Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. III. Sorrow and Consolation
  PREVIOUSNEXT  
CONTENTS · BOOK CONTENTS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume III. Sorrow and Consolation.  1904.
 
V. Death and Bereavement
Elegy written in a Country Churchyard
Thomas Gray (1716–1771)
 
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 me.
 
Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight,        5
  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        10
Of such as, wandering near her secret bower,
  Molest her ancient solitary reign.
 
[Hark! how the holy calm that breathes around
  Bids every fierce tumultuous passion cease;
In still small accents whispering from the ground        15
  The grateful earnest of eternal peace.] 1
 
Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree’s shade,
  Where heaves the turf in many a moldering heap,
Each in his narrow cell forever laid,
  The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep.        20
 
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,        25
  Or busy housewife ply her evening care;
No children run to lisp their sire’s 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;        30
How jocund did they drive their team afield!
  How bowed 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        35
  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 the inevitable hour.
  The paths of glory lead but to the grave.        40
 
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        45
  Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath?
Can honor’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;        50
Hands, that the rod of empire might have swayed,
  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 repressed their noble rage,        55
  And froze the genial current of the soul.
 
Full many a gem of purest ray serene
  The dark, unfathomed caves of ocean bear;
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
  And waste its sweetness on the desert air.        60
 
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 listening senates to command,        65
  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 forbade: nor circumscribed alone
  Their growing virtues, but their crimes confined;        70
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        75
  With incense kindled at the muse’s flame.
 
Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife,
  Their sober wishes never learned to stray;
Along the cool sequestered vale of life
  They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.        80
 
Yet even these bones from insult to protect,
  Some frail memorial still erected nigh,
With uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture decked,
  Implores the passing tribute of a sigh.
 
Their name, their years, spelt by th’ unlettered muse,        85
  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 resigned,        90
Left 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,        95
  E’en in our ashes live their wonted fires.
 
For thee, who, mindful of th’ unhonored dead,
  Dost in these lines their artless tale relate,
If chance, by lonely contemplation led,
  Some kindred spirit shall inquire thy fate,        100
 
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,        105
  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,
  Muttering his wayward fancies he would rove;        110
Now drooping, woful-wan, like one forlorn,
  Or crazed with care, or crossed in hopeless love.
 
“One morn I missed him on the customed hill,
  Along the heath, and near his favorite tree;
Another came; nor yet beside the rill,        115
  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.”        120
 
THE EPITAPH
Here rests his head upon the lap of Earth
  A youth to Fortune and to Fame unknown;
Fair Science frowned not on his humble birth,
  And Melancholy marked him for her own.
 
Large was his bounty, and his soul sincere,        125
  Heaven did a recompense as largely send;
He gave to Misery all he had, a tear,
  He gained from Heaven (’t was all he wished) a friend.
 
No farther seek his merits to disclose,
  Or draw his frailties from their dread abode,        130
(There they alike in trembling hope repose)
  The bosom of his Father and his God.
 
Note 1. Removed by the author from the original poem. [back]
 
 
CONTENTS · BOOK CONTENTS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  PREVIOUSNEXT  
 
Loading
Click here to shop the Bartleby Bookstore.

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2014 Bartleby.com · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors