Ode to Spring


Anna Laetitia Barbauld

In what would become a common variation, Anna Aikin's imitation of Collins's Ode to Evening translates the theme of mutability from the diurnal to the annual cycle. Among the many treatments of the theme of Spring, her ode is notably erotic: "Thee, best belov'd! the virgin train await | With songs and festal rites, and joy to rove | Thy blooming wilds among, | And vales and dewy lawns" p. 98. Aikin's Poems was one of the most successful volumes published in the 1770s, going through seven editions in five years.

Monthly Review: "Before these elegant poems appeared in print, we were not wholly unacquainted with this Lady's extraordinary merit, and fine talents. The pupils of that very useful seminary [Warrington], to which she had done honour in one of her ingenious productions, have, with a genuine and unanimous enthusiasm, celebrated her genius, and diffused her praises far and wide: and some of her compositions have been read and admired by persons of the first taste and judgment in the republic of Letters. Hence the most pleasing impatience was every where expressed, when the public was assured that Miss Aiken had, at length, been prevailed on to assert her claim to literary fame. The merit of these poems is, in several respects, very different from that of other 'Daughters of the Nine.' In some of the pieces we have a smoothness and harmony, equal to that of our best poets; but what is more extraordinary, in others, we observe a justness of thought, and vigour of imagination, inferior only to the works of Milton and Shakspeare" 48 (January 1773) 54.

London Magazine: "This female muse has some excellent qualities. Her productions are deficient neither in spirit nor elegance" 42 (January 1773) 40.

Critical Review: "Miss Aiken, the author of these poems, possesses talents for poetry, the cultivation of which will, probably, redound much to her reputation. The pieces she has now published have, it must be owned, very different degrees of excellence; and however our complaisance to the fair author might incline us to overlooks such as have a small share of it, our duty to the public requires that we should hold the balance of criticism with an equal hand.... The Ode to Spring is unharmonious, but not without merit. Verses to Mrs. Rowe; To Miss R; and On the Death of Mrs. Jennings, are cold and unpleasing" 35 (March 1773) 192-94.

New London Magazine: "The first publication our authoress gave the public was a volume of poems in 4to. in 1773, which hath been since several times reprinted. It contains some pieces which have a smoothness and harmony equal to that of our best poets; with a justness of thought and vigour of imagination which would lose no credit by a comparison with the greatest names in English literature. The excellence of these poems was immediately acknowledge by the world: and Mr. Garrick, soon after their publication, recognized the writer as one who 'sung the sweetest lay,' in an epilogue spoken at Bath" 5 (November 1789) 532.

William Belsham: "The poem on the Origin of Song Writing might have done honor to Waller, and the Ode to Spring is entitled at least to divide the crown with Collins's exquisite Ode to Evening" Essays (1799) 2:513.

William Hazlitt: "The first poetess I can recollect is Mrs. Barbauld, with whose works I became acquainted before those of any other author, male or female, when I was learning to spell words of one syllable in her story-books for children. I became acquainted with her poetical works long after in Enfield's Speaker, and remember being much divided in my opinion at that time between her Ode to Spring and Collins's Ode to Evening" in Lectures on the English Poets (1818; 1909) 194-95.

Sarah Josepha Hale: "Some of the lyrical pieces of Mrs. Barbauld are flowing and harmonious, and her Ode to Spring is a happy imitation of Collins. She wrote also several poems in blank verse, characterized by a serious tenderness and elevation of thought" Woman's Record (1855) 197.

Epes Sargent: "In 1773 she published a volume of poems, which went through four editions in one year. Her often quoted Ode to Spring would be admirable if it were not too much an echo of Collins's Ode to Evening, the measure of which it reproduces" Harper's Cyclopaedia of British and American Poetry (1882) 226.

In 1787 the poem appeared in the Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser over the signature "Clio, Parnassus, March 17, 1787).

Sweet daughter of a rough and stormy sire,
Hoar Winter's blooming child; delightful Spring!
Whose unshorn locks with leaves
And swelling buds are crown'd;

From the green islands of eternal youth,
(Crown'd with fresh blooms, and ever springing shade,)
Turn, hither turn thy step,
O thou, whose powerful voice

More sweet than softest touch of Doric reed,
Or Lydian flute, can sooth the madding winds,
And thro' the stormy deep
Breathe thy own tender calm.

Thee, best belov'd! the virgin train await
With songs and festal rites, and joy to rove
Thy blooming wilds among,
And vales and dewy lawns,

With untir'd feet; and cull thy earliest sweets
To weave fresh garlands for the glowing brow
Of him, the favour'd youth
That prompts their whisper'd sigh.

Unlock thy copious stores; those tender showers
That drop their sweetness on the infant buds,
And silent dews that swell
The milky ear's green stem.

And feed the flowering osier's early shoots;
And call those winds which thro' the whispering boughs
With warm and pleasant breath
Salute the blowing flowers.

Now let me sit beneath the whitening thorn,
And mark thy spreading tints steal o'er the dale;
And watch with patient eye
Thy fair unfolding charms.

O nymph approach! while yet the temperate sun
With bashful forehead, thro' the cool moist air
Throws his young maiden beams,
And with chaste kisses woes

The earth's fair bosom; while the streaming veil
Of lucid clouds with kind and frequent shade
Protect thy modest blooms
From his severer blaze.

Sweet is thy reign, but short; the red dog-star
Shall scorch thy tresses, and the mower's scythe
Thy greens, thy flow'rets all,
Remorseless shall destroy.

Reluctant shall I bid thee farewel;
For O, not all that Autumn's lap contains,
Nor Summer's ruddiest fruits,
Can aught for thee atone

Fair Spring! whose simplest promise more delights
Than all their largest wealth, and thro' the heart
Each joy and new-born hope
With softest influence breathes.

[pp. 97-100]