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Far from the 31 madding crowd's ignoble strife
They kept the noiseless 32 tenor of their way.
Yet even these bones from insult to protect,
With 33 uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture deck'd,
Their name, their years, spelt by th' unletter'd Muse, The place of fame and 35 elegy supply;
And many a holy text around she strews,
That teach the rustic moralist to die.
For who, to dumb Forgetfulness a prey,
On some fond breast the parting soul relies,
Some pious drops the closing eye requires ; 37 Even from the tomb the voice of nature cries, Even in our ashes live their wonted fires.38
For thee, who, mindful of th' unhonor'd dead,
Haply some hoary-headed swain may say, "Oft have we seen him at the 39 peep of dawn Brushing with hasty steps the dews away,
To meet the sun upon the 40 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.41
"Hard by yon wood, now smiling as in scorn,
Muttering his wayward fancies he would rove; Now drooping, woeful wan, like one forlorn,
Or craz'd with care, or cross'd in hopeless love.
"One morn I miss'd him on the custom'd hill, Along the heath and near his favorite tree; Another came; nor yet beside the rill,
Nor up the lawn, nor at the wood was he.
"The next, with dirges 42 due in sad array,
Slow through the church-way path we saw him borne. Approach and read (for thou canst read) the lay Grav'd on the stone beneath yon aged thorn." 43
Here rests his head upon the 44 lap of Earth,
Large was his bounty, and his soul sincere,
He gave to Misery all he had, a tear,
He gain'd from Heaven ('twas all he wish'd) 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.
Thomas Gray, born in Cornhill, London, December 26, 1716, was the son of a money scrivener. He was educated at Eton and at Pembroke College, Cambridge. In 1742 he took up his residence at Cambridge, where he spent the remainder of his life chiefly engaged in study. It is said of him that he was master in all departments of human learning except mathematics. His poems are not numerous, but they all bear the mark of merit. Besides the Elegy, the best known are the Ode to Spring, the Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College, the Ode to Adversity, The Progress of Poesy, and The Bard. Gray died on the 30th of July, 1771. His literary and personal peculiarities "are familiar to us," says Robert Carruthers, "from the numerous representations and allusions of his friends. It is easy to fancy the recluse-poet sitting in his college chambers in the old quadrangle of Pembroke Hall. His windows are ornamented with mignonette and choice flowers in China vases, but outside may be discerned some iron-work intended to be serviceable as a fire-escape, for he has a horror of fire. His furniture is neat and select; his books, rather for use than show, are disposed around him. He has a harpsichord in the room. In the corner of one of the apartments is a trunk containing his deceased mother's dresses, carefully folded up and preserved. His fastidiousness, bordering upon effeminacy, is visible in his gait and manner, in his handsome features and small, well-dressed person, especially when he walks abroad and sinks the author and hard student in 'the gentleman who sometimes writes for his amusement.' He writes always with a crow-quill, speaks slowly and sententiously, and shuns the crew of dissonant college revellers, who call him 'a prig,' and seek to annoy him. Long mornings of study, and nights feverish from ill-health, are spent in those chambers; he is often listless and in low spirits; yet his natural temper is not desponding, and he delights in employment. He has always something to learn or to communicate; some sally of humor or quiet stroke of satire for his friends and correspondents; some note on natural history to enter in his journal; me passage of Plato to unfold and illustrate; some golden thought of classic inspiration to inlay on his page; some bold image to tone down; some verse to retouch and harmonize. His life is, on the whole, innocent and happy, and a feeling of thankfulness to the Great Giver is breathed over all."
"It may at once be said that it was begun at Stoke in October or November, 1742, continued at Stoke immediately after the funeral of Gray's aunt, Miss Mary Antrobus, in November, 1749, and finished at Cambridge in June, 1750. It may be here remarked as a very singular fact that the death of a valued friend seems to have been the stimulus of greatest efficacy in rousing Gray to the composition of poetry, and did, in fact, excite him to the completion of most of his important poems. He was a man who had a very slender hold on life himself, who walked habitually in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and whose periods of greatest vitality were those in which bereavement proved to him that, melancholy as he was, even he had something to lose and to regret." — Edmund Gosse.
"Had Gray written nothing but his Elegy, high as he stands, I am not sure that he would not stand higher; it is the corner-stone of his glory." - Lord Byron.
1. curfew. Fr. couvre-feu; couvrir, to cover, and feu, fire. The custom in England of ringing a bell at nightfall dates from a very early period, although it was probably neither general nor obligatory until the time of William the Conqueror. Peshall, in his History of Oxford, says: "The custom of ringing the bell at Carfax every night at eight o'clock was by order of King Alfred, the restorer of our University, who ordained that all persons at the ringing of that bell should cover up their fires and go to bed; which Custom is observed to this day." See Milton, Il Penseroso, 73:
"Oft on a plat of rising ground,
Compare with Dante, Purgatorio, 8: —
And Milton, Comus, 434:·
"If he doth hear from far away a bell
parting. Departing. Compare with Milton, Hymn on the Nativity, 185:
"The parting Genius is with sighing sent."