1746
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ode to Mercy.

Odes on Several Descriptive and Allegorical Subjects.

William Collins


An appeal to clemency as the Jacobite leaders of the 1745 rebellion were facing trial and execution. Critics have sometimes identified the mid-century ode with a turn away from politics towards introspection and what Collins's friend Joseph Warton called "pure poetry." But this is to underestimate the variety of kinds of odes, and more significantly, the connection of allegory with passions and ideas understood to be public rather than private. Retirement itself was construed as a political stance well into the nineteenth century.

Frank Sayers: "Although the tales, as well as the mythology, of Greece and Rome, had long since served to decorate the poetry of England, and although the most splendid and graceful imitations of the ancients had distinguished the works of Milton, yet a taste for the classical forms of composition never seems to have so generally prevailed in England, as when it was awakened by the animating productions of Collins and Gray; these writers then may be deemed the founders of a Greek school" "Rise and Progress of English Poetry" ca. 1793; in Sayers, Poetical Works, ed. Taylor (1830) 12-13.

John Aikin, who contrasts Collins's Mercy with Spenser's Mercilla, comments on the allegory: "This enchanting figure, though called 'sky-born,' is not distinguished in appearance and character from a mortal fair; indeed no emblem or supernatural attribute was necessary to render Mercy sufficiently impressive under the form of a beautiful female. Another touch of nature in the ode is truly picturesque: 'and look'd his rage away.' That Mercy should be so closely allied to Valour as to deserve the title of his mythological bride, were certainly to be wished; and understanding valour to be courage united to generosity, the idea, I think, is a just one" "Personification in Poetry" Monthly Magazine 6 (1798) 434.

Edward Gardner: "The connection between Poetry and Sculpture, has often been noticed, and is at least as old as the Furor of Virgil, in the temple of Janus. Collins's short ode to mercy, the last four lines excepted, is a series of beautiful bas reliefs in the classical antique" Miscellanies, in Prose and Verse (1798) 1:173.

Samuel Egerton Brydges: "When at length the opinion of the few has prevailed over the opinion of the many, and a reputation has become generally established, the author's works find an universal circulation, because it is fashionable to possess them, and be acquainted with their contents. Of poor Collins, whose Odes could not obtain a vent for one small edition when he first published them himself, impression after impression has been called for since his death, till the number of copies, which in many varied forms are every year taken off at the market, is beyond calculation" Censura Literaria 10 (1809) 71.

Edmund Blunden: "The Ode to Mercy was written in apprehension that Lord Balmerino and other captured rebels of the Forty-Five might be executed at the Tower (August 1746). The were" Poems of Collins (1929) 168.



STROPHE.
O Thou, who sitt'st a smiling Bride
By Valour's armed and awful Side,
Gentlest of Sky-born Forms and best adored:
Who oft with Songs, divine to hear,
Win'st from his fatal Grasp the Spear,
And hid'st in Wreaths of Flow'rs his bloodless Sword!
Thou who, amidst the deathful Field,
By Godlike Chiefs alone beheld,
Oft with thy Bosom bare art found,
Pleading for him the Youth who sinks to Ground:
See, Mercy, see, with pure and loaded Hands,
Before thy Shrine my Country's Genius stands,
And decks thy Altar still, tho' pierc'd with many a Wound!

ANTISTROPHE.
When he whom ev'n our Joys provoke,
The Fiend of Nature, join'd his Yoke,
And rush'd in Wrath to make our Isle his Prey;
Thy Form, from out thy sweet Abode,
O'ertook Him on his blasted Road,
And stop'd his Wheels, and look'd his Rage away.

I see recoil his sable Steeds,
That bore Him swift to Salvage Deeds,
Thy tender melting Eyes they own;
O Maid, for all thy Love to Britain shown,
Where Justice bars her Iron Tow'r,
To Thee we build a roseate Bow'r,
Thou, Thou shalt rule our Queen, and share our Monarch's Throne!

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