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Alas ! regardless of their doom
The little victims play ;
Nor care beyond to-day :
And black Misfortune's baleful train !
Ah, tell them they are men !1
The vultures? of the mind,
And Shame that skulks behind ;
That inly 3 gnaws the secret heart :
And Sorrow's piercing dart.
Then whirl 5 the wretch from high,
And grinning 6 Infamy.
That mocks the tear it forced to flow;
Amid severest woe.
2 In illusion to the classical fable of the vulture preying upon the vitals of Prometheus.
3 Poetic for inwardly.
Lo ! in the vale of years 1 beneath
A grisly a troop are seen,
Those in the deeper vitals rage :
And slow-consuming Age.
To each his sufferings ! all are men
Condemn'd alike to groan :
The unfeeling for his own.
And happiness too swiftly flies?
'Tis folly to be wise.
1 “Or, for I am declined into the vale of years."-Shakspeare. 2 A.-S., grislic, grayish, usually connected with associations of horror. 3 Death is made to follow the gender of the Latin mors.
4 One member of “the grisly troop." Racks, subjects to the torture of the rack, a mediæval instrument of punishment. 5 εν τω φρονείν γάρ μηδέν ήδιστος βίος έως το χαίρειν και το λυπείσθαι μάθης.–
For life is happiest ere thought is born,
ODE ON THE DEATH OF A FAVOURITE CAT.
ODE ON THE DEATH OF A FAVOURITE
[This piece was written in the spring of 1747, at the request of Walpole, who capriciously wished to commemorate the death of a cat of his which had been accidentally drowned. As a rule, poems cannot, like boots, be made to order. One spontaneous impulse of the poetic soul is more effective inspiration than even a royal order for one hundred iambic feet of elegy. Fancy one of the first scholars in Europe, as Gray was, backing his Pegasus into harness to gallop up Parnassus in memory of a bandrons drowned in a tub. Burns might have managed such a drive with pathos, Wordsworth with interest, or Tom Hood with humour. But, of course, Gray dragged in his Nereids and other classical machinery (without which he could hardly move a single peg) to bear upon the subject of his cat-elegy—a few pedantic school-boy rhymes of incongruous nonsense. Gray himself was never pleased with the piece ; Dr Johnson was dis-pleased with it, and its seems unlikely indeed that posterity shall reverse their judgment. The China vase in which feline Selima was drowned is still preserved at Knowsley, a seat of the Earl of Derby.]
'Twas on a lofty vase's side
The azure flowers that blow;
Gazed on the lake below.
Her conscious tail her joy declared ;
The velvet of her paws,
She saw; and purred applause.
The Genii 1 of the stream.
1 Singular, genius ; tutelar spirit, guardi in deity.
ODE ON THE DEATH OF A FAVOURITE CAT.
Their scaly armour's Tyrian hue
Betrayed a golden gleam.
The hapless nymph with wonder saw :
With many an ardent wish,
What cat's averse to fish ?
Presumptuous maid ! with looks intent
Nor knew the gulf between.
She tumbled headlong in.
Some speedy aid to send.
A favourite has no friend !
And be with caution bold.
Nor all that glisters, gold.
1 Purple ; the Latin ostrum, obtained from a shell-fish mures, found on the sea-coast near Tyre.
2 The Nereids were sea-nymphs, fifty in number, daughters of Nereus.
THE FATAL SISTERS.
FROM THE NORSE.
[SIR WALTER Scott, in his diary of a voyage to Shetland in 1814, makes mention of the stacks of Duncansby, near which the Caithness man saw the twelve gigantic females, who sung the following weird and terrible verses. Scott records that “a clergyman, while some remains of the Norse were yet spoken in North Ronaldsha, carried thither the translation of Gray, then newly published, and read it to some of the old people as referring to the ancient history of their islands.
But as soon as he had proceeded a little way, they exclaimed they knew it very well in the original, and had often şung it to himself when he asked them for an old Norse song. They called it • The Enchantress.””
The following is Gray's note of explanation :-"In the eleventh century, Sigurd, Earl of the Orkney Islands, went to Ireland with a fleet and a considerable body of troops to the aid of Sigtryg with the silken beard, who was then at war with his father-in-law, Brian, King of Dublin. The Earl and all his army were cut to pieces, and Sigtryg was in danger of a total defeat; but the enemy suffered a greater loss by the death of Brian, who fell in the action. On Christmas-day (the day of the battle), a native of Caithness, in Scotland, saw at a distance a number of persons on horseback riding at full speed towards a hill, and seeming to enter it. Curiosity led him to follow them, till, looking through an opening in the rocks, he saw twelve gigantic figures resembling women ;1 they were all employed about a loom, and as they wove, they sang the following dreadful song, which, when they had finished, they tore the web into twelve pieces, and, each taking her portion, galloped six to the north and as many to the south." The original of the Fatal Sisters is supposed to have been written in the Norwegian about the year 1029.]
Now the storm begins to lower,2
(Haste, the loom of Hell prepare), Iron sleet of arrowy shower
Hurtles in the darkened air.
1 The Valkyrmir (Choosers of the Slain) were female divinities, servants of Odin, in the Gothic mythology. They rode on swift horses, and had drawn swords in their hands, and in the throng of battle selected such as were destined to slaughter, and conducted them to Valhalla, the hall of Odin, or paradise of the brave, where they attended the banquet, and served the departed heroes with horns of mead and ale.
2 Danish loeren, to gather in a dark and threatening attitude ; not oonnected with low.
3 A not very euphonious and nearly obsolete world, haviog some affinity with the modern hustle and hurl.