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THOMAS GRAY

1716-1771

465                           Elegy written in a Country Churchyard

THE Curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
   The lowing herd wind slowly oer the lea,
The plowman homeward plods his weary way,
   And leaves the world to darkness and to me.
Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight,
   And all the air a solemn stillness holds,
Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,
   And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds;
Save that from yonder ivy-mantled towr
   The moping owl does to the moon complain
Of such as, wandring near her secret bowr,
   Molest her ancient solitary reign.
Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-trees shade,
   Where heaves the turf in many a mouldring heap,
Each in his narrow cell for ever laid,
   The rude Forefathers of the hamlet sleep.
The breezy call of incense-breathing Morn,
   The swallow twittring from the straw-built shed,
The cocks shrill clarion, or the echoing horn,
   No more shall rouse them from their lowly bed.
For them no more the blazing hearth shall burn,
   Or busy housewife ply her evening care:
No children run to lisp their sires return,
   Or climb his knees the envied kiss to share.
Oft did the harvest to their sickle yield,
   Their furrow oft the stubborn glebe has broke:
How jocund did they drive their team afield!
   How bowd the woods beneath their sturdy stroke!
Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,
   Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;
Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile
   The short and simple annals of the poor.
The boast of heraldry, the pomp of powr,
   And all that beauty, all that wealth eer gave,
Awaits alike th inevitable hour:
   The paths of glory lead but to the grave.
Nor you, ye Proud, impute to These the fault,
   If Memory oer their Tomb no Trophies raise,
Where through the long-drawn aisle and fretted vault
   The pealing anthem swells the note of praise.
Can storied urn or animated bust
   Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath?
Can Honours voice provoke the silent dust,
   Or Flattry soothe the dull cold ear of death?
Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid
   Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire;
Hands, that the rod of empire might have swayd,
   Or waked to ecstasy the living lyre.
But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page
   Rich with the spoils of time did neer unroll;
Chill Penury repressd their noble rage,
   And froze the genial current of the soul.
Full many a gem of purest ray serene
   The dark unfathomd caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
   And waste its sweetness on the desert air.
Some village Hampden that with dauntless breast
   The little tyrant of his fields withstood,
Some mute inglorious Milton, here may rest,
   Some Cromwell guiltless of his countrys blood.
Th applause of listning senates to command,
   The threats of pain and ruin to despise,
To scatter plenty oer a smiling land,
   And read their history in a nations eyes,
Their lot forbade: nor circumscribed alone
   Their growing virtues, but their crimes confined;
Forbade to wade through slaughter to a throne,
   And shut the gates of mercy on mankind,
The struggling pangs of conscious truth to hide,
   To quench the blushes of ingenuous shame,
Or heap the shrine of Luxury and Pride
   With incense kindled at the Muses flame.
Far from the madding crowds ignoble strife
   Their sober wishes never learnd to stray;
Along the cool sequesterd vale of life
   They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.
Yet evn these bones from insult to protect
   Some frail memorial still erected nigh,
With uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture deckd,
   Implores the passing tribute of a sigh.
Their name, their years, spelt by th unletterd muse,
   The place of fame and elegy supply:
And many a holy text around she strews,
   That teach the rustic moralist to die.
For who, to dumb Forgetfulness a prey,
   This pleasing anxious being eer resignd,
Left the warm precincts of the cheerful day,
   Nor cast one longing lingring look behind?
On some fond breast the parting soul relies,
   Some pious drops the closing eye requires;
Een from the tomb the voice of Nature cries,
   Een in our Ashes live their wonted Fires.
For thee, who, mindful of th unhonourd dead,
   Dost in these lines their artless tale relate;
If chance, by lonely contemplation led,
   Some kindred spirit shall inquire thy fate,
Haply some hoary-headed Swain may say,
   Oft have we seen him at the peep of dawn
Brushing with hasty steps the dews away
   To meet the sun upon the upland lawn.
There at the foot of yonder nodding beech
   That wreathes its old fantastic roots so high,
His listless length at noontide would he stretch,
   And pore upon the brook that babbles by.
Hard by yon wood, now smiling as in scorn,
   Muttring his wayward fancies he would rove,
Now drooping, woeful wan, like one forlorn,
   Or crazed with care, or crossd in hopeless love.
One morn I missd him on the customd hill,
   Along the heath and near his favrite tree;
Another came, nor yet beside the rill,
   Nor up the lawn, nor at the wood was he;
The next with dirges due in sad array
   Slow through the church-way path we saw him borne.
Approach and read (for thou canst read) the lay
   Graved on the stone beneath yon aged thorn.

THE EPITAPH

Here rests his head upon the lap of Earth
   A Youth to Fortune and to Fame unknown.
Fair Science frownd not on his humble birth,
   And Melancholy markd him for her own.
Large was his bounty, and his soul sincere,
   Heavn did a recompense as largely send:
He gave to Misry all he had, a tear,
   He gaind from Heavn (twas all he wishd) a friend.
No farther seek his merits to disclose,
Or draw his frailties from their dread abode,
(There they alike in trembling hope repose,)
The bosom of his Father and his God.

466                                        The Curse upon Edward

   WEAVE the warp, and weave the woof,
The winding-sheet of Edwards race.
   Give ample room, and verge enough
The characters of hell to trace.
Mark the year, and mark the night,
When Severn shall re-echo with affright
The shrieks of death, thro Berkleys roofs that ring,
Shrieks of an agonizing King!
   She-wolf of France, with unrelenting fangs,
That tearst the bowels of thy mangled mate,
   From thee be born, who oer thy country hangs
The scourge of Heavn. What terrors round him wait!
Amazement in his van, with Flight combined,
And Sorrows faded form, and Solitude behind.
   Mighty Victor, mighty Lord!
Low on his funeral couch he lies!
   No pitying heart, no eye, afford
A tear to grace his obsequies.
Is the sable warrior fled?
Thy son is gone. He rests among the dead.
The swarm that in thy noon-tide beam were born?
Gone to salute the rising morn.
Fair laughs the morn, and soft the zephyr blows,
While proudly riding oer the azure realm
In gallant trim the gilded vessel goes;
   Youth on the prow, and Pleasure at the helm;
Regardless of the sweeping whirlwinds sway,
That, hushd in grim repose, expects his evening prey.
   Fill high the sparkling bowl,
The rich repast prepare;
   Reft of a crown, he yet may
share the feast: Close by the regal chair
   Fell Thirst and Famine scowl
   A baleful smile upon their baffled guest.
Heard ye the din of battle bray,
   Lance to lance, and horse to horse?
   Long years of havoc urge their destined course,
And thro the kindred squadrons mow their way.
   Ye Towers of Julius, Londons lasting shame,
With many a foul and midnight murder fed,
   Revere his consorts faith, his fathers fame,
And spare the meek usurpers holy head.
Above, below, the rose of snow,
   Twined with her blushing foe, we spread:
The bristled boar in infant-gore
   Wallows beneath the thorny shade.
Now, brothers, bending oer th accursàd loom
Stamp we our vengeance deep, and ratify his doom.
   Edward, lo! to sudden Fate
(Weave we the woof. The thread is spun)
   Half of thy heart we consecrate.
(The web is wove. The work is done.)

467                                         The Progress of Poesy

A PINDARIC ODE

   AWAKE, Æolian lyre, awake,
And give to rapture all thy trembling strings.
From Helicons harmonious springs
   A thousand rills their mazy progress take:
The laughing flowers, that round them blow,
Drink like and fragrance as they flow.
Now the rich stream of music winds along
Deep, majestic, smooth and strong,
Thro verdant vales, and Ceres golden reign:
Now rolling down the steep amain,
Headlong, impetuous see it pour;
The rocks and nodding groves rebellow to the roar.
   O Sovereign of the willing soul,
Parent of sweet and solemn-breathing airs,
Enchanting shell! the sullen Cares
   And frantic Passions hear thy soft controul.
On Thracias hills the Lord of War
Has curbd the fury of his car,
And droppd his thirsty lance at thy command.
Perching on the sceptred hand
Of Jove, thy magic lulls the featherd king
With ruffled plumes and flagging wing:
Quenchd in dark clouds of slumber lie
The terror of his beak, and lightnings of his eye.
Thee the voice, the dance, obey,
Temperd to thy warbled lay.
   Oer Idalias velvet-green
   The rosy-crownàd Loves are seen
On Cythereas day
   With antic Sports, and blue-eyed Pleasures,
   Frisking light in frolic measures;
Now pursuing, now retreating,
   Now in circling troops they meet:
To brisk notes in cadence beating,
   Glance their many-twinkling feet.
Slow melting strains their Queens approach declare:
   Whereer she turns the Graces homage pay.
With arms sublime, that float upon the air,
   In gliding state she wins her easy way:
Oer her warm cheek and rising bosom move
The bloom of young Desire and purple light of Love.
   Mans feeble race what ills await,
Labour, and Penury, the racks of Pain,
Disease, and Sorrows weeping train,
   And Death, sad refuge from the storms of fate!
The fond complaint, my song, disprove,
And justify the laws of Jove.
Say, has he givn in vain the heavnly Muse?
Night, and all her sickly dews,
Her spectres wan, and birds of boding cry,
He gives to range the dreary sky:
Till down the eastern cliffs afar
Hyperions march they spy, and glittring shafts of war.
   In climes beyond the solar road,
Where shaggy forms oer ice-built mountains roam,
The Muse has broke the twilight gloom
   To cheer the shivring natives dull abode.
And oft, beneath the odrous shade
Of Chilis boundless forests laid,
She deigns to hear the savage youth repeat
In loose numbers wildly sweet
Their feather-cinctured chiefs, and dusky loves.
Her track, whereer the Goddess roves,
Glory pursue and generous Shame,
Th unconquerable Mind, and Freedoms holy flame.
Woods, that wave oer Delphis steep,
Isles, that crown th Ægean deep,
   Fields, that cool Ilissus laves,
   Or where Mæanders amber waves
In lingering labrinths creep,
   How do your tuneful echoes languish,
   Mute, but to the voice of anguish?
Where each old poetic mountain
   Inspiration breathed around:
Evry shade and hallowd fountain
   Murmurd deep a solemn sound:
Till the sad Nine, in Greeces evil hour,
   Left their Parnassus for the Latian plains.
Alike they scorn the pomp of tyrant Power,
   And coward Vice, that revels in her chains.
When Latium had her lofty spirit lost,
They sought, O Albion! next thy sea-encircled coast.
   Far from the sun and summer gale,
In thy green lap was Natures darling laid,
What time, where lucid Avon strayd,
   To Him the mighty mother did unveil
Her awful face: the dauntless child
Stretchd forth his little arms, and smiled.
This pencil take (she said), whose colours clear
Richly paint the vernal year:
Thine too these golden keys, immortal boy!
This can unlock the gates of joy;
Of horror that, and thrilling fears,
Or ope the sacred source of sympathetic tears.
   Nor second he, that rode sublime
Upon the seraph-wings of Ecstasy,
The secrets of th abyss to spy.
   He passd the flaming bounds of place and time:
The living Throne, the sapphire-blaze,
Where Angels tremble while they gaze,
He saw; but blasted with excess of light,
Closed his eyes in endless night.
Behold, where Drydens less presumptuous car,
Wide oer the fields of glory bear
Two coursers of ethereal race,
With necks in thunder clothed, and long-resounding pace.
Hark, his hands the lyre explore!
Bright-eyed Fancy hovering oer
   Scatters from her pictured urn
Thoughts that breathe, and words that burn.
   But ah! tis heard no more
   O Lyre divine! what daring Spirit
   Wakes thee now? Tho he inherit
Nor the pride, nor ample pinion,
   That the Theban eagle bear
Sailing with supreme dominion
   Thro the azure deep of air:
Yet oft before his infant eyes would run
   Such forms as glitter in the Muses ray,
With orient hues, unborrowd of the Sun:
   Yet shall he mount, and keep his distant way
Beyond the limits of a vulgar fate,
Beneath the Good how farbut far above the Great.

468                               On Favourite Cat, Drowned in a
                                                Tub of Gold Fishes

TWAS on a lofty vases side,
Where Chinas gayest art had dyed
   The azure flowers that blow;
Demurest of the tabby kind,
The pensive Selima reclined,
   Gazed on the lake below.
Her conscious tail her joy declared;
The fair round face, the snowy beard,
   The velvet of her paws,
Her coat, that with the tortoise vies,
Her ears of jet, and emerald eyes,
   She saw; and purrd applause.
Still had she gazed; but midst the tide
Two angel forms were seen to glide,
   The Genii of the stream:
Their scaly armours Tyrian hue
Thro richest purple to the view
   Betrayd a golden gleam.
The hapless Nymph with wonder saw:
A whisker first and then a claw,
   With many an ardent wish,
She stretchd in vain to reach the prize.
What female heart can gold despise?
   What Cats averse to fish?
Presumptuous Maid! with looks intent
Again she stretchd, again she bent,
   Nor knew the gulf between.
(Malignant Fate sat by, and smiled.)
The slippry verge her feet beguiled,
   She tumbled headlong in.
Eight times emerging from the flood
She mewd to evry watry god,
   Some speedy aid to send.
No Dolphin came, no Nereid stirrd:
Nor cruel Tom, nor Susan heard.
   A Favrite has no friend!

From hence, ye Beauties undeceived,
Know, one false step is neer retrieved,
   And be with caution bold.
Not all that tempts your wandring eyes
And heedless hearts, is lawful prize;
   Nor all that glisters, gold.

 

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