Verse > Anthologies > Robert Bridges, ed. > The Spirit of Man: An Anthology
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Robert Bridges, ed. (1844–1930).  The Spirit of Man: An Anthology.  1916.
 
From Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard

Thomas Gray (1716–1771)
 
THE CURFEW 1 tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea,
The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.
 
Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight,        5
And all the air a solemn stillness holds,
Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,
And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds:
 
Save that from yonder ivy-mantled tower
The moping owl does to the moon complain        10
Of such as wand’ring near her secret bower
Molest her ancient solitary reign.
 
Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree’s shade,
Where heaves the turf in many a mould’ring heap,
Each in his narrow cell for ever laid,        15
The rude Forefathers of the hamlet sleep.
 
The breezy call of incense-breathing Morn,
The swallow twittering from the straw-built shed,
The cock’s shrill clarion, or the echoing horn,
No more shall rouse them from their lowly bed.        20
 
For them no more the blazing hearth shall burn,
Or busy housewife ply her evening care:
No children run to lisp their sire’s return,
Or climb his knees the envied kiss to share.
 
Oft did the harvest to their sickle yield,        25
Their furrow oft the stubborn glebe has broke;
How jocund did they drive their team afield!
How bow’d the woods beneath their sturdy stroke!
 
Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,
Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;        30
Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile
The short and simple annals of the poor.
 
The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,
Awaits alike th’ inevitable hour.        35
The paths of glory lead but to the grave …
 
Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid
Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire;
Hands, that the rod of empire might have sway’d,
Or waked to ecstasy the living lyre.        40
 
But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page
Rich with the spoils of time did ne’er unroll;
Chill Penury repress’d their noble rage,
And froze the genial current of the soul.
 
Full many a gem of purest ray serene,        45
The dark unfathom’d caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.
 
Some village-Hampden, that with dauntless breast
The little tyrant of his fields withstood;        50
Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest,
Some Cromwell guiltless of his country’s blood.
 
Th’ applause of list’ning senates to command,
The threats of pain and ruin to despise,
To scatter plenty o’er a smiling land,        55
And read their history in a nation’s eyes,
 
Their lot forbad: nor circumscribed alone
Their growing virtues, but their crimes confin’d;
Forbad to wade through slaughter to a throne,
And shut the gates of mercy on mankind …        60
 
Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife,
Their sober wishes never learn’d to stray;
Along the cool sequester’d vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenour of their way …
 
Their name, their years, spelt by th’ unletter’d Muse,        65
The place of fame and elegy supply:
And many a holy text around she strews,
That teach the rustic moralist to die …
 
For thee, who mindful of th’ unhonour’d Dead,
Dost in these lines their artless tale relate;        70
If chance, by lonely contemplation led,
Some kindred spirit shall inquire thy fate,
 
Haply some hoary-headed swain may say,
‘Oft have we seen him at the peep of dawn
Brushing with hasty steps the dews away        75
To meet the sun upon the upland lawn.
 
There at the foot of yonder nodding beech
That wreathes its old fantastic roots so high,
His listless length at noontide would he stretch,
And pore upon the brook that babbles by.        80
 
Hard by yon wood, now smiling as in scorn,
Mutt’ring his wayward fancies he would rove,
Now drooping, woeful wan, like one forlorn,
Or crazed with care, or cross’d in hopeless love.
 
One morn I miss’d him on the custom’d hill,        85
Along the heath, and near his favourite tree;
Another came; nor yet beside the rill,
Nor up the lawn, nor at the wood was he;
 
The next, with dirges due in sad array
Slow through the church-way path we saw him borne,—        90
Approach and read (for thou canst read) the lay,
Graved on the stone beneath yon aged thorn.
 
There scatter’d oft, the earliest of the year,
By hands unseen are show’rs of violets found;
The redbreast loves to build and warble there,        95
And little footsteps lightly print the ground.’
 
The Epitaph
Here rests his head upon the lap of Earth
A Youth, to Fortune and to Fame unknown;
Fair Science frown’d not on his humble birth,
And Melancholy mark’d him for her own.        100
 
Large was his bounty, and his soul sincere,
Heav’n did a recompense as largely send:
He gave to Misery all he had, a tear,
He gain’d from Heaven (’twas all he wish’d) a friend.
 
No farther seek his merits to disclose,        105
Or draw his frailties from their dread abode,
(There they alike in trembling hope repose,)
The bosom of his Father and his God.
 
Note 1. Gray. From Elegy written in a country Churchyard. The scheme of this book, favouring the omission of some stanzas from Gray’s famous ode, allows me without offence to restore, next before the Epitaph, the beautiful stanza which he ultimately rejected as too parenthetical. The omitted stanzas (10, 11, 18, 20, 22, 23) have a strongly marked character, and tend to overload the poem with the particular quality that critics have misliked in it. Note. If chance some kindred spirit shall enquire is not of the best English, and Large was his bounty is a conceit, which, though a large one, is of questionable propriety in the Epitaph. [back]
 
 
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