Poem of the day

Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College
by 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
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:

Ah, happy hills! ah, pleasing shade!
         Ah, fields belov’d in vain!
Where once my careless childhood stray’d,
         A stranger yet to pain!
I feel the gales that from ye blow
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.

Say, Father Thames, for thou hast seen
         Full many a sprightly race
Disporting on thy margin green
         The paths of pleasure trace—
Who foremost now delight to cleave
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?

While some on earnest business bent
         Their murmuring labours ply
’Gainst graver hours that bring constraint
         To sweet liberty:
Some bold adventurers disdain
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.

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,
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.

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
The ministers of human fate
And black Misfortune’s baleful train!
Ah, show them where in ambush stand,
To seize their prey, the murderous band!
         Ah, tell them they are men!

These shall the fury Passions tear,
         The vultures of the mind,
Disdainful Anger, pallid Fear,
         And Shame that skulks behind;
Or pining Love shall waste their youth,
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.

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,
And hard Unkindness’ alter’d eye,
         That mocks the tear it forced to flow;
And keen Remorse with blood defil’d,
And moody Madness laughing wild
         Amid severest woe.

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,
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.

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,
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.

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