Ode on the Spring is a poem written by Thomas Gray.
The opening stanza of the poem is marked by both neo-classical characteristics and the romantic temper of the poet. The time of spring is personified as the “‘rosy-bosom’d Hours” which are regarded as the attendants of Venus. The winds and the breezes have been personified as Zephyrs (that is, the followers of Zephyrus, the god of winds). The nightingale is described as “the Attic warbler” “, and this is an example of poetic diction. The romantic temper of the writer is seen in his interest in, and his keen observation of, natural phenomena and natural processes. Nature emerged as a new theme in the poetry of Gray and others of the same group of poets who are regarded as the harbingers of the Romantic movement, though these poets could not get completely free of the prevailing neo-classical style of writing of which Alexander Pope was the principal representative.
Here again, we see the poet’s interest in Nature, and also his. minute observation of natural scenery. The phrase “the rude and moss-grown beech” is an example of the poet’s minute observation, like the picture of the oak’s thick branches casting a shadow that makes the ground appear brown in colour. The romantic temper of the poet appears also in the manner in which he introduces himself into the poem. A romantic poet tends to express his personal feelings whereas a wholly neo-classical poet is strictly objective in writing a poem. The neo-classical influence appears in the poet’s moralizing. The poet expresses a preference for quiet and tranquillity in contrast to the busy activities of the people of the cities.
Like the first two stanzas, this one also contains a number of vivid pictures. The shepherd, the sheep, and the insects flying through the air above have vividly been presented to our eyes, while the busy murmuring of the insects is made audible to our ears. Thus we have audio Visual imagery in this stanza. Care has been personified to refer to the careful shepherd who looks after his sheep. The neo-classical stamp is seen in the personification and in the diction, particularly in the line: “The insect-youth are on the wing” “, and in the phrase “gayly-gilded trim“.
This stanza is full of moralizing and reads like a sermon. Here the poet dwells upon the short duration of the life of the insects and compares the short life of human beings to the brief stay of the insects in the world. Thus here the poet reduces human beings to the humble and helpless position of the insects. There is a subdued feeling of melancholy also in this stanza. Then we have the usual personifications-Contemplation to convey the idea of a contemplative or reflective person; we have “Mischance” with a capital M, and this is an example of a needless personification. We have capital letters even when there is no personification, as in the case of the words “Busy” and “Gay”. Such devices represent the worst faults of neo-classical poetry.
There is evidently a feeling of melancholy in this stanza, though the melancholy is not explicitly expressed. This melancholy and the subjective nature of what the poet has to say impart a romantic quality to this stanza which is otherwise neo-classical because of its moralizing. This stanza also reveals to us the innate disposition of Gray as a sort of recluse and as an unworldly kind of man. The biographical facts of Gray’s life confirm the view which Gray has expressed about himself in this stanza. He was a solitary kind of man in his real life, though he did have a couple of devoted friends.
Ode on the Spring has a lyrical quality in which the neo-classical poetry of the eighteenth century was sadly wanting, and which appeared chiefly in the work of Thomas Gray and a few others who are regarded as the pioneers of the Romantic movement in English poetry. If this poem be judged as an ode, we have to note the fact that it does not conform to any ancient classical pattern or form of the ode. It is by no means a Pindaric ode. At best, we call it a regular English ode, somewhat akin to the odes of the ancient classical poet Horace who wrote regular odes, very unlike the Pindaric ones. (An ode by Horace is written in uniform stanzas, each of the same length, and each observing the same rhyme- scheme). Each stanza in this poem consists of ten lines and the rhyme- scheme in all the stanzas is the same. Thus this ode is different from The Progress of Poesy and The Bard which are Pindaric odes by Gray.
Melancholy and the Personal Element
There is an undercurrent of melancholy in this poem, and this is a romantic feature. The personal element appears in the lines where Gray imagines himself as sitting in the company of the Muse by the riverside; but here again, we have the neo-classical tendency to moralize upon a situation or to draw a moral from what is being observed The personal element is more particularly to be found in the final stanza Where Gray speaks of himself as a solitary man having no worldly possessions to display, with his youth already “flown”.
It is Gray’s interest in, and close observation of, natural objects, natural scenery, natural phenomena, and natural processes which are the most prominent romantic feature of this poem. We have several pictures of Nature that bear witness not only to Gray’s interest in Nature but also to his talent for vivid imagery. Indeed, the pictorial quality and the imagery of Nature are the most attractive features of this poem.