Verse > Anthologies > Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed. > The Oxford Book of English Verse
Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed. 1919. The Oxford Book of English Verse: 1250–1900.
Thomas Gray. 1716–1771
455. The Progress of Poesy
    AWAKE, Æolian lyre, awake, 
And give to rapture all thy trembling strings, 
From Helicon's harmonious springs 
  A thousand rills their mazy progress take: 
The laughing flowers, that round them blow,         5
Drink life and fragrance as they flow. 
Now the rich stream of music winds along 
Deep, majestic, smooth, and strong, 
Thro' verdant vales, and Ceres' golden reign: 
Now rolling down the steep amain,  10
Headlong, impetuous, see it pour; 
The rocks and nodding groves rebellow to the roar. 
  O Sovereign of the willing soul, 
Parent of sweet and solemn-breathing airs, 
Enchanting shell! the sullen Cares  15
  And frantic Passions hear thy soft controul. 
On Thracia's hills the Lord of War 
Has curb'd the fury of his car, 
And dropp'd his thirsty lance at thy command. 
Perching on the sceptred hand  20
Of Jove, thy magic lulls the feather'd king 
With ruffled plumes and flagging wing: 
Quench'd in dark clouds of slumber lie 
The terror of his beak, and lightnings of his eye. 
Thee the voice, the dance, obey,  25
Temper'd to thy warbled lay. 
  O'er Idalia's velvet-green 
  The rosy-crownéd Loves are seen 
On Cytherea's day 
  With antic Sports, and blue-eyed Pleasures,  30
  Frisking light in frolic measures; 
Now pursuing, now retreating, 
  Now in circling troops they meet: 
To brisk notes in cadence beating, 
  Glance their many-twinkling feet.  35
Slow melting strains their Queen's approach declare: 
  Where'er she turns the Graces homage pay. 
With arms sublime, that float upon the air, 
  In gliding state she wins her easy way: 
O'er her warm cheek and rising bosom move  40
The bloom of young Desire and purple light of Love. 
  Man's feeble race what ills await, 
Labour, and Penury, the racks of Pain, 
  Disease, and Sorrow's weeping train, 
  And Death, sad refuge from the storms of fate!  45
The fond complaint, my song, disprove, 
And justify the laws of Jove. 
Say, has he giv'n in vain the heav'nly Muse? 
Night, and all her sickly dews, 
Her sceptres wan, and birds of boding cry,  50
He gives to range the dreary sky: 
Till down the eastern cliffs afar 
Hyperion's march they spy, and glitt'ring shafts of war. 
  In climes beyond the solar road, 
Where shaggy forms o'er ice-built mountains roam,  55
The Muse has broke the twilight gloom 
  To cheer the shiv'ring native's dull abode, 
And oft, beneath the od'rous shade 
Of Chili's boundless forests laid, 
She deigns to hear the savage youth repeat  60
In loose numbers wildly sweet 
Their feather-cinctured chiefs, and dusky loves. 
Her track, where'er the Goddess roves, 
Glory pursue, and generous Shame, 
Th' unconquerable Mind, and Freedom's holy flame.  65
Woods, that wave o'er Delphi's steep, 
Isles, that crown th' Ægean deep, 
  Fields, that cool Ilissus laves, 
  Or where Mæander's amber waves 
In lingering lab'rinths creep,  70
  How do your tuneful echoes languish, 
  Mute, but to the voice of anguish? 
Where each old poetic mountain 
  Inspiration breathed around: 
Ev'ry shade and hallow'd fountain  75
  Murmur'd deep a solemn sound: 
Till the sad Nine, in Greece's evil hour, 
  Left their Parnassus for the Latian plains. 
Alike they scorn the pomp of tyrant Power, 
  And coward Vice, that revels in her chains.  80
When Latium had her lofty spirit lost, 
They sought, O Albion! next, thy sea-encircled coast. 
  Far from the sun and summer gale, 
In thy green lap was Nature's darling laid, 
What time, where lucid Avon stray'd,  85
  To Him the mighty mother did unveil 
Her awful face: the dauntless child 
Stretch'd forth his little arms, and smiled. 
This pencil take (she said), whose colours clear 
Richly paint the vernal year:  90
Thine too these golden keys, immortal boy! 
This can unlock the gates of joy; 
Of horror that, and thrilling fears, 
Or ope the sacred source of sympathetic tears. 
  Nor second he, that rode sublime  95
Upon the seraph-wings of Ecstasy, 
The secrets of th' abyss to spy. 
  He pass'd the flaming bounds of place and time: 
The living Throne, the sapphire-blaze, 
Where Angels tremble while they gaze, 100
He saw; but blasted with excess of light, 
Closed his eyes in endless night. 
Behold, where Dryden's less presumptuous car, 
Wide o'er the fields of glory bear 
Two coursers of ethereal race, 105
With necks in thunder clothed, and long-resounding pace. 
Hark, his hands the lyre explore! 
Bright-eyed Fancy hovering o'er 
  Scatters from her pictured urn 
  Thoughts that breathe, and words that burn. 110
But ah! 'tis heard no more—— 
  O Lyre divine! what daring Spirit 
  Wakes thee now? Tho' he inherit 
Nor the pride, nor ample pinion, 
  That the Theban eagle bear 115
Sailing with supreme dominion 
  Thro' the azure deep of air: 
Yet oft before his infant eyes would run 
  Such forms as glitter in the Muse's ray, 
With orient hues, unborrow'd of the Sun: 120
  Yet shall he mount, and keep his distant way 
Beyond the limits of a vulgar fate, 
Beneath the Good how far—but far above the Great. 
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