Select Poems of Thomas Gray
by Thomas Gray
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"But when our country's cause provokes to arms."

44. Dull cold ear. Cf. Shakes. Hen. VIII. iii. 2: "And sleep in dull, cold marble."

46. Pregnant with celestial fire. This phrase has been copied by Cowper in his Boadicea, which is said (see notes of "Globe" ed.) to have been written after reading Hume's History, in 1780:

"Such the bard's prophetic words, Pregnant with celestial fire, Bending as he swept the chords Of his sweet but awful lyre."

47. Mitford quotes Ovid, Ep. v. 86:

"Sunt mihi quas possint sceptra decere manus."

48. Living lyre. Cf. Cowley:

"Begin the song, and strike the living lyre;"

and Pope, Windsor Forest, 281:

"Who now shall charm the shades where Cowley strung His living harp, and lofty Denham sung?"

50. Cf. Browne, Religio Medici: "Rich with the spoils of nature."

51. "Rage is often used in the post-Elizabethan writers of the 17th century, and in the 18th century writers, for inspiration, enthusiasm" (Hales). Cf. Cowley:

"Who brought green poesy to her perfect age, And made that art which was a rage?"

and Tickell, Prol.:

"How hard the task! How rare the godlike rage!"

Cf. also the use of the Latin rabies for the "divine afflatus," as in Aeneid, vi. 49.

53. Full many a gem, etc. Cf. Bishop Hall, Contemplations: "There is many a rich stone laid up in the bowells of the earth, many a fair pearle in the bosome of the sea, that never was seene, nor never shall bee."

Purest ray serene. As Hales remarks, this is a favourite arrangement of epithets with Milton. Cf. Hymn on Nativity: "flower-inwoven tresses torn;" Comus: "beckoning shadows dire;" "every alley green," etc.; L'Allegro: "native wood-notes wild;" Lycidas: "sad occasion dear;" "blest kingdoms meek," etc.

55. Full many a flower, etc. Cf. Pope, Rape of the Lock, iv. 158:

"Like roses that in deserts bloom and die."

Mitford cites Chamberlayne, Pharonida, ii. 4:

"Like beauteous flowers which vainly waste their scent Of odours in unhaunted deserts;"

and Young, Univ. Pass. sat. v.:

"In distant wilds, by human eyes unseen, She rears her flowers, and spreads her velvet green; Pure gurgling rills the lonely desert trace, And waste their music on the savage race;"

and Philip, Thule:

"Like woodland flowers, which paint the desert glades, And waste their sweets in unfrequented shades."

Hales quotes Waller's

"Go, lovely rose, Tell her that's young And shuns to have her graces spied, That hadst thou sprung In deserts where no men abide Thou must have uncommended died."

On desert air, cf. Macbeth, iv. 3: "That would be howl'd out in the desert air."

57. It was in 1636 that John Hampden, of Buckinghamshire (a cousin of Oliver Cromwell), refused to pay the ship-money tax which Charles I. was levying without the authority of Parliament.

58. Little tyrant. Cf. Thomson, Winter:

"With open freedom little tyrants raged."

The artists who have illustrated this passage (see, for instance, Favourite English Poems, p. 305, and Harper's Monthly, vol. vii. p. 3) appear to understand "little" as equivalent to juvenile. If that had been the meaning, the poet would have used some other phrase than "of his fields," or "his lands," as he first wrote it.

59. Some mute inglorious Milton. Cf. Phillips, preface to Theatrum Poetarum: "Even the very names of some who having perhaps been comparable to Homer for heroic poesy, or to Euripides for tragedy, yet nevertheless sleep inglorious in the crowd of the forgotten vulgar."

60. Some Cromwell, etc. Hales remarks: "The prejudice against Cromwell was extremely strong throughout the 18th century, even amongst the more liberal-minded. That cloud of 'detractions rude,' of which Milton speaks in his noble sonnet to our 'chief of men' as in his own day enveloping the great republican leader, still lay thick and heavy over him. His wise statesmanship, his unceasing earnestness, his high-minded purpose, were not yet seen."

After this stanza Thomas Edwards, the author of the Canons of Criticism, would add the following, to supply what he deemed a defect in the poem:

"Some lovely fair, whose unaffected charms Shone with attraction to herself alone; Whose beauty might have bless'd a monarch's arms, Whose virtue cast a lustre on a throne.

"That humble beauty warm'd an honest heart, And cheer'd the labours of a faithful spouse; That virtue form'd for every decent part The healthful offspring that adorn'd their house."

Edwards was an able critic, but it is evident that he was no poet.

63. Mitford quotes Tickell:

"To scatter blessings o'er the British land;"

and Mrs. Behn:

"Is scattering plenty over all the land."

66. Their growing virtues. That is, the growth of their virtues.

67. To wade through slaughter, etc. Cf. Pope, Temp. of Fame, 347:

"And swam to empire through the purple flood."

68. Cf. Shakes. Hen. V. iii. 3:

"The gates of mercy shall be all shut up."

70. To quench the blushes, etc. Cf. Shakes. W. T. iv. 3:

"Come, quench your blushes, and present yourself."

73. Far from the madding crowd's, etc. Rogers quotes Drummond:

"Far from the madding worldling's hoarse discords."

Mitford points out "the ambiguity of this couplet, which indeed gives a sense exactly contrary to that intended; to avoid which one must break the grammatical construction." The poet's meaning is, however, clear enough.

75. Wakefield quotes Pope, Epitaph on Fenton:

"Foe to loud praise, and friend to learned ease, Content with science in the vale of peace."

77. These bones. "The bones of these. So is is often used in Latin, especially by Livy, as in v. 22: 'Ea sola pecunia,' the money derived from that sale, etc." (Hales).

84. That teach. Mitford censures teach as ungrammatical; but it may be justified as a "construction according to sense."

85. Hales remarks: "At the first glance it might seem that to dumb Forgetfulness a prey was in apposition to who, and the meaning was, 'Who that now lies forgotten,' etc.; in which case the second line of the stanza must be closely connected with the fourth; for the question of the passage is not 'Who ever died?' but 'Who ever died without wishing to be remembered?' But in this way of interpreting this difficult stanza (i.) there is comparatively little force in the appositional phrase, and (ii.) there is a certain awkwardness in deferring so long the clause (virtually adverbal though apparently coordinate) in which, as has just been noticed, the point of the question really lies. Perhaps therefore it is better to take the phrase to dumb Forgetfulness a prey as in fact the completion of the predicate resign'd, and interpret thus: Who ever resigned this life of his with all its pleasures and all its pains to be utterly ignored and forgotten?=who ever, when resigning it, reconciled himself to its being forgotten? In this case the second half of the stanza echoes the thought of the first half."

We give the note in full, and leave the reader to take his choice of the two interpretations. For ourself, we incline to the first rather than the second. We prefer to take to dumb Forgetfulness a prey as appositional and proleptic, and not as the grammatical complement of resigned: Who, yielding himself up a prey to dumb Forgetfulness, ever resigned this life without casting a longing, lingering look behind?

90. Pious is used in the sense of the Latin pius. Ovid has "piae lacrimae." Mitford quotes Pope, Elegy on an Unfortunate Lady, 49:

"No friend's complaint, no kind domestic tear Pleas'd thy pale ghost, or grac'd thy mournful bier; By foreign hands thy dying eyes were clos'd."

"In this stanza," says Hales, "he answers in an exquisite manner the two questions, or rather the one question twice repeated, of the preceding stanza.... What he would say is that every one while a spark of life yet remains in him yearns for some kindly loving remembrance; nay, even after the spark is quenched, even when all is dust and ashes, that yearning must still be felt."

91, 92. Mitford paraphrases the couplet thus: "The voice of Nature still cries from the tomb in the language of the epitaph inscribed upon it, which still endeavours to connect us with the living; the fires of former affection are still alive beneath our ashes."

Cf. Chaucer, C. T. 3880:

"Yet in our ashen cold is fire yreken."

Gray himself quotes Petrarch, Sonnet 169:

"Ch'i veggio nel pensier, dolce mio fuoco, Fredda una lingua e due begli occhi chiusi, Rimaner doppo noi pien di faville,"

translated by Nott as follows:

"These, my sweet fair, so warns prophetic thought, Clos'd thy bright eye, and mute thy poet's tongue, E'en after death shall still with sparks be fraught,"

the "these" meaning his love and his songs concerning it. Gray translated this sonnet into Latin elegiacs, the last line being rendered,

"Ardebitque urna multa favilla mea."

93. On a MS. variation of this stanza given by Mitford, see p. 80, footnote.

95. Chance is virtually an adverb here = perchance.

98. The peep of dawn. Mitford quotes Comus, 138:

"Ere the blabbing eastern scout, The nice morn, on the Indian steep From her cabin'd loop-hole peep."

99. Cf. Milton, P. L. v. 428:

"though from off the boughs each morn We brush mellifluous dews;"

and Arcades, 50:

"And from the boughs brush off the evil dew."

Wakefield quotes Thomson, Spring, 103:

"Oft let me wander o'er the dewy fields, Where freshness breathes, and dash the trembling drops From the bent brush, as through the verdant maze Of sweetbrier hedges I pursue my walk."

100. Upland lawn. Cf. Milton, Lycidas, 25:

"Ere the high lawns appear'd Under the opening eyelids of the morn."

In L'Allegro, 92, we have "upland hamlets," where Hales thinks "upland=country, as opposed to town." He adds, "Gray in his Elegy seems to use the word loosely for 'on the higher ground;' perhaps he took it from Milton, without quite understanding in what sense Milton uses it." We doubt whether Hales understands Milton here. It is true that upland used to mean country, as uplanders meant countrymen, and uplandish countrified (see Nares and Wb.), but the other meaning is older than Milton (see Halliwell's Dict. of Archaic Words), and Johnson, Keightley, and others are probably right in considering "upland hamlets" an instance of it. Masson, in his recent edition of Milton (1875), explains the "upland hamlets" as "little villages among the slopes, away from the river-meadows and the hay-making."

101. As Mitford remarks, beech and stretch form an imperfect rhyme.

102. Luke quotes Spenser, Ruines of Rome, st. 28:

"Shewing her wreathed rootes and naked armes."

103. His listless length. Hales compares King Lear, i. 4: "If you will measure your lubber's length again, tarry." Cf. also Brittain's Ida (formerly ascribed to Spenser, but rejected by the best editors), iii. 2:

"Her goodly length stretcht on a lilly-bed."

104. Cf. Thomson, Spring, 644: "divided by a babbling brook;" and Horace, Od. iii. 13, 15:

"unde loquaces Lymphae desiliunt tuae."

Wakefield quotes As You Like It, ii. 1:

"As he lay along Under an oak whose antique root peeps out Upon the brook that brawls along this road."

105. Smiling as in scorn. Cf. Shakes. Pass. Pilgrim, 14:

"Yet at my parting sweetly did she smile, In scorn or friendship, nill I construe whether."

and Skelton, Prol. to B. of C.:

"Smylynge half in scorne At our foly."

107. Woeful-wan. Mitford says: "Woeful-wan is not a legitimate compound, and must be divided into two separate words, for such they are, when released from the handcuffs of the hyphen." The hyphen is not in the edition of 1768, and we should omit it if it were not found in the Pembroke MS.

Wakefield quotes Spenser, Shep. Kal. Jan.:

"For pale and wanne he was (alas the while!) May seeme he lovd, or els some care he tooke."

108. "Hopeless is here used in a proleptic or anticipatory way" (Hales).

109. Custom'd is Gray's word, not 'custom'd, as usually printed. See either Wb. or Worc. s. v. Cf. Milton, Ep. Damonis: "Simul assueta seditque sub ulmo."

114. Churchway path. Cf. Shakes. M. N. D. v. 2:

"Now it is the time of night, That the graves all gaping wide, Every one lets forth his sprite In the churchway paths to glide."

115. For thou canst read. The "hoary-headed swain" of course could not read.

116. Grav'd. The old form of the participle is graven, but graved is also in good use. The old preterite grove is obsolete.

117. The lap of earth. Cf. Spenser, F. Q. v. 7, 9:

"For other beds the Priests there used none, But on their mother Earths deare lap did lie;"

and Milton, P. L. x. 777:

"How glad would lay me down, As in my mother's lap!"

Lucretius (i. 291) has "gremium matris terrai." Mitford adds the pathetic sentence of Pliny, Hist. Nat. ii. 63: "Nam terra novissime complexa gremio jam a reliqua natura abnegatos, tum maxime, ut mater, operit."

123. He gave to misery all he had, a tear. This is the pointing of the line in the MSS. and in all the early editions except that of Mathias, who seems to be responsible for the change (adopted by the recent editors, almost without exception) to,

"He gave to Misery (all he had) a tear."

This alters the meaning, mars the rhythm, and spoils the sentiment. If one does not see the difference at once, it would be useless to try to make him see it. Mitford, who ought to have known better, not only thrusts in the parenthesis, but quotes this from Pope's Homer as an illustration of it:

"His fame ('tis all the dead can have) shall live."

126. Mitford says that Or in this line should be Nor. Yes, if "draw" is an imperative, like "seek;" no, if it is an infinitive, in the same construction as "to disclose." That the latter was the construction the poet had in mind is evident from the form of the stanza in the Wrightson MS., where "seek" is repeated:

"No farther seek his merits to disclose, Nor seek to draw them from their dread abode."

127. In trembling hope. Gray quotes Petrarch, Sonnet 104: "paventosa speme." Cf. Lucan, Pharsalia, vii. 297: "Spe trepido;" Mallet, Funeral Hymn, 473:

"With trembling tenderness of hope and fear;"

and Beaumont, Psyche, xv. 314:

"Divided here twixt trembling hope and fear."

Hooker (Eccl. Pol. i.) defines hope as "a trembling expectation of things far removed."


The original manuscript title of this ode was "Noontide." It was first printed in Dodsley's Collection, vol. ii. p. 271, under the title of "Ode."

1. The rosy-bosom'd Hours. Cf. Milton, Comus, 984: "The Graces and the rosy-bosom'd Hours;" and Thomson, Spring, 1007:

"The rosy-bosom'd Spring To weeping Fancy pines."

The Horae, or hours, according to the Homeric idea, were the goddesses of the seasons, the course of which was symbolically represented by "the dance of the Hours." They were often described, in connection with the Graces, Hebe, and Aphrodite, as accompanying with their dancing the songs of the Muses and the lyre of Apollo. Long after the time of Homer they continued to be regarded as the givers of the seasons, especially spring and autumn, or "Nature in her bloom and her maturity." At first there were only two Horae, Thallo (or Spring) and Karpo (or Autumn); but later the number was three, like that of the Graces. In art they are represented as blooming maidens, bearing the products of the seasons.

2. Fair Venus' train. The Hours adorned Aphrodite (Venus) as she rose from the sea, and are often associated with her by Homer, Hesiod, and other classical writers. Wakefield remarks: "Venus is here employed, in conformity to the mythology of the Greeks, as the source of creation and beauty."

3. Long-expecting. Waiting long for the spring. Sometimes incorrectly printed "long-expected." Cf. Dryden, Astraea Redux, 132: "To flowers that in its womb expecting lie."

4. The purple year. Cf. the Pervigilium Veneris, 13: "Ipsa gemmis purpurantem pingit annum floribus;" Pope, Pastorals, i. 28: "And lavish Nature paints the purple year;" and Mallet, Zephyr: "Gales that wake the purple year."

5. The Attic warbler. The nightingale, called "the Attic bird," either because it was so common in Attica, or from the old legend that Philomela (or, as some say, Procne), the daughter of a king of Attica, was changed into a nightingale. Cf. Milton's description of Athens (P. R. iv. 245):

"where the Attic bird Trills her thick-warbled notes the summer long."

Cf. Ovid, Hal. 110: "Attica avis verna sub tempestate queratus;" and Propertius, ii. 16, 6: "Attica volucris."

Pours her throat is a metonymy. H. p. 85. Cf. Pope, Essay on Man, iii. 33: "Is it for thee the linnet pours her throat?"

6, 7. Cf. Thomson, Spring, 577:

"From the first note the hollow cuckoo sings, The symphony of spring."

9, 10. Cf. Milton, Comus, 989:

"And west winds with musky wing About the cedarn alleys fling Nard and cassia's balmy smells."

12. Cf. Milton, P. L. iv. 245: "Where the unpierc'd shade Imbrown'd the noontide bowers;" Pope, Eloisa, 170: "And breathes a browner horror on the woods;" Thomson, Castle of Indolence, i. 38: "Or Autumn's varied shades imbrown the walls."

According to Ruskin (Modern Painters, vol. iii. p. 241, Amer. ed.) there is no brown in nature. After remarking that Dante "does not acknowledge the existence of the colour of brown at all," he goes on to say: "But one day, just when I was puzzling myself about this, I happened to be sitting by one of our best living modern colourists, watching him at his work, when he said, suddenly and by mere accident, after we had been talking about other things, 'Do you know I have found that there is no brown in nature? What we call brown is always a variety either of orange or purple. It never can be represented by umber, unless altered by contrast.' It is curious how far the significance of this remark extends, how exquisitely it illustrates and confirms the mediaeval sense of hue," etc.

14. O'ercanopies the glade. Gray himself quotes Shakes. M. N. D. ii. 1: "A bank o'ercanopied with luscious woodbine."[1] Cf. Fletcher, Purple Island, i. 5, 30: "The beech shall yield a cool, safe canopy;" and Milton, Comus, 543: "a bank, With ivy canopied."

[Footnote 1: The reading of the folio of 1623 is:

"I know a banke where the wilde time blowes, Where Oxslips and the nodding Violet growes, Quite ouer-cannoped with luscious woodbine."

Dyce and some other modern editors read,

"Quite overcanopied with lush woodbine."]

15. Rushy brink. Cf. Comus, 890: "By the rushy-fringed bank."

19, 20. These lines, as first printed, read:

"How low, how indigent the proud! How little are the great!"

22. The panting herds. Cf. Pope, Past. ii. 87: "To closer shades the panting flocks remove."

23. The peopled air. Cf. Walton, C. A.: "Now the wing'd people of the sky shall sing;" Beaumont, Psyche: "Every tree empeopled was with birds of softest throats."

24. The busy murmur. Cf. Milton, P. R. iv. 248: "bees' industrious murmur."

25. The insect youth. Perhaps suggested by a line in Green's Hermitage, quoted in a letter of Gray to Walpole: "From maggot-youth through change of state," etc. See on 31 below.

26. The honied spring. Cf. Milton, Il Pens. 142: "the bee with honied thigh;" and Lyc. 140: "the honied showers."

"There has of late arisen," says Johnson in his Life of Gray, "a practice of giving to adjectives derived from substantives the termination of participles, such as the cultured plain, the daisied bank; but I am sorry to see in the lines of a scholar like Gray the honied spring." But, as we have seen, honied is found in Milton; and Shakespeare also uses it in Hen. V. i. 1: "honey'd sentences." Mellitus is used by Cicero, Horace, and Catullus. The editor of an English dictionary, as Lord Grenville has remarked, ought to know "that the ready conversion of our substances into verbs, participles, and participial adjectives is of the very essence of our tongue, derived from its Saxon origin, and a main source of its energy and richness."

27. The liquid noon. Gray quotes Virgil, Geo. iv. 59: "Nare per aestatem liquidam."

30. Quick-glancing to the sun. Gray quotes Milton, P. L. vii. 405:

"Sporting with quick glance, Show to the sun their waved coats dropt with gold."

31. Gray here quotes Green, Grotto: "While insects from the threshold preach." In a letter to Walpole, he says: "I send you a bit of a thing for two reasons: first, because it is of one of your favourites, Mr. M. Green; and next, because I would do justice. The thought on which my second Ode turns [this Ode, afterwards placed first by Gray] is manifestly stole from hence; not that I knew it at the time, but having seen this many years before, to be sure it imprinted itself on my memory, and, forgetting the Author, I took it for my own." Then comes the quotation from Green's Grotto. The passage referring to the insects is as follows:

"To the mind's ear, and inward sight, There silence speaks, and shade gives light: While insects from the threshold preach, And minds dispos'd to musing teach; Proud of strong limbs and painted hues, They perish by the slightest bruise; Or maladies begun within Destroy more slow life's frail machine: From maggot-youth, thro' change of state, They feel like us the turns of fate: Some born to creep have liv'd to fly, And chang'd earth's cells for dwellings high: And some that did their six wings keep, Before they died, been forc'd to creep. They politics, like ours, profess; The greater prey upon the less. Some strain on foot huge loads to bring, Some toil incessant on the wing: Nor from their vigorous schemes desist Till death; and then they are never mist. Some frolick, toil, marry, increase, Are sick and well, have war and peace; And broke with age in half a day, Yield to successors, and away."

47. Painted plumage. Cf. Pope, Windsor Forest, 118: "His painted wings; and Milton, P. L. vii. 433:

"From branch to branch the smaller birds with song Solaced the woods, and spread their painted wings."

See also Virgil, Geo. iii. 243, and Aen. iv. 525: "pictaeque volucres;" and Phaedrus, Fab. iii. 18: "pictisque plumis."


This ode first appeared in Dodsley's Collection, vol. ii. p. 274, with some variations noticed below. Walpole, after the death of Gray, placed the china vase on a pedestal at Strawberry Hill, with a few lines of the ode for an inscription.

In a letter to Walpole, dated March 1, 1747, Gray refers to the subject of the ode in the following jocose strain: "As one ought to be particularly careful to avoid blunders in a compliment of condolence, it would be a sensible satisfaction to me (before I testify my sorrow, and the sincere part I take in your misfortune) to know for certain who it is I lament. I knew Zara and Selima (Selima, was it? or Fatima?), or rather I knew them both together; for I cannot justly say which was which. Then as to your handsome Cat, the name you distinguish her by, I am no less at a loss, as well knowing one's handsome cat is always the cat one likes best; or if one be alive and the other dead, it is usually the latter that is the handsomest. Besides, if the point were never so clear, I hope you do not think me so ill-bred or so imprudent as to forfeit all my interest in the survivor; oh no! I would rather seem to mistake, and imagine to be sure it must be the tabby one that had met with this sad accident. Till this affair is a little better determined, you will excuse me if I do not begin to cry,

Tempus inane peto, requiem spatiumque doloris.

"... Heigh ho! I feel (as you to be sure have done long since) that I have very little to say, at least in prose. Somebody will be the better for it; I do not mean you, but your Cat, feue Mademoiselle Selime, whom I am about to immortalize for one week or fortnight, as follows: [the Ode follows, which we need not reprint here].

"There's a poem for you, it is rather too long for an Epitaph."

2. Cf. Lady M. W. Montagu, Town Eclogues:

"Where the tall jar erects its stately pride, With antic shapes in China's azure dyed."

3. The azure flowers that blow. Johnson and Wakefield find fault with this as redundant, but it is no more so than poetic usage allows. In the Progress of Poesy, i. 1, we have again: "The laughing flowers that round them blow." Cf. Comus, 992:

"Iris there with humid bow Waters the odorous banks that blow Flowers of more mingled hue Than her purfled scarf can shew."

4. Tabby. For the derivation of this word from the French tabis, a kind of silk, see Wb. In the first ed. the 5th line preceded the 4th.

6. The lake. In the mock-heroic vein that runs through the whole poem.

11. Jet. This word comes, through the French, from Gagai, a town in Lycia, where the mineral was first obtained.

14. Two angel forms. In the first ed. "two beauteous forms," which Mitford prefers to the present reading, "as the images of angel and genii interfere with each other, and bring different associations to the mind."

16. Tyrian hue. Explained by the "purple" in next line; an allusion to the famous Tyrian dye of the ancients. Cf. Pope, Windsor Forest, 142: "with fins of Tyrian dye."

17. Cf. Virgil, Geo. iv. 274:

"Aureus ipse; sed in foliis, quae plurima circum Funduntur, violae sublucet purpura nigrae."

See also Pope, Windsor Forest, 332: "His shining horns diffus'd a golden glow;" Temple of Fame, 253: "And lucid amber casts a golden gleam."

24. In the 1st ed. "What cat's a foe to fish?" and in the next line, "with eyes intent."

31. Eight times. Alluding to the proverbial "nine lives" of the cat.

34. No dolphin came. An allusion to the story of Arion, who when thrown overboard by the sailors for the sake of his wealth was borne safely to land by a dolphin.

No Nereid stirr'd. Cf. Milton, Lycidas, 50:

"Where were ye, Nymphs, when the remorseless deep Closed o'er the head of your lov'd Lycidas?"

35, 36. The reading of 1st ed. is,

"Nor cruel Tom nor Harry heard. What favourite has a friend?"

40. The 1st ed. has "Not all that strikes," etc.

42. Nor all that glisters gold. A favourite proverb with the old English poets. Cf. Chaucer, C. T. 16430:

"But all thing which that shineth as the gold Ne is no gold, as I have herd it told;"

Spenser, F. Q. ii. 8, 14:

"Yet gold all is not, that doth golden seeme;"

Shakes. M. of V. ii. 7:

"All that glisters is not gold; Often have you heard that told;"

Dryden, Hind and Panther:

"All, as they say, that glitters is not gold."

Other examples might be given. Glisten is not found in Shakes. or Milton, but both use glister several times. See W. T. iii. 2; Rich. II. iii. 3; T. A. ii. 1, etc.; Lycidas, 79; Comus, 219; P. L. iii. 550; iv. 645, 653, etc.


This, as Mason informs us, was the first English[1] production of Gray's that appeared in print. It was published, in folio, in 1747; and appeared again in Dodsley's Collection, vol. ii. p. 267, without the name of the author.

[Footnote 1: A Latin poem by him, a "Hymeneal" on the Prince of Wales's Marriage, had appeared in the Cambridge Collection in 1736.]

Hazlitt (Lectures on English Poets) says of this Ode: "It is more mechanical and commonplace [than the Elegy]; but it touches on certain strings about the heart, that vibrate in unison with it to our latest breath. No one ever passes by Windsor's 'stately heights,' or sees the distant spires of Eton College below, without thinking of Gray. He deserves that we should think of him; for he thought of others, and turned a trembling, ever-watchful ear to 'the still sad music of humanity.'"

The writer in the North American Review (vol. xcvi.), after referring to the publication of this Ode, which, "according to the custom of the time, was judiciously swathed in folio," adds:

"About this time Gray's portrait was painted, at Walpole's request; and on the paper which he is represented as holding, Walpole wrote the title of the Ode, with a line from Lucan:

'Nec licuit populis parvum te, Nile, videre.'

The poem met with very little attention until it was republished in 1751, with a few other of his Odes. Gray, in speaking of it to Walpole, in connection with the Ode to Spring, merely says that to him 'the latter seems not worse than the former.' But the former has always been the greater favourite—perhaps more from the matter than the manner. It is the expression of the memories, the thoughts, and the feelings which arise unbidden in the mind of the man as he looks once more on the scenes of his boyhood. He feels a new youth in the presence of those old joys. But the old friends are not there. Generations have come and gone, and an unknown race now frolic in boyish glee. His sad, prophetic eye cannot help looking into the future, and comparing these careless joys with the inevitable ills of life. Already he sees the fury passions in wait for their little victims. They seem present to him, like very demons. Our language contains no finer, more graphic personifications than these almost tangible shapes. Spenser is more circumstantial, Collins more vehement, but neither is more real. Though but outlines in miniature, they are as distinct as Dutch art. Every epithet is a lifelike picture; not a word could be changed without destroying the tone of the whole. At last the musing poet asks himself, Cui bono? Why thus borrow trouble from the future? Why summon so soon the coming locusts, to poison before their time the glad waters of youth?

'Yet ah! why should they know their fate, Since sorrow never comes too late. And happiness too quickly flies? Thought would destroy their paradise. No more;—where ignorance is bliss, 'Tis folly to be wise.'

So feeling and the want of feeling come together for once in the moral. The gay Roman satirist—the apostle of indifferentism—reaches the same goal, though he has travelled a different road. To Thaliarchus he says:

'Quid sit futurum cras, fuge quaerere: et Quem Fors dierum cumque dabit, lucro Appone.'

The same easy-going philosophy of life forms the key-note of the Ode to Leuconoe:

'Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero;'

of that to Quinctius Hirpinus:

'Quid aeternis minorem Consiliis animum fatigas?'

of that to Pompeius Grosphus:

'Laetus in praesens animus, quod ultra est, Oderit curare.'

And so with many others. 'Take no thought of the morrow.'"

Wakefield translates the Greek motto, "Man is an abundant subject of calamity."

2. That crown the watery glade. Cf. Pope, Windsor Forest, 128: "And lonely woodcocks haunt the watery glade."

4. Her Henry's holy shade. Henry the Sixth, founder of the college. Cf. The Bard, ii. 3: "the meek usurper's holy head;" Shakes. Rich. III. v. 1: "Holy King Henry;" Id. iv. 4: "When holy Harry died." The king, though never canonized, was regarded as a saint.

5. And ye. Ye "towers;" that is, of Windsor Castle. Cf. Thomson, Summer, 1412:

"And now to where Majestic Windsor lifts his princely brow."

8. Whose turf, whose shade, whose flowers among. "That is, the turf of whose lawn, the shade of whose groves, the flowers of whose mead" (Wakefield). Cf. Hamlet, iii. 1: "The courtier's, soldier's, scholar's eye, tongue, sword."

In Anglo-Saxon and Early English prepositions were often placed after their objects. In the Elizabethan period the transposition of the weaker prepositions was not allowed, except in the compounds whereto, herewith, etc. (cf. the Latin quocum, secum), but the longer forms were still, though rarely, transposed (see Shakes. Gr. 203); and in more recent writers this latter license is extremely rare. Even the use of the preposition after the relative, which was very common in Shakespeare's day, is now avoided, except in colloquial style.

9. The hoary Thames. The river-god is pictured in the old classic fashion. Cf. Milton, Lycidas, 103: "Next Camus, reverend sire, went footing slow." See also quotation from Dryden in note on 21 below.

10. His silver-winding way. Cf. Thomson, Summer, 1425: "The matchless vale of Thames, Fair-winding up," etc.

12. Ah, fields belov'd in vain! Mitford remarks that this expression has been considered obscure, and adds the following explanation: "The poem is written in the character of one who contemplates this life as a scene of misfortune and sorrow, from whose fatal power the brief sunshine of youth is supposed to be exempt. The fields are beloved as the scene of youthful pleasures, and as affording the promise of happiness to come; but this promise never was fulfilled. Fate, which dooms man to misery, soon overclouded these opening prospects of delight. That is in vain beloved which does not realize the expectations it held out. No fruit but that of disappointment has followed the blossoms of a thoughtless hope."

13. Where once my careless childhood stray'd. Wakefield cites Thomson, Winter, 6:

"with frequent foot Pleas'd have I, in my cheerful morn of life, When nurs'd by careless Solitude I liv'd, And sung of Nature with unceasing joy, Pleas'd have I wander'd," etc.

15. That from ye blow. In Early English ye is nominative, you accusative (objective). This distinction, though observed in our version of the Bible, was disregarded by Elizabethan writers (Shakes. Gr. 236), as it has occasionally been by the poets even to our own day. Cf. Shakes. Hen. VIII. iii. 1: "The more shame for ye; holy men I thought ye;" Milton, Comus, 216: "I see ye visibly," etc. Dryden, in a couplet quoted by Guest, uses both forms in the same line:

"What gain you by forbidding it to tease ye? It now can neither trouble you nor please ye."

19. Gray quotes Dryden, Fable on Pythag. Syst.: "And bees their honey redolent of spring."

21. Say, father Thames, etc. This invocation is taken from Green's Grotto:

"Say, father Thames, whose gentle pace Gives leave to view, what beauties grace Your flowery banks, if you have seen."

Cf. Dryden, Annus Mirabilis, st. 232: "Old father Thames raised up his reverend head."

Dr. Johnson, in his hypercritical comments on this Ode, says: "His supplication to Father Thames, to tell him who drives the hoop or tosses the ball, is useless and puerile. Father Thames has no better means of knowing than himself." To which Mitford replies by asking, "Are we by this rule to judge the following passage in the twentieth chapter of Rasselas? 'As they were sitting together, the princess cast her eyes on the river that flowed before her: "Answer," said she, "great Father of Waters, thou that rollest thy floods through eighty nations, to the invocation of the daughter of thy native king. Tell me, if thou waterest, through all thy course, a single habitation from which thou dost not hear the murmurs of complaint."'"

23. Margent green. Cf. Comus, 232: "By slow Maeander's margent green."

24. Cf. Pope, Essay on Man, iii. 233: "To Virtue, in the paths of Pleasure, trod."

26. Thy glassy wave. Cf. Comus, 861: "Under the glassy, cool, translucent wave."

27. The captive linnet. The adjective is redundant and "proleptic," as the bird must be "enthralled" before it can be called "captive."

28. In the MS. this line reads, "To chase the hoop's illusive speed," which seems to us better than the revised form in the text.

30. Cf. Pope, Dunciad, iv. 592: "The senator at cricket urge the ball."

37. Cf. Cowley, Ode to Hobbes, iv. 7: "Till unknown regions it descries."

40. A fearful joy. Wakefield quotes Matt. xxviii. 8 and Psalms ii. 11. Cf. Virgil, Aen. i. 513:

"Obstupuit simul ipse simul perculsus Achates Laetitiaque metuque."

See also Lear, v. 3: "'Twixt two extremes of passion, joy and grief."

44. Cf. Pope, Eloisa, 209: "Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind;" and Essay on Man, iv. 168: "The soul's calm sunshine, and the heartfelt joy."

45. Buxom. Used here in its modern sense. It originally meant pliant, flexible, yielding (from A. S. bugan, to bow); then, gay, frolicsome, lively; and at last it became associated with the "cheerful comeliness" of vigorous health. Chaucer has "buxom to ther lawe," and Spenser (State of Ireland), "more tractable and buxome to his government." Cf. also F. Q. i. 11, 37: "the buxome aire;" an expression which Milton uses twice (P. L. ii. 842, v. 270). In L'Allegro, 24: "So buxom, blithe, and debonaire;" the only other instance in which he uses the word, it means sprightly or "free" (as in "Come thou goddess, fair and free," a few lines before). Cf. Shakes. Pericles, i. prologue:

"So buxom, blithe, and full of face, As heaven had lent her all his grace."

The word occurs nowhere else in Shakes. except Hen. V. iii. 6: "Of buxom valour;" that is, lively valour.

Dr. Johnson appears to have had in mind the original meaning of buxom in his comment on this passage: "His epithet buxom health is not elegant; he seems not to understand the word."

47. Lively cheer. Cf. Spenser, Shep. Kal. Apr.: "In either cheeke depeincten lively chere;" Milton, Ps. lxxxiv. 27: "With joy and gladsome cheer."

49. Wakefield quotes Milton, P. L. v. 3:

"When Adam wak'd, so custom'd; for his sleep Was airy light, from pure digestion bred, And temperate vapours bland."

51. Regardless of their doom. Collins, in the first manuscript of his Ode on the Death of Col. Ross, has

"E'en now, regardful of his doom, Applauding Honour haunts his tomb."[2]

[Footnote 2: Mitford gives the first line as "E'en now, regardless of his doom;" and just below, on verse 61, he makes the line from Pope read, "The fury Passions from that flood began." We have verified his quotations as far as possible, and have corrected scores of errors in them. Quite likely there are some errors in those we have not been able to verify.]

55. Yet see, etc. Mitford cites Broome, Ode on Melancholy:

"While round stern ministers of fate, Pain and Disease and Sorrow, wait;"

and Otway, Alcibiades, v. 2: "Then enter, ye grim ministers of fate." See also Progress of Poesy, ii. 1: "Man's feeble race," etc.

59. Murtherous. The obsolete spelling of murderous, still used in Gray's time.

61. The fury Passions. The passions, fierce and cruel as the mythical Furies. Cf. Pope, Essay on Man, iii. 167: "The fury Passions from that blood began."

66. Mitford quotes Spenser, F. Q.:

"But gnawing Jealousy out of their sight, Sitting alone, his bitter lips did bite."

68. Wakefield quotes Milton, Sonnet to Mr. Lawes: "With praise enough for Envy to look wan."

69. Grim-visag'd, comfortless Despair. Cf. Shakes. Rich. III. i. 1: "Grim-visag'd War;" and C. of E. v. 1: "grim and comfortless Despair."

76. Unkindness' altered eye. "An ungraceful elision" of the possessive inflection, as Mason calls it. Cf. Dryden, Hind and Panther, iii.: "Affected Kindness with an alter'd face."

79. Gray quotes Dryden, Pal. and Arc.: "Madness laughing in his ireful mood." Cf. Shakes. Hen. VI. iv. 2: "But rather moody mad;" and iii. 1: "Moody discontented fury."

81. The vale of years. Cf. Othello, iii. 3: "Declin'd Into the vale of years."

82. Grisly. Not to be confounded with grizzly. See Wb.

83. The painful family of death. Cf. Pope, Essay on Man, ii. 118: "Hate, Fear, and Grief, the family of Pain;" and Dryden, State of Innocence, v. 1: "With all the numerous family of Death." On the whole passage cf. Milton, P. L. xi. 477-493. See also Virgil, Aen. vi. 275.

86. That every labouring sinew strains. An example of the "correspondence of sound with sense." As Pope says (Essay on Criticism, 371),

"The line too labours, and the words move slow."

90. Slow-consuming Age. Cf. Shenstone, Love and Honour: "His slow-consuming fires."

95. As Wakefield remarks, we meet with the same thought in Comus, 359:

"Peace, brother, be not over-exquisite To cast the fashion of uncertain evils; For grant they be so, while they rest unknown What need a man forestall his date of grief, And run to meet what he would most avoid?"

97. Happiness too swiftly flies. Perhaps a reminiscence of Virgil, Geo. iii. 66:

"Optima quaeque dies miseris mortalibus aevi Prima fugit."

98. Thought would destroy their paradise. Wakefield quotes Sophocles, Ajax, 554: [Greek: En toi phronein gar meden hedistos bios] ("Absence of thought is prime felicity").

99. Cf. Prior, Ep. to Montague, st. 9:

"From ignorance our comfort flows, The only wretched are the wise."

and Davenant, Just Italian: "Since knowledge is but sorrow's spy, it is not safe to know."


This Ode, as we learn from one of Gray's letters to Walpole, was finished, with the exception of a few lines, in 1755. It was not published until 1757, when it appeared with The Bard in a quarto volume, which was the first issue of Walpole's press at Strawberry Hill. In one of his letters Walpole writes: "I send you two copies of a very honourable opening of my press—two amazing odes of Mr. Gray. They are Greek, they are Pindaric, they are sublime, consequently I fear a little obscure; the second particularly, by the confinement of the measure and the nature of prophetic vision, is mysterious. I could not persuade him to add more notes." In another letter Walpole says: "I found Gray in town last week; he had brought his two odes to be printed. I snatched them out of Dodsley's hands, and they are to be the first-fruits of my press." The title-page of the volume is as follows:


Both Odes were coldly received at first. "Even my friends," writes Gray, in a letter to Hurd, Aug. 25, 1757, "tell me they do not succeed, and write me moving topics of consolation on that head. In short, I have heard of nobody but an Actor [Garrick] and a Doctor of Divinity [Warburton] that profess their esteem for them. Oh yes, a Lady of quality (a friend of Mason's) who is a great reader. She knew there was a compliment to Dryden, but never suspected there was anything said about Shakespeare or Milton, till it was explained to her, and wishes that there had been titles prefixed to tell what they were about."[1] In a letter to Dr. Wharton, dated Aug. 17, 1757, he says: "I hear we are not at all popular. The great objection is obscurity, nobody knows what we would be at. One man (a Peer) I have been told of, that thinks the last stanza of the 2d Ode relates to Charles the First and Oliver Cromwell; in short, the [Greek: Sunetoi] appear to be still fewer than even I expected." A writer in the Critical Review thought that "Aeolian lyre" meant the Aeolian harp. Coleman the elder and Robert Lloyd wrote parodies entitled Odes to Obscurity and Oblivion. Gray finally had to add explanatory notes, though he intimates that his readers ought not to have needed them.[2]

[Footnote 1: Forster remarks that Gray might have added to the admirers of the Odes "the poor monthly critic of The Dunciad"—Oliver Goldsmith, then beginning his London career as a bookseller's hack. In a review of the Odes in the London Monthly Review for Sept., 1757, after citing certain passages of The Bard, he says that they "will give as much pleasure to those who relish this species of composition as anything that has hitherto appeared in our language, the odes of Dryden himself not excepted."]

[Footnote 2: In a foot-note he says: "When the author first published this and the following Ode, he was advised, even by his friends, to subjoin some few explanatory notes; but had too much respect for the understanding of his readers to take that liberty."

In a letter to Beattie, dated Feb. 1, 1768, referring to the new edition of his poems, he says: "As to the notes, I do it out of spite, because the public did not understand the two Odes (which I have called Pindaric), though the first was not very dark, and the second alluded to a few common facts to be found in any sixpenny history of England, by way of question and answer, for the use of children." And in a letter to Walpole, Feb. 25, 1768, he says he has added "certain little Notes, partly from justice (to acknowledge the debt where I had borrowed anything), partly from ill temper, just to tell the gentle reader that Edward I. was not Oliver Cromwell, nor Queen Elizabeth the Witch of Endor."

Mr. Fox, afterwards Lord Holland, said that "if the Bard recited his Ode only once to Edward, he was sure he could not understand it." When this was told to Gray, he said, "If he had recited it twenty times, Edward would not have been a bit wiser; but that was no reason why Mr. Fox should not."]

"The metre of these Odes is constructed on Greek models. It is not uniform but symmetrical. The nine stanzas of each ode form three groups. A slight examination will show that the 1st, 4th, and 7th stanzas are exactly inter-correspondent; so the 2d, 5th, and 8th; and so the remaining three. The technical Greek names for these three parts were [Greek: strophe] (strophe), [Greek: antistrophe] (antistrophe), and [Greek: epodos] (epodos)—the Turn, the Counter-turn, and the After-song—names derived from the theatre; the Turn denoting the movement of the Chorus from one side of the [Greek: orchestra] (orchestra), or Dance-stage, to the other, the Counter-turn the reverse movement, the After-song something sung after two such movements. Odes thus constructed were called by the Greeks Epodic. Congreve is said to have been the first who so constructed English odes. This system cannot be said to have prospered with us. Perhaps no English ear would instinctively recognize that correspondence between distant parts which is the secret of it. Certainly very many readers of The Progress of Poesy are wholly unconscious of any such harmony" (Hales).

1. Awake, Aeolian lyre. The blunder of the Critical Reviewers who supposed the "harp of Aeolus" to be meant led Gray to insert this note: "Pindar styles his own poetry with its musical accompaniments, [Greek: Aiolis molpe, Aiolides chordai, Aiolidon pnoai aulon], Aeolian song, Aeolian strings, the breath of the Aeolian flute."

Cf. Cowley, Ode of David: "Awake, awake, my lyre!" Gray himself quotes Ps. lvii. 8. The first reading of the line in the MS. was, "Awake, my lyre: my glory, wake." Gray also adds the following note: "The subject and simile, as usual with Pindar, are united. The various sources of poetry, which gives life and lustre to all it touches, are here described; its quiet majestic progress enriching every subject (otherwise dry and barren) with a pomp of diction and luxuriant harmony of numbers; and its more rapid and irresistible course, when swollen and hurried away by the conflict of tumultuous passions."

2. And give to rapture. The first reading of the MS. was "give to transport."

3. Helicon's harmonious springs. In the mountain range of Helicon, in Boeotia, there were two fountains sacred to the Muses, Aganippe and Hippocrene, of which the former was the more famous.

7. Cf. Pope, Hor. Epist. ii. 2, 171:

"Pour the full tide of eloquence along, Serenely pure, and yet divinely strong;"

and Ode on St. Cecilia's Day, 11:

"The deep, majestic, solemn organs blow;"

also Thomson, Liberty, ii. 257:

"In thy full language speaking mighty things, Like a clear torrent close, or else diffus'd A broad majestic stream, and rolling on Through all the winding harmony of sound."

9. Cf. Shenstone, Inscr.: "Verdant vales and fountains bright;" also Virgil, Geo. i. 96: "Flava Ceres;" and Homer, Il. v. 499: [Greek: xanthe Demeter].

10. Rolling. Spelled "rowling" in the 1st and other early editions.

Amain. Cf. Lycidas, 111: "The golden opes, the iron shuts amain;" P. L. ii. 165: "when we fled amain," etc. Also Shakes. Temp. iv. 1: "Her peacocks fly amain," etc. The word means literally with main (which we still use in "might and main"), that is, with force or strength. Cf. Horace, Od. iv. 2, 8: "Immensusque ruit profundo Pindarus ore."

11. The first MS. reading was, "With torrent rapture see it pour."

12. Cf. Dryden, Virgil's Geo. i.: "And rocks the bellowing voice of boiling seas resound;" Pope, Iliad: "Rocks rebellow to the roar."

13. "Power of harmony to calm the turbulent sallies of the soul. The thoughts are borrowed from the first Pythian of Pindar" (Gray).

14. Solemn-breathing airs. Cf. Comus, 555: "a soft and solemn-breathing sound."

15. Enchanting shell. That is, lyre; alluding to the myth of the origin of the instrument, which Mercury was said to have made from the shell of a tortoise. Cf. Collins, Passions, 3: "The Passions oft, to hear her shell," etc.

17. On Thracia's hills. Thrace was one of the chief seats of the worship of Mars. Cf. Ovid, Ars Am. ii. 588: "Mars Thracen occupat." See also Virgil, Aen. iii. 35, etc.

19. His thirsty lance. Cf. Spenser, F. Q. i. 5, 15: "his thristy [thirsty] blade."

20. Gray says, "This is a weak imitation of some beautiful lines in the same ode;" that is, in "the first Pythian of Pindar," referred to in the note on 13. The passage is an address to the lyre, and is translated by Wakefield thus:

"On Jove's imperial rod the king of birds Drops down his flagging wings; thy thrilling sounds Soothe his fierce beak, and pour a sable cloud Of slumber on his eyelids: up he lifts His flexile back, shot by thy piercing darts. Mars smooths his rugged brow, and nerveless drops His lance, relenting at the choral song."

21. The feather'd king. Cf. Shakes. Phoenix and Turtle:

"Every fowl of tyrant wing, Save the eagle, feather'd king."

23. Dark clouds. The first reading of MS. was "black clouds."

24. The terror. This is the reading of the first ed. and also of that of 1768. Most of the modern eds. have "terrors."

25. "Power of harmony to produce all the graces of motion in the body" (Gray).

26. Temper'd. Modulated, "set." Cf. Lycidas, 33: "Tempered to the oaten flute;" Fletcher, Purple Island: "Tempering their sweetest notes unto thy lay," etc.

27. O'er Idalia's velvet-green. Idalia appears to be used for Idalium, which was a town in Cyprus, and a favourite seat of Venus, who was sometimes called Idalia. Pope likewise uses Idalia for the place, in his First Pastoral, 65: "Celestial Venus haunts Idalia's groves."

Dr. Johnson finds fault with velvet-green, apparently supposing it to be a compound of Gray's own making. But Young had used it in his Love of Fame: "She rears her flowers, and spreads her velvet-green." It is also among the expressions of Pope which are ridiculed in the Alexandriad.

29. Cytherea was a name of Venus, derived from Cythera, an island in the Aegean Sea, one of the favourite residences of Aphrodite, or Venus. Cf. Virgil, Aen. i. 680: "super alta Cythera Aut super Idalium, sacrata sede," etc.

30. With antic Sports. This is the reading of the 1st ed. and also of the ed. of 1768. Some eds. have "sport."

Antic is the same word as antique. The association between what is old or old-fashioned and what is odd, fantastic, or grotesque is obvious enough. Cf. Milton, Il Pens. 158: "With antick pillars massy-proof." In S. A. 1325 he uses the word as a noun: "Jugglers and dancers, anticks, mummers, mimicks." Shakes. makes it a verb in A. and C. ii. 7: "the wild disguise hath almost Antick'd us all."

31. Cf. Thomson, Spring, 835: "In friskful glee Their frolics play."

32, 33. Cf. Virgil, Aen. v. 580 foll.

35. Gray quotes Homer, Od. ix. 265: [Greek: marmarugas theeito podon thaumaze de thumoi]. Cf. Catullus's "fulgentem plantam." See also Thomson, Spring, 158: "the many-twinkling leaves Of aspin tall."

36. Slow-melting strains, etc. Cf. a poem by Barton Booth, published in 1733:

"Now to a slow and melting air she moves, So like in air, in shape, in mien, She passes for the Paphian queen; The Graces all around her play, The wondering gazers die away; Whether her easy body bend, Or her fair bosom heave with sighs; Whether her graceful arms extend, Or gently fall, or slowly rise; Or returning or advancing, Swimming round, or sidelong glancing, Strange force of motion that subdues the soul."

37. Cf. Dryden, Flower and Leaf, 191: "For wheresoe'er she turn'd her face, they bow'd."

39. Cf. Virgil, Aen. i. 405: "Incessu patuit dea." The gods were represented as gliding or sailing along without moving their feet.

41. Purple light of love. Cf. Virgil, Aen. i. 590: "lumenque juventae Purpureum." Gray quotes Phrynichus, apud Athenaeum:

[Greek: lampei d' epi porphureeisi pareieisi phos erotos.]

See also Dryden, Brit. Red. 133: "and her own purple light."

42. "To compensate the real and imaginary ills of life, the Muse was given to mankind by the same Providence that sends the day by its cheerful presence to dispel the gloom and terrors of the night" (Gray).

43 foll. See on Eton Coll. 83. Cf. Horace, Od. i. 3, 29-33.

46. Fond complaint. Foolish complaint. Cf. Shakes. M. of V. iii. 3:

"I do wonder, Thou naughty gaoler, that thou art so fond To come abroad with him at his request;"

Milton, S. A. 812: "fond and reasonless," etc. This appears to be the original meaning of the word. In Wiclif's Bible. 1 Cor. i. 27, we have "the thingis that ben fonnyd of the world." In Twelfth Night, ii. 2, the word is used as a verb=dote:

"And I, poor monster, fond as much on him, As she, mistaken, seems to dote on me."

49. Hurd quotes Cowley:

"Night and her ugly subjects thou dost fright, And Sleep, the lazy owl of night; Asham'd and fearful to appear, They screen their horrid shapes with the black hemisphere."

Wakefield cites Milton, Hymn on Nativity, 233 foll.: "The flocking shadows pale," etc. See also P. R. iv. 419-431.

50. Birds of boding cry. Cf. Green's Grotto: "news the boding night-birds tell."

52. Gray refers to Cowley, Brutus:

"One would have thought 't had heard the morning crow, Or seen her well-appointed star. Come marching up the eastern hill afar."

The following variations on 52 and 53 are found in the MS.:

Till fierce Hyperion from afar Pours on their scatter'd rear, Hurls at " flying " his glittering shafts of war. " o'er " scatter'd " " " " shadowy " Till " " " " from far Hyperion hurls around his, etc.

The accent of Hyperion is properly on the penult, which is long in quantity, but the English poets, with rare exceptions, have thrown it back upon the antepenult. It is thus in the six instances in which Shakes. uses the word: e.g. Hamlet, iii. 4: "Hyperion's curls; the front of Jove himself." The word does not occur in Milton. It is correctly accented by Drummond (of Hawthornden), Wand. Muses:

"That Hyperion far beyond his bed Doth see our lions ramp, our roses spread;"

by West, Pindar's Ol. viii. 22:

"Then Hyperion's son, pure fount of day, Did to his children the strange tale reveal;"

also by Akenside, and by the author of the old play Fuimus Troes (A.D. 1633):

"Blow, gentle Africus, Play on our poops when Hyperion's son Shall couch in west."

Hyperion was a Titan, the father of Helios (the Sun), Selene (the Moon), and Eos (the Dawn). He was represented with the attributes of beauty and splendor afterwards ascribed to Apollo. His "glittering shafts" are of course the sunbeams, the "lucida tela diei" of Lucretius. Cf. a very beautiful description of the dawn in Lowell's Above and Below:

"'Tis from these heights alone your eyes The advancing spears of day can see, Which o'er the eastern hill-tops rise, To break your long captivity."

We may quote also his Vision of Sir Launfal:

"It seemed the dark castle had gathered all Those shafts the fierce sun had shot over its wall In his siege of three hundred summers long," etc.

54. Gray's note here is as follows: "Extensive influence of poetic genius over the remotest and most uncivilized nations; its connection with liberty and the virtues that naturally attend on it. [See the Erse, Norwegian, and Welsh fragments; the Lapland and American songs.]" He also quotes Virgil, Aen. vi. 796: "Extra anni solisque vias," and Petrarch, Canz. 2: "Tutta lontana dal camin del sole." Cf. also Dryden, Thren. August. 353: "Out of the solar walk and Heaven's highway;" Ann. Mirab. st. 160: "Beyond the year, and out of Heaven's highway;" Brit. Red.: "Beyond the sunny walks and circling year;" also Pope, Essay on Man, i. 102: "Far as the solar walk and milky way."

56. Twilight gloom. Wakefield quotes Milton, Hymn on Nativ. 188: "The nymphs in twilight shade of tangled thickets mourn."

57. Wakefield says, "It almost chills one to read this verse." The MS. variations are "buried native's" and "chill abode."

60. Repeat [their chiefs, etc.]. Sing of them again and again.

61. In loose numbers, etc. Cf. Milton, L'All. 133:

"Or sweetest Shakespeare, Fancy's child, Warble his native wood-notes wild;"

and Horace, Od. iv. 2, 11:

"numerisque fertur Lege solutis."

62. Their feather-cinctur'd chiefs. Cf. P. L. ix. 1115:

"Such of late Columbus found the American, so girt With feather'd cincture."

64. Glory pursue. Wakefield remarks that this use of a plural verb after the first of a series of subjects is in Pindar's manner. Warton compares Homer, Il. v. 774:

[Greek: hechi rhoas Simoeis sumballeton ede Skamandros.]

Dugald Stewart (Philos. of Human Mind) says: "I cannot help remarking the effect of the solemn and uniform flow of verse in this exquisite stanza, in retarding the pronunciation of the reader, so as to arrest his attention to every successive picture, till it has time to produce its proper impression."

65. Freedom's holy flame. Cf. Akenside, Pleas. of Imag. i. 468: "Love's holy flame."

66. "Progress of Poetry from Greece to Italy, and from Italy to England. Chaucer was not unacquainted with the writings of Dante or of Petrarch. The Earl of Surrey and Sir Thomas Wyatt had travelled in Italy, and formed their taste there; Spenser imitated the Italian writers; Milton improved on them: but this school expired soon after the Restoration, and a new one arose on the French model, which has subsisted ever since" (Gray).

Delphi's steep. Cf. Milton, Hymn on Nativ. 178: "the steep of Delphos;" P. L. i. 517: "the Delphian cliff." Both Shakes. and Milton prefer the mediaeval form Delphos to the more usual Delphi. Delphi was at the foot of the southern uplands of Parnassus which end "in a precipitous cliff, 2000 feet high, rising to a double peak named the Phaedriades, from their glittering appearance as they faced the rays of the sun" (Smith's Anc. Geog.).

67. Isles, etc. Cf. Byron:

"The isles of Greece, the isles of Greece! Where burning Sappho loved and sung," etc.

68. Ilissus. This river, rising on the northern slope of Hymettus, flows through the east side of Athens.

69. Maeander's amber waves. Cf. Milton, P. L. iii. 359: "Rolls o'er Elysian flowers her amber stream;" P. R. iii. 288: "There Susa by Choaspes, amber stream." See also Virgil, Geo. iii. 520: "Purior electro campum petit amnis." Callimachus (Cer. 29) has [Greek: alektrinon hudor].

70. Ovid, Met. viii. 162, describes the Maeander thus:

"Non secus ac liquidis Phrygiis Maeandros in arvis Ludit, et ambiguo lapsu refluitque fluitque."

Cf. also Virgil's description of the Mincius (Geo. iii. 15):

—"tardis ingens ubi flexibus errat Mincius."

"The first great metropolis of Hellenic intellectual life was Miletus on the Maeander. Thales, Anaximander, Anaximines, Cadmus, Hecataeus, etc., were all Milesians" (Hales).

71 foll. Cf. Milton, Hymn on Nativ. 181:

"The lonely mountains o'er, And the resounding shore, A voice of weeping heard and loud lament; From haunted spring and dale, Edged with poplar pale, The parting Genius is with sighing sent:" etc.

75. Hallowed fountain. Cf. Virgil, Ecl. i. 53: "fontes sacros."

76. The MS. has "Murmur'd a celestial sound."

80. Vice that revels in her chains. In his Ode for Music, 6, Gray has "Servitude that hugs her chain."

81. Hales quotes Collins, Ode to Simplicity:

"While Rome could none esteem But Virtue's patriot theme, You lov'd her hills, and led her laureate band; But staid to sing alone To one distinguish'd throne, And turn'd thy face, and fled her alter'd land."

84. Nature's darling. "Shakespeare" (Gray). Cf. Cleveland, Poems:

"Here lies within this stony shade Nature's darling; whom she made Her fairest model, her brief story, In him heaping all her glory."

On green lap, cf. Milton, Song on May Morning:

"The flowery May, who from her green lap throws The yellow cowslip and the pale primrose."

85. Lucid Avon. Cf. Seneca, Thyest. 129: "gelido flumine lucidus Alpheos."

86. The mighty mother. That is, Nature. Pope, in the Dunciad, i. 1, uses the same expression in a satirical way:

"The Mighty Mother, and her Son, who brings The Smithfield Muses to the ear of kings, I sing."

See also Dryden, Georgics, i. 466:

"On the green turf thy careless limbs display, And celebrate the mighty mother's day."

87. The dauntless child. Cf. Horace, Od. iii. 4, 20: "non sine dis animosus infans." Wakefield quotes Virgil, Ecl. iv. 60: "Incipe, parve puer, risu cognoscere matrem." Mitford points out that the identical expression occurs in Sandys's translation of Ovid, Met. iv. 515:

"the child Stretch'd forth its little arms, and on him smil'd."

See also Catullus, In Nupt. Jun. et Manl. 216:

"Torquatus volo parvulus Matris e gremio suae Porrigens teneras manus, Dulce rideat."

91. These golden keys. Cf. Young, Resig.:

"Nature, which favours to the few All art beyond imparts, To him presented at his birth The key of human hearts."

Wakefield cites Comus, 12:

"Yet some there be, that with due steps aspire To lay their hands upon that golden key That opes the palace of eternity."

See also Lycidas, 110:

"Two massy keys he bore of metals twain; The golden opes, the iron shuts amain."

93. Of horror. A MS. variation is "Of terror."

94. Or ope the sacred source. In a letter to Dr. Wharton, Sept. 7, 1757, Gray mentions, among other criticisms upon this ode, that "Dr. Akenside criticises opening a source with a key." But, as Mitford remarks, Akenside himself in his Ode on Lyric Poetry has, "While I so late unlock thy purer springs," and in his Pleasures of Imagination, "I unlock the springs of ancient wisdom."

95. Nor second he, etc. "Milton" (Gray).

96, 97. Cf. Milton, P. L. vii. 12:

"Up led by thee, Into the heaven of heavens I have presumed, An earthly guest, and drawn empyreal air."

98. The flaming bounds, etc. Gray quotes Lucretius, i. 74: "Flammantia moenia mundi." Cf. also Horace, Epist. i. 14, 9: "amat spatiis obstantia rumpere claustra."

99. Gray quotes Ezekiel i. 20, 26, 28. See also Milton, At a Solemn Music, 7: "Aye sung before the sapphire-colour'd throne;" Il Pens. 53: "the fiery-wheeled throne;" P. L. vi. 758:

"Whereon a sapphire throne, inlaid with pure Amber, and colours of the showery arch;"

and id. vi. 771:

"He on the wings of cherub rode sublime, On the crystalline sky, in sapphire throned."

101. Blasted with excess of light. Cf. P. L. iii. 380: "Dark with excessive bright thy skirts appear."

102. Cf. Virgil, Aen. x. 746: "in aeternam clauduntur lumina noctem," which Dryden translates, "And closed her lids at last in endless night." Gray quotes Homer, Od. viii. 64:

[Greek: Ophthalmon men amerses, didou d' hedeian aoiden.]

103. Gray, according to Mason, "admired Dryden almost beyond bounds."[3]

[Footnote 3: In a journey through Scotland in 1765, Gray became acquainted with Beattie, to whom he commended the study of Dryden, adding that "if there was any excellence in his own numbers, he had learned it wholly from the great poet."]

105. "Meant to express the stately march and sounding energy of Dryden's rhymes" (Gray). Cf. Pope, Imit. of Hor. Ep. ii. 1, 267:

"Waller was smooth: but Dryden taught to join The varying verse, the full-resounding line, The long majestic march, and energy divine."

106. Gray quotes Job xxxix. 19: "Hast thou clothed his neck with thunder?"

108. Bright-eyed. The MS. has "full-plumed."

110. Gray quotes Cowley, Prophet: "Words that weep, and tears that speak."

Dugald Stewart remarks upon this line: "I have sometimes thought that Gray had in view the two different effects of words already described; the effect of some in awakening the powers of conception and imagination; and that of others in exciting associated emotions."

111. "We have had in our language no other odes of the sublime kind than that of Dryden on St. Cecilia's Day; for Cowley (who had his merit) yet wanted judgment, style, and harmony, for such a task. That of Pope is not worthy of so great a man. Mr. Mason, indeed, of late days, has touched the true chords, and with a masterly hand, in some of his choruses; above all in the last of Caractacus:

'Hark! heard ye not yon footstep dread!' etc." (Gray).

113. Wakes thee now. Cf. Elegy, 48: "Or wak'd to ecstasy the living lyre."

115. "[Greek: Dios pros ornicha theion]. Olymp. ii. 159. Pindar compares himself to that bird, and his enemies to ravens that croak and clamour in vain below, while it pursues its flight, regardless of their noise" (Gray).

Cf. Spenser, F. Q. v. 4, 42:

"Like to an Eagle, in his kingly pride Soring through his wide Empire of the aire, To weather his brode sailes."

Cowley, in his translation of Horace, Od. iv. 2, calls Pindar "the Theban swan" ("Dircaeum cycnum"):

"Lo! how the obsequious wind and swelling air The Theban Swan does upward bear."

117. Azure deep of air. Cf. Euripides, Med. 1294: [Greek: es aitheros bathos]; and Lucretius, ii. 151: "Aeris in magnum fertur mare." Cowley has "Row through the trackless ocean of air;" and Shakes. (T. of A. iv. 2), "this sea of air."

118, 119. The MS. reads:

"Yet when they first were open'd on the day Before his visionary eyes would run."

D. Stewart (Philos. of Human Mind) remarks that "Gray, in describing the infantine reveries of poetical genius, has fixed with exquisite judgment on that class of our conceptions which are derived from visible objects."

120. With orient hues. Cf. Milton, P. L. i. 546: "with orient colours waving."

122. The MS. has "Yet never can he fear a vulgar fate."

123. Cf. K. Philips: "Still shew'd how much the good outshone the great."

We append, as a curiosity of criticism, Dr. Johnson's comments on this ode, from his Lives of the Poets. The Life of Gray has been called "the worst in the series," and perhaps this is the worst part of it:[4]

"My process has now brought me to the wonderful 'Wonder of Wonders,' the two Sister Odes, by which, though either vulgar ignorance or common-sense at first universally rejected them, many have been since persuaded to think themselves delighted. I am one of those that are willing to be pleased, and therefore would gladly find the meaning of the first stanza of 'The Progress of Poetry.'

"Gray seems in his rapture to confound the images of spreading sound and running water. A 'stream of music' may be allowed; but where does 'music,' however 'smooth and strong,' after having visited the 'verdant vales, roll down the steep amain,' so as that 'rocks and nodding groves rebellow to the roar?' If this be said of music, it is nonsense; if it be said of water, it is nothing to the purpose.

"The second stanza, exhibiting Mars's car and Jove's eagle, is unworthy of further notice. Criticism disdains to chase a schoolboy to his commonplaces.

"To the third it may likewise be objected that it is drawn from mythology, though such as may be more easily assimilated to real life. Idalia's 'velvet-green' has something of cant. An epithet or metaphor drawn from Nature ennobles Art; an epithet or metaphor drawn from Art degrades Nature. Gray is too fond of words arbitrarily compounded. 'Many-twinkling' was formerly censured as not analogical; we may say 'many-spotted,' but scarcely 'many-spotting.' This stanza, however, has something pleasing.

"Of the second ternary of stanzas, the first endeavours to tell something, and would have told it, had it not been crossed by Hyperion; the second describes well enough the universal prevalence of poetry; but I am afraid that the conclusion will not arise from the premises. The caverns of the North and the plains of Chili are not the residences of 'Glory and generous Shame.' But that Poetry and Virtue go always together is an opinion so pleasing that I can forgive him who resolves to think it true.

"The third stanza sounds big with 'Delphi,' and 'Aegean,' and 'Ilissus,' and 'Maeander,' and with 'hallowed fountains,' and 'solemn sound;' but in all Gray's odes there is a kind of cumbrous splendour which we wish away. His position is at last false: in the time of Dante and Petrarch, from whom we derive our first school of poetry, Italy was overrun by 'tyrant power' and 'coward vice;' nor was our state much better when we first borrowed the Italian arts.

"Of the third ternary, the first gives a mythological birth of Shakespeare. What is said of that mighty genius is true; but it is not said happily: the real effects of this poetical power are put out of sight by the pomp of machinery. Where truth is sufficient to fill the mind, fiction is worse than useless; the counterfeit debases the genuine.

"His account of Milton's blindness, if we suppose it caused by study in the formation of his poem, a supposition surely allowable, is poetically true and happily imagined. But the car of Dryden, with his two coursers, has nothing in it peculiar; it is a car in which any other rider may be placed."

[Footnote 4: Sir James Mackintosh well says of Johnson's criticisms: "Wherever understanding alone is sufficient for poetical criticism, the decisions of Johnson are generally right. But the beauties of poetry must be felt before their causes are investigated. There is a poetical sensibility, which in the progress of the mind becomes as distinct a power as a musical ear or a picturesque eye. Without a considerable degree of this sensibility, it is as vain for a man of the greatest understanding to speak of the higher beauties of poetry as it is for a blind man to speak of colours. To adopt the warmest sentiments of poetry, to realize its boldest imagery, to yield to every impulse of enthusiasm, to submit to the illusions of fancy, to retire with the poet into his ideal worlds, were dispositions wholly foreign from the worldly sagacity and stern shrewdness of Johnson. As in his judgment of life and character, so in his criticism on poetry, he was a sort of Free-thinker. He suspected the refined of affectation, he rejected the enthusiastic as absurd, and he took it for granted that the mysterious was unintelligible. He came into the world when the school of Dryden and Pope gave the law to English poetry. In that school he had himself learned to be a lofty and vigorous declaimer in harmonious verse; beyond that school his unforced admiration perhaps scarcely soared; and his highest effort of criticism was accordingly the noble panegyric on Dryden."

W. H. Prescott, the historian, also remarks that Johnson, as a critic, "was certainly deficient in sensibility to the more delicate, the minor beauties of poetic sentiment. He analyzes verse in the cold-blooded spirit of a chemist, until all the aroma which constituted its principal charm escapes in the decomposition. By this kind of process, some of the finest fancies of the Muse, the lofty dithyrambics of Gray, the ethereal effusions of Collins, and of Milton too, are rendered sufficiently vapid."]


"This ode is founded on a tradition current in Wales that Edward the First, when he completed the conquest of that country, ordered all the bards that fell into his hands to be put to death" (Gray).

The original argument of the ode, as Gray had set it down in his commonplace-book, was as follows: "The army of Edward I., as they march through a deep valley, and approach Mount Snowdon, are suddenly stopped by the appearance of a venerable figure seated on the summit of an inaccessible rock, who, with a voice more than human, reproaches the king with all the desolation and misery which he had brought on his country; foretells the misfortunes of the Norman race, and with prophetic spirit declares that all his cruelty shall never extinguish the noble ardour of poetic genius in this island; and that men shall never be wanting to celebrate true virtue and valour in immortal strains, to expose vice and infamous pleasure, and boldly censure tyranny and oppression. His song ended, he precipitates himself from the mountain, and is swallowed up by the river that rolls at its feet."

Mitford, in his "Essay on the Poetry of Gray," says of this Ode: "The tendency of The Bard is to show the retributive justice that follows an act of tyranny and wickedness; to denounce on Edward, in his person and his progeny, the effect of the crime he had committed in the massacre of the bards; to convince him that neither his power nor situation could save him from the natural and necessary consequences of his guilt; that not even the virtues which he possessed could atone for the vices with which they were accompanied:

'Helm nor hauberk's twisted mail, Nor e'en thy virtues, tyrant, shall avail.'

This is the real tendency of the poem; and well worthy it was of being adorned and heightened by such a profusion of splendid images and beautiful machinery. We must also observe how much this moral feeling increases as we approach the close; how the poem rises in dignity; and by what a fine gradation the solemnity of the subject ascends. The Bard commenced his song with feelings of sorrow for his departed brethren and his desolate country. This despondence, however, has given way to emotions of a nobler and more exalted nature. What can be more magnificent than the vision which opens before him to display the triumph of justice and the final glory of his cause? And it may be added, what can be more forcible or emphatic than the language in which it is conveyed?

'But oh! what solemn scenes on Snowdon's height, Descending slow their glittering skirts unroll? Visions of glory, spare my aching sight! Ye unborn ages, crowd not on my soul!'

The fine apostrophe to the shade of Taliessin completes the picture of exultation:

'Hear from the grave, great Taliessin, hear; They breathe a soul to animate thy clay.'

The triumph of justice, therefore, is now complete. The vanquished has risen superior to his conqueror, and the reader closes the poem with feelings of content and satisfaction. He has seen the Bard uplifted both by a divine energy and by the natural superiority of virtue; and the conqueror has shrunk into a creature of hatred and abhorrence:

'Be thine despair, and sceptred care; To triumph, and to die, are mine.'"

With regard to the obscurity of the poem, the same writer remarks that "it is such only as of necessity arises from the plan and conduct of a prophecy." "In the prophetic poem," he adds, "one point of history alone is told, and the rest is to be acquired previously by the reader; as in the contemplation of an historical picture, which commands only one moment of time, our memory must supply us with the necessary links of knowledge; and that point of time selected by the painter must be illustrated by the spectator's knowledge of the past or future, of the cause or the consequences."

He refers, for corroboration of this opinion, to Dr. Campbell, who in his "Philosophy of Rhetoric," says: "I know no style to which darkness of a certain sort is more suited than to the prophetical: many reasons might be assigned which render it improper that prophecy should be perfectly understood before it be accomplished. Besides, we are certain that a prediction may be very dark before the accomplishment, and yet so plain afterwards as scarcely to admit a doubt in regard to the events suggested. It does not belong to critics to give laws to prophets, nor does it fall within the confines of any human art to lay down rules for a species of composition so far above art. Thus far, however, we may warrantably observe, that when the prophetic style is imitated in poetry, the piece ought, as much as possible, to possess the character above mentioned. This character, in my opinion, is possessed in a very eminent degree by Mr. Gray's ode called The Bard. It is all darkness to one who knows nothing of the English history posterior to the reign of Edward the First, and all light to one who is acquainted with that history. But this is a kind of writing whose peculiarities can scarcely be considered as exceptions from ordinary rules."

Farther on in the same essay, Mitford remarks: "The skill of Gray is, I think, eminently shown in the superior distinctness with which he has marked those parts of his prophecies which are speedily to be accomplished; and in the gradations by which, as he descends, he has insensibly melted the more remote into the deeper and deeper shadowings of general language. The first prophecy is the fate of Edward the Second. In that the Bard has pointed out the very night in which he is to be destroyed; has named the river that flowed around his prison, and the castle that was the scene of his sufferings:

'Mark the year, and mark the night, When Severn shall re-echo with affright The shrieks of death thro' Berkeley's roofs that ring, Shrieks of an agonizing king.'

How different is the imagery when Richard the Second is described; and how indistinctly is the luxurious monarch marked out in the form of the morning, and his country in the figure of the vessel!

'The swarm that in thy noontide beam were born? Gone to salute the rising morn. Fair laughs the morn,' etc.

The last prophecy is that of the civil wars, and of the death of the two young princes. No place, no name is now noted: and all is seen through the dimness of figurative expression:

'Above, below, the rose of snow, Twin'd with her blushing foe, we spread: The bristled boar in infant gore Wallows beneath the thorny shade.'"

Hales remarks: "It is perhaps scarcely now necessary to say that the tradition on which The Bard is founded is wholly groundless. Edward I. never did massacre Welsh bards. Their name is legion in the beginning of the 14th century. Miss Williams, the latest historian of Wales, does not even mention the old story."[1]

[Footnote 1: The Saturday Review, for June 19, 1875, in the article from which we have elsewhere quoted (p. 79, foot-note), refers to this point as follows:

"Gray was one of the first writers to show that earlier parts of English history were not only worth attending to, but were capable of poetic treatment. We can almost forgive him for dressing up in his splendid verse a foul and baseless calumny against Edward the First, when we remember that to most of Gray's contemporaries Edward the First must have seemed a person almost mythical, a benighted Popish savage, of whom there was very little to know, and that little hardly worth knowing. Our feeling towards Gray in this matter is much the same as our feeling towards Mitford in the matter of Greek history. We are angry with Mitford for misrepresenting Demosthenes and a crowd of other Athenian worthies, but we do not forget that he was the first to deal with Demosthenes and his fellows, neither as mere names nor as demi-gods, but as real living men like ourselves. It was a pity to misrepresent Demosthenes, but even the misrepresentation was something; it showed that Demosthenes could be made the subject of human feeling one way or another. It is unpleasant to hear the King whose praise it was that

'Velox est ad veniam, ad vindictam tardus,'

spoken of as 'ruthless,' and the rest of it. But Gray at least felt that Edward was a real man, while to most of his contemporaries he could have been little more than 'the figure of an old Gothic king,' such as Sir Roger de Coverley looked when he sat in Edward's own chair."]

1. A good example of alliteration.

2. Cf. Shakes. K. John, iv. 2: "and vast confusion waits."

4. Gray quotes K. John, v. 1: "Mocking the air with colours idly spread."

5. "The hauberk was a texture of steel ringlets, or rings interwoven, forming a coat of mail that sat close to the body, and adapted itself to every motion" (Gray).

Cf. Robert of Gloucester: "With helm and hauberk;" and Dryden, Pal. and Arc. iii. 603: "Hauberks and helms are hewed with many a wound."

7. Nightly. Nocturnal, as often in poetry. Cf. Il Pens. 84, etc.

9. The crested pride. Gray quotes Dryden, Indian Queen: "The crested adder's pride."

11. "Snowdon was a name given by the Saxons to that mountainous tract which the Welsh themselves call Craigian-eryri: it included all the highlands of Caernarvonshire and Merionethshire, as far east as the river Conway. R. Hygden, speaking of the castle of Conway, built by King Edward the First, says: 'Ad ortum amnis Conway ad clivum montis Erery;' and Matthew of Westminster (ad ann. 1283), 'Apud Aberconway ad pedes montis Snowdoniae fecit erigi castrum forte'" (Gray).

It was in the spring of 1283 that English troops at last forced their way among the defiles of Snowdon. Llewellyn had preserved those passes and heights intact until his death in the preceding December. The surrender of Dolbadern in the April following that dispiriting event opened a way for the invader; and William de Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, at once advanced by it (Hales).

The epithet shaggy is highly appropriate, as Leland (Itin.) says that great woods clothed the mountain in his time. Cf. Dyer, Ruins of Rome:

"as Britannia's oaks On Merlin's mount, or Snowdon's rugged sides, Stand in the clouds."

See also Lycidas, 54: "Nor on the shaggy top of Mona high;" and P. L. vi. 645: "the shaggy tops."

13. Stout Gloster. "Gilbert de Clare, surnamed the Red, Earl of Gloucester and Hereford, son-in-law to King Edward" (Gray). He had, in 1282, conducted the war in South Wales; and after overthrowing the enemy near Llandeilo Fawr, had reinforced the king in the northwest.

14. Mortimer. "Edmond de Mortimer, Lord of Wigmore" (Gray). It was by one of his knights, named Adam de Francton, that Llewellyn, not at first known to be he, was slain near Pont Orewyn (Hales).

On quivering lance, cf. Virgil, Aen. xii. 94: "hastam quassatque trementem."

15. On a rock whose haughty brow. Cf. Daniel, Civil Wars: "A huge aspiring rock, whose surly brow."

The rock is probably meant for Penmaen-mawr, the northern termination of the Snowdon range. It is a mass of rock, 1545 feet high, a few miles from the mouth of the Conway, the valley of which it overlooks. Towards the sea it presents a rugged and almost perpendicular front. On its summit is Braich-y-Dinas, an ancient fortified post, regarded as the strongest hold of the Britons in the district of Snowdon. Here the reduced bands of the Welsh army were stationed during the negotiation between their prince Llewellyn and Edward I. Within the inner enclosure is a never-failing well of pure water. The rock is now pierced with a tunnel 1890 feet long for the Chester and Holyhead railway.

17. Rob'd in the sable garb of woe. It would appear that Wharton had criticised this line, for in a letter to him, dated Aug. 21, 1757, Gray writes: "You may alter that 'Robed in the sable,' etc., almost in your own words, thus,

'With fury pale, and pale with woe, Secure of Fate, the Poet stood,' etc.

Though haggard, which conveys to you the idea of a witch, is indeed only a metaphor taken from an unreclaimed hawk, which is called a haggard, and looks wild and farouche, and jealous of its liberty." Gray seems to have afterwards returned to his first (and we think better) reading.

19. "The image was taken from a well-known picture of Raphael, representing the Supreme Being in the vision of Ezekiel. There are two of these paintings (both believed originals), one at Florence, the other in the Duke of Orleans's collection at Paris" (Gray).

20. Like a meteor. Gray quotes P. L. i. 537: "Shone like a meteor streaming to the wind."

21, 22. Wakefield remarks: "This is poetical language in perfection; and breathes the sublime spirit of Hebrew poetry, which delights in this grand rhetorical substitution."

23. Desert caves. Cf. Lycidas, 39: "The woods and desert caves."

26. Hoarser murmurs. That is, perhaps, with continually increasing hoarseness, hoarser and hoarser; or it may mean with unwonted hoarseness, like the comparative sometimes in Latin (Hales).

28. Hoel is called high-born, being the son of Owen Gwynedd, prince of North Wales, by Finnog, an Irish damsel. He was one of his father's generals in his wars against the English, Flemings, and Normans, in South Wales; and was a famous bard, as his poems that are extant testify.

Soft Llewellyn's lay. "The lay celebrating the mild Llewellyn," says Hales, though he afterwards remarks that, "looking at the context, it would be better to take Llewellyn here for a bard." Many bards celebrated the warlike prowess and princely qualities of Llewellyn. A poem by Einion the son of Guigan calls him "a tender-hearted prince;" and another, by Llywarch Brydydd y Moch, says: "Llewellyn, though in battle he killed with fury, though he burned like an outrageous fire, yet was a mild prince when the mead-horns were distributed." In an ode by Llygard Gwr he is also called "Llewellyn the mild."

29. Cadwallo and Urien were bards of whose songs nothing has been preserved. Taliessin (see 121 below) dedicated many poems to the latter, and wrote an elegy on his death: he was slain by treachery in the year 560.

30. That hush'd the stormy main. Cf. Shakes. M. N. D. ii. 2:

"Uttering such dulcet and harmonious breath, That the rude sea grew civil at her song."

33. Modred. This name is not found in the lists of the old bards. It may have been borrowed from the Arthurian legends; or, as Mitford suggests, it may refer to "the famous Myrddin ab Morvyn, called Merlyn the Wild, a disciple of Taliessin, the form of the name being changed for the sake of euphony."

34. Plinlimmon. One of the loftiest of the Welsh mountains, being 2463 feet in height. It is really a group of mountains, three of which tower high above the others, and on each of these is a carnedd, or pile of stones. The highest of the three is further divided into two peaks, and on these, as well as on another prominent part of the same height, are other piles of stones. These five piles, according to the common tradition, mark the graves of slain warriors, and serve as memorials of their exploits; but some believe that they were intended as landmarks or military signals, and that from them the mountain was called Pump-lumon or Pum-lumon, "the five beacons"—a name somehow corrupted into Plinlimmon. Five rivers take their rise in the recesses of Plinlimmon—the Wye, the Severn, the Rheidol, the Llyfnant, and the Clywedog.

35. Arvon's shore. "The shores of Caernarvonshire, opposite the isle of Anglesey" (Gray). Caernarvon, or Caer yn Arvon, means the camp in Arvon.

38. "Camden and others observe that eagles used annually to build their aerie among the rocks of Snowdon, which from thence (as some think) were named by the Welsh Craigian-eryri, or the crags of the eagles. At this day (I am told) the highest point of Snowdon is called the Eagle's Nest. That bird is certainly no stranger to this island, as the Scots, and the people of Cumberland, Westmoreland, etc., can testify; it even has built its nest in the peak of Derbyshire [see Willoughby's Ornithology, published by Ray]" (Gray).

40. Dear as the light. Cf. Virgil, Aen. iv. 31: "O luce magis dilecta sorori."

41. Dear as the ruddy drops. Gray quotes Shakes. J. C. ii. 1:

"As dear to me as are the ruddy drops That visit my sad heart."

Cf. also Otway, Venice Preserved:

"Dear as the vital warmth that feeds my life, Dear as these eyes that weep in fondness o'er thee."

42. Wakefield quotes Pope: "And greatly falling with a fallen state;" and Dryden: "And couldst not fall but with thy country's fate."

44. Grisly. See on Eton Coll. 82. Cf. Lycidas, 52:

"the steep Where your old bards, the famous Druids, lie."

48. "See the Norwegian ode that follows" (Gray). This ode (The Fatal Sisters, translated from the Norse) describes the Valkyriur, "the choosers of the slain," or warlike Fates of the Gothic mythology, as weaving the destinies of those who were doomed to perish in battle. It begins thus:

"Now the storm begins to lower (Haste, the loom of hell prepare), Iron sleet of arrowy shower Hurtles in the darken'd air.

"Glittering lances are the loom, Where the dusky warp we strain, Weaving many a soldier's doom, Orkney's woe, and Randver's bane.

* * * * * *

"Shafts for shuttles, dipt in gore, Shoot the trembling cords along; Swords, that once a monarch bore, Keep the tissue close and strong.

* * * * * *

"(Weave the crimson web of war) Let us go, and let us fly, Where our friends the conflict share, Where they triumph, where they die."

51. Cf. Dryden, Sebastian, i. 1:

"I have a soul that, like an ample shield, Can take in all, and verge enough for more."

55. "Edward the Second, cruelly butchered in Berkeley Castle" (Gray). The 1st ed. and that of 1768 have "roofs;" the modern eds. "roof."

Berkeley Castle is on the southeast side of the town of Berkeley, on a height commanding a fine view of the Severn and the surrounding country, and is in a state of perfect preservation. It is said to have been founded by Roger de Berkeley soon after the Norman Conquest. About the year 1150 it was granted by Henry II. to Robert Fitzhardinge, Governor of Bristol, who strengthened and enlarged it. On the right of the great staircase leading to the keep, and approached by a gallery, is the room in which it is supposed that Edward II. was murdered, Sept. 21, 1327. The king, during his captivity here, composed a dolorous poem, of which the following is an extract:

"Moste blessed Jesu, Roote of all vertue, Graunte I may the sue, In all humylyte, Sen thou for our good, Lyste to shede thy blood, An stretche the upon the rood, For our iniquyte. I the beseche, Most holsome leche, That thou wylt seche For me such grace, That when my body vyle My soule shall exyle Thou brynge in short wyle It in reste and peace."

Walpole, who visited the place in 1774, says: "The room shown for the murder of Edward II., and the shrieks of an agonizing king, I verily believe to be genuine. It is a dismal chamber, almost at the top of the house, quite detached, and to be approached only by a kind of foot-bridge, and from that descends a large flight of steps, that terminates on strong gates; exactly a situation for a corps de garde."

56. Cf. Hume's description: "The screams with which the agonizing king filled the castle."

57. She-wolf of France. "Isabel of France, Edward the Second's adulterous queen" (Gray). Cf. Shakes. 3 Hen. VI. i. 4: "She-wolf of France, but worse than wolves of France;" and read the context.

60. "Triumphs of Edward the Third in France" (Gray).

61. Cf. Cowley: "Ruin behind him stalks, and empty desolation;" and Oldham, Ode to Homer:

"Where'er he does his dreadful standard bear, Horror stalks in the van, and slaughter in the rear."

63. For victor the MS. has "conqueror;" also in next line "the" for his; and in 65, "what ... what" for no ... no.

64. "Death of that king, abandoned by his children, and even robbed in his last moments by his courtiers and his mistress" (Gray).

67. "Edward the Black Prince, dead some time before his father" (Gray).

69. The MS. has "hover'd in thy noontide ray," and in the next line "the rising day."

In Agrippina, a fragment of a tragedy, published among the posthumous poems of Gray, we have the same figure:

"around thee call The gilded swarm that wantons in the sunshine Of thy full favour."

71. "Magnificence of Richard the Second's reign. See Froissard and other contemporary writers" (Gray).

For this line and the remainder of the stanza, the MS. has the following:

"Mirrors of Saxon truth and loyalty, Your helpless, old, expiring master view! They hear not: scarce religion does supply Her mutter'd requiems, and her holy dew. Yet thou, proud boy, from Pomfret's walls shalt send A sigh, and envy oft thy happy grandsire's end."

On the passage as it stands, cf. Shakes. M. of V. ii. 6:

"How like a younger, or a prodigal, The scarfed bark puts from her native bay," etc.

Also Spenser, Visions of World's Vanitie, ix:

"Looking far foorth into the Ocean wide, A goodly ship with banners bravely dight, And flag in her top-gallant, I espide Through the maine sea making her merry flight. Faire blew the winde into her bosome right; And th' heavens looked lovely all the while That she did seeme to daunce, as in delight, And at her owne felicitie did smile," etc.;

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