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Possess the heart, and fables false as hell,
Yet deemed oracular, lure down to death
The uninformed and heedless souls of men.
We give to chance, blind chance, ourselves as blind,
The glory of thy work; which yet appears
Perfect and unimpeachable of blame,
Challenging human scrutiny, and proved
Then skilful most when most severely judged.
But chance is not; or is not where Thou reignest: 870
Thy Providence forbids that fickle power
(If power she be, that works but to confound)
To mix her wild vagaries with Thy laws.
Yet thus we dote, refusing while we can
Instruction, and inventing to ourselves
Gods such as guilt makes welcome; gods that sleep,
Or disregard our follies, or that sit
Amused spectators of this bustling stage.
Thee we reject, unable to abide
Thy purity, till pure as Thou art pure,

Made such by Thee, we love Thee for that cause,
For which we shunned and hated Thee before.
Then we are free. Then liberty, like day,
Breaks on the soul, and by a flash from heaven
Fires all the faculties with glorious joy.
A voice is heard that mortal ears hear not,
Till Thou hast touched them; 'tis the voice of song,
A loud Hosanna sent from all Thy works;
Which he that hears it, with a shout repeats,
And adds his rapture to the general praise. 890



In that best moment, Nature throwing wide
Her veil opaque, discloses with a smile
The Author of her beauties, who, retired
Behind His own creation, works unseen
By the impure, and hears His power denied.
Thou art the source and centre of all minds,
Their only point of rest, Eternal Word !
From Thee departing, they are lost, and rove
At random, without honor, hope, or peace.
From Thee is all that soothes the life of man, 900
His high endeavor, and his glad success,
His strength to suffer, and his will to serve.
But 0, Thou bounteous Giver of all good !
Thou art of all Thy gifts Thyself the crown!
Give what Thou canst, without Thee we are poor; 905
And with Thee rich, take what Thou wilt away.



The “Elegy Written in a Country Church-yard” was begun probably in 1742 at Stoke-Poges, Buckinghamshire, and finished in 1750 at Cambridge. On its completion, it was circulated in manuscript among Gray's friends, at whose suggestion it was given to the great book-maker, Dodsley, for publication. It appeared in print on February 16, 1751, and sprang into instant popularity. It was copied far and wide, and was translated into all of the principal languages of Europe within a few months after it came out. It is now ranked as one of the great classics in English literature, and upon it much of Gray's fame as a poet rests.

1. The curfew tolls the knell of parting day. In connection with this line Gray quotes from Dante:

“Squilla di lontano, Che paia 'l giorno pianger, che si muore.”. (He hears a bell from afar seeming to mourn the day that is dying.)

- Purgatory, Canto VII, 11. 5–6.

Curfew. The ringing of a bell at nine o'clock in the evening, originally designed as a signal to the people to cover fires, extinguish lights, and retire to rest. The practice was introduced by William the Conqueror. (The word is derived from the French couvre, cover, and feu, fire.)

2. Wind. Sometimes incorrectly printed “winds.” The mistake was made in the first edition of the poem.

13. That yew-tree's shade. The tree is still standing, and shades several graves with its huge branches.

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16. Rude. Rustic, simple. The poor people were buried in the church-yard; the rich, inside the church.

19. The cock's shrill clarion. Note the similarity between this expression and the following:

When chanticleer with clarion shrill
Recalls the day.”

- PHILIPS, Cyder, Bk. I, 1. 753.
“The crested cock, whose clarion sounds
The silent hours."

- MILTON, Paradise Lost, Bk. VII, 11. 443–444. “The cock that is the trumpet of the morn Doth with his lofty and shrill-sounding throat Awake the god of day.”

SHAKESPEARE, Hamlet, Act I, Sc. I, 11. 148–151.

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20. Lowly bed. The cots on which they were accustomed to sleep; not the grave.

26. Glebe. The ground. (From the Latin glaeba.)

33–36. The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power, etc. Gray probably had in mind the following lines from West when he wrote this stanza:

“Ah me! what boots us all our boasted power,

Our golden treasure, and our purple state;
They cannot ward th' inevitable hour,
Nor stay the fearful violence of fate.”

Monody on Queen Caroline, ll. 77–80. 35. Awaits. Not “await, as often printed. Hour is the subject, not the object, of the verb.

46. Pregnant with celestial fire. Full of divine inspiration.

51. Rage. Enthusiasm.

53–56. Full many a gem of purest ray serene, etc. The thought in this stanza was by no means original with Gray, and other writers had expressed it in very similar words.

That, like to rich and various gems, inlay
The unadorned bosom of the deep."

- MILTON, Comus, 11. 22–23.
“In distant wilds by human eyes unseen,
She rears her flowers, and spreads her velvet green;
Pure gurgling rills the lonely desert trace,
And waste their music on the savage race.”

– YOUNG, Universal Passion, Satire V, 11. 229-232. “There is many a rich stone laid up in the bowels of the earth, many a fair pearl in the bottom of the sea, that never was seen, nor never shall be."

– Bishop HALL, Contemplations, Bk. VI, p. 872. 57. Some village Hampden. John Hampden (15941643), a celebrated English statesman, who refused in 1636 to pay the ship-money tax levied by King Charles the First, for which he was arrested and fined. He was killed at the battle of Chalgrove Field.

59. Some mute inglorious Milton. John Milton (1608– 1674). Milton and Hampden both lived in Buckinghamshire, the same county in which the Stoke-Poges churchyard (the one in which Gray probably began the Elegy) is located. (See introductory note.)

60. Some Cromwell. Oliver Cromwell (1599–1658), who led the Puritans in their rebellion against Charles the First, and after the execution of the king (1649) became Lord Protector of the British Isles.

In the original manuscript appear the names of Cato, Tully, and Cæsar, in place of the ones now used.

72. With incense kindled at the Muse's flame. Four stanzas, later omitted, follow this verse in the original manuscript:

“The thoughtless world to Majesty may bow,

Exalt the brave, and idolize success;
But more to innocence their safety owe

Than power and genius e’er conspired to bless.


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