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12. in vain. Here "Gray permits himself to refer to the constant pressure of regret for his lost friends; the fields are beloved in vain, and in Wordsworth's exquisite phrase he turns to share the rapture-ah, with whom?" (E. Gosse). For this association of "fields beloved" with_the_memory of a dead friend we may compare Cowley's poem On the death of Mr. William Hervey (G.T., CXXXVII.)—the stanza beginning "Ye fields of Cambridge, our dear Cambridge, say," - and Matthew Arnold's poem of Thyrsis.
13. careless, free from care.
"And bees their honey redolent of Spring,' Dryden's Fable on the Pythagorean System" (G.).
21. "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" (Dr. Johnson). Two sentences may be quoted from Mr. Tovey's admirable answer to the great critic: "The invocation itself and the question are mere conventions; and the poetic truth in Gray seems to be, but is not, subordinate."
23. margent green. The phrase occurs in Milton, Comus, 232, "By slow Meander's margent green.'
29. In the Pembroke MS. the line runs, "To chase the hoop's elusive speed"—a reading which Mr. Tovey prefers: he thinks that Gray departed from it only because he wanted to use the phrase, "elusive speed," in his tragedy of Agrippina.
30. the flying ball. It is disputed whether the reference is to cricket or 'trap-bat-and-ball.'
32. murmuring labours ply, i.e. say over their lessons to themselves.
33. 'gainst, as a preparation for hours in class.
36. reign, realm, as in the Elegy (No. 36. 12), "her ancient solitary reign." The adventurers are going out of bounds.' 38. still, always.
42. pleasing and possest agree grammatically with hope, but in thought with the object of hope.
43. the tear, etc.
(G. T., CCLXIX.):
Cp. T. Moore in The Light of Other Days
"The smiles, the tears,
Of boyhood's years.'
45. buxom. For a full note on the history of this word see Hales, Longer English Poems, note on L'Allegro, 1. 24. It is the A.S. bocsum, i.e. bow-some, flexible, pliant. In Chaucer and Spenser it means 'yielding,' 'obedien.' Later came the
meaning of brisk,' 'lively,' which the word bears in Shakespeare, Pericles, I. i. 23, in L'Allegro, and here.
47. cheer, expression of the face. Cp. "All fancy-sick she is and pale of cheer," Midsummer-Night's Dream, III. ii. 96. Originally cheer meant the face itself.
55. 'em. "This abbreviation of them, or perhaps a survival of the O.E. com is now a vulgarism or only used colloquially, but Gray printed it thus to avoid the unmusical sound of the d and th; and he has it in Agrippina :-'He perchance may heed 'em'" (Bradshaw).
61. these, this (71), those (75)='some,' ' others.'
68. Envy wan and faded care. The expressions have been traced to Milton: "With praise enough for Envy to look wan (Sonnet to H. Lawes), care Sat on his faded cheek" (Paradise Lost, I. 601-2).
69. Cp. Shakespeare, Richard III., 1. i. 9, "Grim-visaged war," and Comedy of Errors, v. i. 80, "grim and comfortless despair."
79. "Madness laughing in his ireful mood," Dryden's Palamon and Arcite, ii. 581" (G.).
83. family, in the sense of the Latin familia, not progeny, but household attendants. Cp. Dryden, State of Innocence, v. 1, "With all the numerous family of Death." "The ministers of Fate vex the soul: if man escapes these, more inevitably the ministers of Death vex the body, and the frame must yield to 'slow-consuming Age,' which appropriately comes last" (Tovey). 84. queen. "Death is always masculine in the English poets. Gray may have had pallida mors in his mind, and Hela, the Goddess of Death " (Bradshaw). One of the greatest of modern English painters, Mr. G. F. Watts, has always represented Death as a female figure.
89. "But while including Poverty among physical evils, Gray cannot forget that she is also an evil to the mind. Cp. Elegy [No 36. 51-2]:
'Chill penury repressed their noble rage,
And froze the genial current of the soul' " (Tovey). 99. Cp. Blake's Cradle Song (No. 30. 15-16), "When thy little heart doth wake, Then the dreadful light shall break," and the quotation from Sophocles given in the note to that passage. Mr. Tovey quotes from Montaigne: "A quoy faire la cognoissance des choses, si nous en devenons plus lasches? si nous en perdons le repos et la tranquillité où nous serions sans cela?" "Why acquire knowledge of things if we become thereby more sorrowful? if we thereby lose the repose and tranquillity which we should enjoy without it?")
49. O happy shades! to me unblest
"WRITTEN in 1773, towards the beginning of Cowper's second attack of melancholy madness-a time when he altogether gave up prayer, saying, For him to implore mercy would only anger God the more.' Yet had he given it up when sane, it would have been maior insania [greater madness]" (F.T.P.).
"Bounded on one side by the Ho-brook, a diminutive stream that crosses the road about midway between Olney and Weston, is a long narrow plantation, called locally the First Spinnie, but better known to readers of Cowper as the Shrubbery. It is threaded by a winding path, and in its midst stood the rustic hut or 'moss-house,' a favourite haunt of Cowper, which had on one side of it a weeping willow, and in front a beautiful circular sheet of water"-Wright's Life of Cowper, p. 357.
19. secret, far-withdrawn, secluded, the original sense of the word. With the thought of this stanza cp. Wordsworth's beautiful sonnet on the Trosachs, "There's not a nook within this solemn Pass" (G. T., cccXXXVI.).
50. Daughter of Jove, relentless power
WRITTEN at Stoke, August 1742, in the same month as the Eton Ode (No. 48) and in the same sad mood. It is the one poem of Gray, with the exception of the Elegy, to which Johnson gives unqualified praise :-"Of the Ode on Adversity the hint was at first taken from 0 Diva, gratum quae regis Antium [Horace, Odes, I. xxv.]; but Gray has excelled his original by the veracity of his sentiments and by their moral application. Of this piece, at once poetical and rational, I will not, by slight objections, violate the dignity." To the encomium of Johnson we may add the tribute which Wordsworth, consciously or unconsciously, paid to this poem when he wrote his own Ode to Duty (G. T., CCLII.). That Ode, which is sometimes regarded as the high-water mark of Wordsworth's genius, shows the influence of Gray in its first and last stanzas.
Metre.-Observe the effect of the concluding Alexandrine, i.e. line of six feet, in adding weight and solemnity to the stanza. 1. Daughter of Jove. Explained by the motto which Gray prefixed to the Ode:
τὸν φρονεῖν βροτοὺς ὁδώ
σαντα, τῷ πάθει μαθάν
Oévтa kupíws ëxeiv. (Aeschylus, Agamemnon, 176.)
("Zeus, who prepared for men
The path of wisdom, binding fast
Learning to suffering.” Lewis Campbell.)
3. Cp. "when the scourge Inexorably, and the torturing hour Calls us to penance," Milton, Paradise Lost, II. 90. Two other phrases in this stanza recall Paradise Lost:
"In adamantine chains and penal fire."-P.L., 1. 48.
7. purple tyrants. Horace's Purpurei metuunt tyranni (Tyrants clad in purple fear thee), Odes, I. xxxv. 12.
10. design'd, purposed.
11. birth, abstract for concrete, 'child.'
13. lore, instruction.
16. Cp. Dido's fine saying in Virgil, Aeneid, I. 630, Non ignara mali miseris succurrere disco (Not ignorant of sorrow myself I learn to assist the sorrowful). Also cp. Pope, Elegy to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady, 45-46,
"So perish all whose breasts ne'er learn'd to glow
With the whole of this second stanza cp. Bacon's remarks
"Hence, vain deluding Joys,
The brood of Folly without father bred!'
21. light, predicative adj. in place of adv., lightly.
22. summer friend. The expression is found in George Herbert's Answer, "like summer friends, Flies of estates and sunshine." Mr. Tovey thinks that this is coincidence, and that Gray's original is rather Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida, III. iii. 79, "For men, like butterflies, Shew not their mealy wings but to the summer." Cp. Gray's own lines in The Bard (No. 8. 69-70),
"The swarm that in thy noon-tide beam were born?
25. Cp. Il Penseroso (G. T., CXLV. 16), "O'erlaid with black, staid Wisdom's hue."
28. Cp. Il Penseroso (G.T., CXLV. 43), of the eyes of Melancholy-"till With a sad leaden downward cast Thou fix them on the earth as fast." "The form of Gray's phrase is after Dryden's Cymon and Iphigenia, 57, ' And stupid eyes that ever loved the ground.' Both in Dryden and Gray there is a reminiscence of the use of amare for to cling to, to be constantly fastened to, as in Horace's Amatque Janua limen" (Tovey).
30. Charity. The conception of Charity here is less exalted than in 1 Corinthians, XIII., but it has hardly suffered the complete degeneration of meaning that has too often overtaken it in modern speech.
32. Opposite this line in the Pembroke MS. Gray wrote à γλυκύδακρυς (sweet in her tears). The word is an epithet of Epws, Love, in the Greek poet, Meleager.
35. Gorgon terrors. Cp. Paradise Lost, II. 611, "Medusa with Gorgonian terror guards the ford." The Gorgons, in Greek mythology, were three sisters of frightful aspect, whose heads were covered with snakes instead of hair. Medusa, the most famous of the three, was supposed to turn to stone any mortal who looked upon her face.
36. vengeful band. The Eumenides or Furies of Greek mythology. They were not limited in number by Aeschylus or Euripides, though later poets made them three and named them. Gray here gives them names to suit his love of personifications. With this vengeful band' cp. the 'baleful train' and 'griesly troop' of the Eton Ode, No. 48. 55-90.
43. philosophic train, in contrast with the vengeful band.' If Gray had particularized, we should have had such figures as Milton set in attendance upon Melancholy (Il Penseroso, G. T., CXLV. 45-55), 'Peace' and 'Quiet, spare Fast,' 'the cherub Contemplation' and 'the mute Silence.'
45, 46. In allusion to his estrangement from Walpole.
51. I am monarch of all I survey
ALEXANDER SELKIRK, a Scottish sailor, was left on the uninhabited island of Juan Fernandez in 1704 in consequence of a quarrel with the captain of his ship. He remained there till 1709, when he attracted the attention of an English ship, the Duke, commanded by Captain Woodes Rogers, and was taken on board. His adventures were described in Captain Rogers' Cruising Voyage round the World, 1712, in another book of travels published the same year, and in a pamphlet called Providence Displayed, or a surprising Account of one Alexander Selkirk. Defoe's Robinson Crusoe was doubtless suggested by the published narratives, though in detail it owes little to them. It is interesting to compare with the simplicity of Cowper's verses the ornate passage in which Tennyson pictures the solitude of Enoch Arden. Each poem is excellent in its own very different style.
Metre.-Anapaestic lines of three accents. The first anapaest
is sometimes shortened to an iambus.