Verse > Anthologies > Harvard Classics > English Poetry I: From Chaucer to Gray
   English Poetry I: From Chaucer to Gray.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
286. Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College
Thomas Gray (1716–1771)
YE distant spires, ye antique towers,
  That crown the watery glade,
Where grateful Science still adores
  Her Henry’s holy shade;
And ye, that from the stately brow        5
Of Windsor’s heights th’ expanse below
Of grove, of lawn, of mead survey,
Whose turf, whose shade, whose flowers among
Wanders the hoary Thames along
  His silver-winding way:        10
Ah happy hills! ah pleasing shade!
  Ah fields beloved in vain!
When once my careless childhood stray’d,
  A stranger yet to pain!
I feel the gales that from ye blow        15
A momentary bliss bestow,
As waving fresh their gladsome wing
My weary soul they seem to soothe
And, redolent of joy and youth,
  To breathe a second spring.        20
Say, Father Thames, for thou hast seen
  Full many a sprightly race
Disporting on thy margent green
  The paths of pleasure trace;
Who foremost now delight to cleave        25
With pliant arm, thy glassy wave?
The captive linnet which enthral?
What idle progeny succeed
To chase the rolling circle’s speed
  Or urge the flying ball?        30
While some on earnest business bent
  Their murmuring labours ply
’Gainst graver hours, that bring constraint
  To sweeten liberty:
Some bold adventurers disdain        35
The limits of their little reign
And unknown regions dare descry:
Still as they run they look behind,
They hear a voice in every wind,
  And snatch a fearful joy.        40
Gay Hope is theirs by fancy fed,
  Less pleasing when possest;
The tear forgot as soon as shed,
  The sunshine of the breast:
Theirs buxom Health, of rosy hue,        45
Wild Wit, Invention ever new,
And lively Cheer, of Vigour born;
The thoughtless day, the easy night,
The spirits pure, the slumbers light
  That fly th’ approach of morn.        50
Alas! regardless of their doom
  The little victims play!
No sense have they of ills to come
  Nor care beyond to-day:
Yet see how all around ’em wait        55
The ministers of human fate
And black Misfortune’s baleful train!
Ah shew them where in ambush stand
To seize their prey, the murderous band!
  Ah, tell them they are men!        60
These shall the fury Passions tear,
  The vultures of the mind,
Disdainful Anger, pallid Fear,
  And shame that sculks behind;
Or pining Love shall waste their youth,        65
Or Jealousy with rankling tooth
That inly gnaws the secret heart,
And Envy wan, and faded Care,
Grim-visaged comfortless Despair,
  And Sorrow’s piercing dart.        70
Ambition this shall tempt to rise,
  Then whirl the wretch from high
To bitter Scorn a sacrifice
  And grinning Infamy.
The stings of Falsehood those shall try        75
And hard Unkindness’ alter’d eye,
That mocks the tear it forced to flow;
And keen Remorse with blood defiled,
And moody Madness laughing wild
  Amid severest woe.        80
Lo, in the Vale of Years beneath
  A griesly troop are seen,
The painful family of Death,
  More hideous than their Queen:
This racks the joints, this fires the veins,        85
That every labouring sinew strains,
Those in the deeper vitals rage:
Lo! Poverty, to fill the band,
That numbs the soul with icy hand,
  And slow-consuming Age.        90
To each his sufferings: all are men,
  Condemn’d alike to groan;
The tender for another’s pain,
  Th’ unfeeling for his own.
Yet, ah! why should they know their fate,        95
Since sorrow never comes too late,
And happiness too swiftly flies?
Thought would destroy their paradise!
No more;—where ignorance is bliss,
  ’Tis folly to be wise.        100


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