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who died in June, 1742. (See “Sonnet on the Death of Richard West.”)
19. And, redolent of joy and youth. Gray here quotes from Dryden:“And bees their honey redolent of spring."
– The Pythagorean Philosophy, l. 110.
21–30. Say, Father Thames, for thou hast seen, etc. Note the similarity between these lines and the following ones from Green:
“Say, Father Thames, whose gentle pace
The much-sung.grotto of the Queen."
79. And moody Madness laughing wild. In connection with this line Gray quotes from Dryden:“Madness laughing in his ireful mood.”
– Palamon and Arcite, Bk. II, 1. 582.
92. Alike. This word goes with “condemned,” not with to groan.”
HYMN TO ADVERSITY
The "Hymn to Adversity,” like the “Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College,” was written at Stoke in August, 1742. It was first published in 1753, when it appeared in “Six Poems," a short collection of Gray's works.
The motto, from Æschylus, translated, is as follows:
“Zeus, who leadeth men in wisdom's way,
- Agamemnon, 11. 170-172.
1–8. Daughter of Jove, relentless power, etc. rowed freely from Milton in these lines:
“The vassals of his anger, when the scourge
- Paradise Lost, Bk. II, II. 90–92.
"In adamantine chains and penal fire.”
- Paradise Lost, Bk. I, 1. 48.
“Strange horror seize thee, and pangs unfelt before."
- Paradise Lost, Bk. II, 1. 703.
Daughter of Jove. According to Homer, Ate (a personification of strife) was a daughter of Zeus. “Perhaps, however, Gray only alluded to the passage of Æschylus which he had quoted, and which describes Affiction as sent by Jupiter for the benefit of man." (Mitford's note.)
35. Gorgon terrors. A reference to Medusa, whose head was covered with serpent-locks.
36. Vengeful band. The Furies, whose duty it was to punish wrong-doers.
SONNET ON THE DEATH OF RICHARD WEST
The “Sonnet on the Death of Richard West” was written, like the two preceding poems, at Stoke, in August, 1742, but was not published until 1775. West, who was an intimate associate of Gray both in boyhood and manhood, and who himself aspired to a literary career, died on June 1, 1742. (See note, 1. 14, “Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College.")
The sonnet is full of Miltonic expressions; note the following:
1. Smiling mornings.
- Paradise Lost, Bk. V, 1. 124.
3. Amorous descant.
“All but the wakeful nightingale; She all night long her amorous descant sung.”
- Paradise Lost, Bk. IV, 11. 602-603.
“Earth, in her rich attire Consummate, lovely smiled.”
- Paradise Lost, Bk. VII, II. 501-502.
ODE ON THE DEATH OF A FAVORITE CAT
The “Ode on the Death of a Favorite Cat” was produced early in 1747 on the occasion of the death of one of Horace Walpole's cats. A copy of it was sent to Mr. Walpole on March 1 of that year, and also to Thomas Wharton, to whom Gray humorously described it as the “most noble of my performances latterly.” It was first published in 1748 in Dodsley's “Collection of Poems by Several Hands."
Following is the significant part of the letter to Walpole:
“CAMBRIDGE, March 1, 1747. “As one ought to be particularly careful to avoid blunders in a compliment of condolence, it would be a sensible satisfaction to me (before I testify my sorrow, and the sincere part I take in your misfortune) to know for certain, who it is I lament. I know Zara and Selima (Selima was it? or Fatima?), or rather I know them both together; for I cannot justly say which was which. Then as to your handsome Cat, the name you distinguish her by, I am no less at a loss, as well knowing one's handsome cat is always the cat one likes best; or if one be alive and the other dead, it is usually the latter that is the handsomest. Besides, if the point were never so clear, I hope you do not think me so ill-bred or so imprudent as to forfeit all my interest in the survivor; oh no! I would rather seem to mistake, and imagine to be sure it must be the tabby one that had met with this sad accident. ... Heigh ho! I feel (as you to be sure have done long since) that I have very little to say, at least in prosé. Somebody will be the better
I do not mean you, but your Cat, fine Mademoiselle Selime, whom I am about to immortalize for one week or fortnight, as follows:
[The Ode follows here.] “There's a poem for you, it is rather too long for an Epitaph."
1-6. 'Twas on a lofty vase's side, etc. This stanza was perhaps intended as a burlesque upon the opening lines of Dryden's “ Alexander's Feast" :
“'Twas at the royal feast for Persia won
By Philip's warlike son;
On his imperial throne."
The mock-heroic style is used to advantage throughout
4. Tabby. A cat whose coat is brindled. 15. Genii. . Spirits.
16. Tyrian hue. Tyrian purple, a celebrated purple dye made in ancient Tyre.
31. Eight times. A humorous allusion to the old saying that a cat has nine lives.
34. Dolphin. A reference to the myth pertaining to Arion, a Greek musician, who having been robbed and thrown into the sea by some sailors, was saved by a dolphin
that had been attracted to him by the music of his lyre. Nereid. A sea-nymph, who attended Neptune.
42. Nor all, that glisters, gold. An old proverb which was a favorite with English writers even before Gray's time.
“But all thing which that shineth as the gold
· CHAUCER, Yeoman's Tale, 11. 962–963.
“All that glisters is not gold."
SHAKESPEARE, Merchant of Venice, Act II, vii, 67.
"All, as they say, that glitters is not gold."
THE PROGRESS OF POESY
“The Progress of Poesy" was written at Cambridge in 1754, and was published with “The Bard” in 1757. The first edition of the ode contained no notes, but, as many readers found it obscure, Gray added a number to the edition of 1768. They were preceded by the following statement: “ Advertisement. When the Author first published this and the following Ode, he was advised, even by his Friends, to subjoin some explanatory Notes, but had too much respect for the understanding of his Readers to take that liberty."
The motto, which, translated, reads, " Vocal to the intelligent, but on the whole, needing interpretation," is from Pindar's "Second Olympic Ode," 11. 153–154.
1. Awake, Æolian lyre, awake. Gray, in a footnote, inaccurately quotes Psalms lvii. 8:
“Awake, my glory: awake, lute and harp.” The verse reads, “Awake up, my glory; awake, psaltery and harp.” Æolian lyre. Not the harp of Æolus or