Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Lovely Poem to Share

It's the birthday of poet Thomas Gray, born in London (1716). He wrote Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard (1751), which is considered to be one of the greatest poems in the English language:

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day, The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea, The
ploughman homeward plods his weary way, And leaves the world to darkness, and to
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 tower The moping owl does to the
moon complain Of such as, wandering near her secret bower, Molest her ancient
solitary reign.
Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree’s shade, Where heaves the turf in many a
mouldering 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 twittering from the straw-built
shed, The cock’s 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 sire’s return, Or climb his knees the envied kiss to
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 bow’d 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 power, And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er
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 o’er 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
Honour’s voice provoke the silent dust, Or Flattery 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 sway’d, Or waked to ecstasy the living lyre:
But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page, Rich with the spoils of time, did ne’er
unroll; Chill Penury repress’d their noble rage, And froze the genial current of the soul.
Full many a gem of purest ray serene The dark unfathom’d 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
country’s blood.
Th’ applause of list’ning senates to command, The threats of pain and ruin to despise,
To scatter plenty o’er a smiling land, And read their history in a nation’s eyes, Their lot
forbad: nor circumscribed alone Their growing virtues, but their crimes confined;
Forbad 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
Muse’s flame.
Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife, Their sober wishes never learn’d to stray;
Along the cool sequester’d vale of life They kept the noiseless tenour of their way.
Yet e’en these bones from insult to protect Some frail memorial still erected nigh, With
uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture deck’d, Implores the passing tribute of a sigh.
Their name, their years, spelt by th’ unletter’d 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 e’er resign’d, Let
the warm precincts of the cheerful day, Nor cast one longing lingering look behind?
On some fond breast the parting soul relies, Some pious drops the closing eye requires;
E’en from the tomb the voice of Nature cries, E’en in our ashes live their wonted fires.
For thee, who, mindful of th’ unhonour’d 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
‘Hand by yon wood, now smiling as in scorn, Muttering his wayward fancies he would
rove; Now drooping, woeful wan, like one forlorn, Or crazed with car, or cross’d in
hopeless love.
‘One morn I miss’d him on the custom’d hill, Along the heath, and near his favourite
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.’
Here rests his head upon the lap of Earth A Youth, to Fortune and to Fame unknown;
Fair Science frown’d not on his humble birth, And Melancholy mark’d him for her
Large was his bounty, and his soul sincere; Heaven did a recompense as largely send:
He gave to Misery all he had, a tear, He gain’d from Heaven, ‘twas all he wish’d, a
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.

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