ELEGY WRITTEN IN A COUNTRY CHURCHYARD

by
Thomas Gray

1 The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
2 The lowing herd wind slowly o'er the lea,
3 The plowman homeward plods his weary way,
4 And leaves the world to darkness and to me.
5 Now fades the glimm'ring landscape on the sight,
6 And all the air a solemn stillness holds,
7 Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,
8 And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds;
9 Save that from yonder ivy-mantled tow'r
10 The moping owl does to the moon complain
11 Of such, as wand'ring near her secret bow'r,
12 Molest her ancient solitary reign.
13 Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree's shade,
14 Where heaves the turf in many a mould'ring heap,
15 Each in his narrow cell forever laid,
16 The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep.
17 The breezy call of incense-breathing Morn,
18 The swallow twitt'ring from the straw-built shed,
19 The cock's shrill clarion, or the echoing horn,
20 No more shall rouse them from their lowly bed.
21 For them no more the blazing hearth shall burn,
22 Or busy housewife ply her evening care:
23 No children run to lisp their sire's return,
24 Or climb his knees the envied kiss to share.
25 Oft did the harvest to their sickle yield,
26 Their furrow oft the stubborn glebe has broke;
27 How jocund did they drive their team afield!
28 How bow'd the woods beneath their sturdy stroke!
29 Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,
30 Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;
31 Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile
32 The short and simple annals of the poor.
33 The boast of heraldry,
the pomp of pow'r,
34 And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave,
35 Awaits alike th' inevitable hour.
36 The paths of glory lead but to the grave.
37 Nor you, ye proud, impute to these the fault,
38 If Mem'ry o'er their tomb no trophies raise,
39 Where thro' the long-drawn aisle and fretted vault
40 The pealing anthem swells the note of praise.
41 Can storied urn or animated bust
42 Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath?

43 Can Honour's voice provoke the silent dust,
44 Or Flatt'ry soothe the dull cold ear of Death?
45 Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid
46 Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire;
47 Hands, that the rod of empire might have sway'd,
48 Or wak'd to ecstasy the living lyre.
49 But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page
50 Rich with the spoils of time did ne'er unroll;
51 Chill Penury repress'd their noble rage,
52 And froze the genial current of the soul.
53 Full many a gem of purest ray serene,
54 The dark unfathom'd caves of ocean bear:
55 Full many a flow'r is born to blush unseen,
56 And waste its sweetness on the desert air.
57 Some village-Hampden, that with dauntless breast
58 The little tyrant of his fields withstood;
59 Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest,
60 Some Cromwell guiltless of his country's blood.
61 Th' applause of list'ning senates to command,
62 The threats of pain and ruin to despise,
63 To scatter plenty o'er a smiling land,
64 And read their hist'ry in a nations eye's,
65 Their lot forbade: nor circumscrib'd alone
66 Their growing virtues, but their crimes confin'd;
67 Forbade to wade through slaughter to a throne,
68 And shut the gates of mercy on mankind,
69 The struggling pangs of conscious truth to hide,
70 To quench the blushes of ingenious shame,
71 Or heap the shrine of luxury and Pride
72 With incense kindled at the Muse's flame.
73 Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife,
74 Their sober wishes never learn'd to stray;
75 Along the cool sequester'd vale of life
76 They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.
77 Yet ev'n these bones from insult to protect,
78 Some frail memorial still erected nigh,
79 With uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture deck'd,
80 Implores the passing tribute of a sigh.
81 Their name, their years, spelt by th' unletter'd muse,
82 The place of fame and elegy supply:
83 And many a holy text around she strews,
84 That teach the rustic moralist to die.
85 For who to dumb Forgetfulness a prey,
86 This pleasing anxious being e'er resign'd,
87 Left the warm precincts of the cheerful day,
88 Nor cast one longing, ling'ring look behind?
89 On some fond breast the parting soul relies,
90 Some pious drops the closing eye requires;
91 Ev'n from the tomb the voice of Nature cries,
92 Ev'n in our ashes live their wonted fires.
93 For thee, who mindful of th' unhonour'd Dead
94 Dost in these lines their artless tale relate;
95 If chance, by lonely contemplation led,
96 Some kindred spirit shall inquire thy fate,
97 Haply some hoary-headed swain may say,
98 "Oft have we seen him at the peep of dawn
99 Brushing with hasty steps the dews away
100 Too meet the sun upon the upland lawn.
101 "There at the foot of yonder nodding beach
102 That wreathes its old fantastic roots so high,
103 His listless length at noontide would stretch,
104 And pore upon the brook that babbles by.
105 "Hard by yon wood, now smiling as in scorn,
106 Mutt'ring his wayward fancies he would rove,
107 Now drooping, woeful wan, like one forlorn,
108 Or craz'd with care, or cross'd in hopeless love.
109 "One morn I miss'd him on the custom'd hill,
110 Along the heath and near his fav'rite tree;
111 Another came; nor yet beside the rill,
112 Nor up the lawn, nor at the wood was he;
113 "The next with dirges due in sad array
114 Slow thro' the church-way path we saw him borne.
115 Approach and read (for thou canst read) the lay,
116 Grav'd on the stone beneath yon aged thorn."

THE EPITAPH


117 Here rests his head upon the lap of Earth
118 A youth to Fortune and to Fame unknown.
119 Fair Science frown'd not on his humble birth,
120 And Melancholy mark'd him for her own.

121 Large was his bounty , and his soul sincere,
122 Heav'n did a recompense as largely send:
123 He gave to Mis'ry all he had, a tear,
124 He gain'd from Heav'n ('twas all he wish'd) a friend.
125 No farther seek his merits to disclose,
126 Or draw his frailties from their dread abode,
127 (There they alike in trembling hope repose)
128 The bosom of his Father and his God.

Frontispiece for "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard"

Tailpiece for "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard