) 1:75.

Alexander Chalmers was perhaps the first critic to comment on the connection between Spenser's allegory and the allegorical ode: "although modern critics object to a continued allegory, which, indeed, it is extremely difficult to accomplish without falling into inconsistencies, yet specimens of it, detached personifications, aiming at the sublimity of Spenser, still continue to be among the efforts by which our best writers wish to establish their fame" Works of the English Poets (1810) 3:11.

Port Folio [Philadelphia]: "In what strange torpor were the fancy, the feelings, and the taste of the nation buried, when they could receive with indifference the Ode on the Passions, and the Odes to Fear, and to Evening! But these perhaps are too abstract for the multitude, who cannot admire them till long established authority supercedes their own judgments. So it was even with Milton, whose early compositions, the Lycidas, L'Allegro, and Il Penseroso, the very essence of poetry, were little noticed by his cotemporaries, while the vile doggerel of such wretched rhymers as Cleveland and Brome, and others of the same stamp, was universally praised and admired" NS 8 (July 1812) 84-85.

James Montgomery: "How could the image of Fear, which 'to and fro did fly,' be realized in marble as it has been by Spenser in rhyme? Collins's odes are galleries of poetical statuary, which no art could give to the sight, though perfectly made out in the sensorium of the brain. 'Danger, whose limbs of giant mould [. . .]' What sculptor's hand could arrest this monster, and place in one attitude, which should suggest all the ideas expressed in these wonderful lines? — his 'limbs of giant mould,' — his talking, howling, casting himself prone, and falling asleep; — with the accompaniments of the 'midnight storm,' 'the ridgy steep,' 'the loose hanging rock;' and above all (perhaps) the mortal 'eye' vainly attempting to fix itself upon his 'hideous form'? ... Chaucer's description of 'Danger' in the Romaunt of the Rose is exceedingly spirited, and equally characteristic with that of Collins, though very different, because the fiend is differently exercising himself; Collins presents natural dangers from lightning, tempest, and earthquake, — Chaucer, the perils of war, battle, human violence, or ambush; the last of which is finely conceived in the first couplet; — 'With that anon upstart Dangere | Out of the place where he was hidde; | His malice in his chere was kidde; | Full great he was, and blacke of hewe, | Sturdy and hideous, whoso him knew'" Lectures (1833) 26-27 and note.

John Langhorne's Observations:

"Mr. C— who had often determined to apply himself to dramatic poetry, seems here, with the same view, to have addressed one of the principal powers of the drama, and to implore that mighty influence she had given to the genius of Shakespear: 'Hither again thy fury deal, | Teach me but once like him to feel: | His cypress wreath my meed decree, | And I, O Fear, will dwell with thee!' In the construction of this nervous ode the author has shown equal power of judgment and imagination. Nothing can be more striking than the violent and abrupt abbreviation of the measure in the fifth and sixth verses, when he feels the strong influence of the power he invokes: 'Ah Fear! ah frantic Fear! I see, I see thee near.' The editor of these poems has met with nothing in the same species of poetry, either in his own, or in any other language, equal, in all respects, to the following description of Danger: 'Danger whose limbs of giant mould | What mortal eye can fix'd behold? | Who stalks his round, an hideous form, | Howling amidst the midnight storm, | Or throws him on the ridgy steep | Of some loose hanging rook to sleep.' It is impossible to contemplate the image conveyed in the two last verses, without those emotions of terror it was intended to excite. It has, moreover, the entire advantage of novelty to recommend it, for there is too much originality in all the circumstances to suppose that the author had in his eye that description of the penal situation of Catiline in the ninth Aeneid: — 'Te, Catilina, minaci Pendentem scopulo.' The archetype of the English poet's idea was in Nature, and, probably, to her alone he was indebted for the thought. From her, likewise, he derived that magnificence of conception, that horrible grandeur of imagery displayed in the following lines: 'And those, the fiends, who, near allied, | O'er Nature's wounds and wrecks preside; | While Vengeance in the lurid air | Lifts her red arm, exposed and bare: | On whom that ravening brood of fate, | Who lap the blood of sorrow, wait.' That nutritive enthusiasm, which cherishes the seeds of poetry, and which is, indeed, the only soil wherein they will grow to perfection, lays open the mind to all the influences of fiction. A passion for whatever is greatly wild or magnificent in the works of nature seduces the imagination to attend to all that is extravagant, however unnatural. Milton was notoriously fond of high romance and gothic diableries, and Collins, who in genius and enthusiasm bore no very distant resemblance to Milton, was wholly carried away by the same attachments. 'Be mine to read the visions old, | Which thy awakening bards have told: | And, lest thou meet my blasted view, | HOLD EACH TALE DEVOUTLY TRUE. | On that thrice hallow'd eve, &c.' There is an old traditionary superstition, that on St. Mark's eve the forms of all such persons as shall die within the ensuing year make their solemn entry into the churches of their respective parishes, as St. Patrick swam over the Channel, without their heads" Poetical Works of Mr. William Collins (1765) 150-54.

Thou, to whom the World unknown
With all its shadowy Shapes is shown;
Who see'st appall'd th' unreal Scene,
While Fancy lifts the Veil between:
Ah Fear! Ah frantic Fear!
I see, I see Thee near.
I know thy hurried Step, thy haggard Eye!
Like Thee I start, like Thee disorder'd fly.
For lo what Monsters in thy Train appear!
Danger, whose Limbs of Giant Mold
What mortal Eye can fix'd behold?
Who stalks his Round, an hideous Form,
Howling amidst the Midnight Storm,
Or throws him on the ridgy Steep
Of some loose hanging Rock to sleep:
And with him thousand Phantoms join'd,
Who prompt to Deeds accurs'd the Mind;
And those, the Fiends, who near allied,
O'er Nature's Wounds, and Wrecks preside;
Whilst Vengeance, in the lurid Air
Lifts her red Arm, expos'd and bare:
On whom that rav'ning Brood of Fate,
Who lap the Blood of Sorrow, wait;
Who, Fear, this ghastly Train can see,
And look not madly wild, like Thee?

In earliest Greece to thee with partial Choice
The Grief-full Muse addrest her infant Tongue;
The Maids and Matrons, on her awful Voice,
Silent and pale in wild Amazement hung.

Yet He the Bard who first invok'd thy Name,
Disdain'd in Marathon its Pow'r to feel:
For not alone he nurs'd the Poet's flame,
But reach'd from Virtue's hand the Patriot's Steel.

But who is He whom later Garlands grace,
Who left a-while o'er Hybla's Dews to rove,
With trembling Eyes thy dreary Steps to trace,
Where Thou and Furies shar'd the baleful Grove?

Wrapt in thy cloudy Veil th' Incestuous Queen
Sigh'd the sad Call her Son and Husband hear'd,
When once alone it broke the silent Scene,
And He the Wretch of Thebes no more appear'd.

O Fear, I know Thee by my throbbing Heart,
Thy with'ring Pow'r inspir'd each mournful Line,
Tho' gentle Pity claim her mingled Part,
Yet all the Thunders of the Scene are thine!

Thou who such weary Lengths hast past,
Where wilt thou rest, mad Nymph, at last?
Say, wilt thou shroud in haunted Cell,
Where gloomy Rape and Murder dwell?
Or in some hollow'd Seat,
'Gainst which the big Waves beat,
Hear drowning Sea-men's Cries in Tempests brought!
Dark Pow'r, with shudd'ring meek submitted Thought
Be mine, to read the Visions old,
Which thy awak'ning Bards have told:
And lest thou meet my blasted View,
Hold each strange Tale devoutly true;
Ne'er be I found, by thee o'eraw'd,
In that thrice-hallow'd Eve abroad,
When Ghosts, as Cottage-Maids believe,
Their pebbled Beds permitted leave,
And Gobblins haunt from Fire, or Fen
Or Mine, or Flood, the Walks of Men!

O Thou whose Spirit most possest
The sacred Seat of Shakespear's Breast!
By all that from thy Prophet broke,
In thy Divine Emotions spoke,
Hither again thy Fury deal,
Teach me but once like Him to feel:
His Cypress Wreath my Meed decree,
And I, O Fear, will dwell with Thee!

[pp. 5-9]