Friday, September 5, 2008

Literary Interlude: from Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard

The populist overtones this campaign have taken remind me of one of my favorite poems. It's pretty long, so I've only taken an excerpt. Read the whole thing here, particularly the next few stanzas. There is so much more. From his vantage point, the speaker looks about him at the graves where the humbler folk are buried, no church crypts for them.

Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard

Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree’s shade,
Where heaves the turf in many a mouldering
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
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,
Their furrow oft the stubborn glebe has broke;
How jocund did they drive their team afield!
How bowed the woods beneath their sturdy
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 the inevitable hour. 35
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.
Nor you, ye Proud, impute to These the fault,
If Memory o’er their Tomb no Trophies raise,
Where through the long-drawn aisle and fretted
The pealing anthem swells the note of praise. 40
Can storied urn or animated bust
Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath?
Can Honor’s voice provoke the silent dust,
Or Flattery sooth the dull cold ear of Death?

Thomas Gray

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