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William Stanley Braithwaite, ed. The Book of Georgian Verse. 1909.

The Progress of Poesy

Thomas Gray (1716–1771)


AWAKE Æolian lyre, awake,

And give to rapture all thy trembling strings,

From Helicon’s harmonious springs

A thousand rills their mazy progress take:

The laughing flowers, that round them blow,

Drink life and fragrance as they flow.

Now the rich stream of music winds along

Deep, majestic, smooth and strong,

Thro’ verdant vales, and Ceres’ golden reign:

Now rolling down the steep amain,

Headlong, impetuous, see it pour;

The rocks and nodding groves rebellow to the roar.

O Sovereign of the willing soul,

Parent of sweet and solemn-breathing airs,

Enchanting shell! the sullen Cares,

And frantic Passions hear thy soft controul.

On Thracia’s hills the Lord of War

Has curb’d the fury of his car,

And dropp’d his thirsty lance at thy command.

Perching on the sceptred hand

Of Jove, thy magic lulls the feather’d king

With ruffled plumes and flagging wing:

Quench’d in dark clouds of slumber lie

The terror of his beak, and lightnings of his eye.

Thee the voice, the dance, obey,

Temper’d to thy warbled lay.

O’er Idalia’s velvet-green

The rosy-crownèd Loves are seen

On Cytherea’s day

With antic Sports, and blue-eyed Pleasures,

Frisking light in frolic measures;

Now pursuing, now retreating,

Now in circling troops they meet:

To brisk notes in cadence beating,

Glance their many-twinkling feet.

Slow melting strains their Queen’s approach declare:

Where’er she turns the Graces homage pay.

With arms sublime, that float upon the air,

In gliding state she wins her easy way:

O’er her warm cheek, and rising bosom, move

The bloom of young Desire and purple light of Love.

Man’s feeble race what ills await,

Labour, and Penury, and racks of Pain,

Disease, and Sorrow’s weeping train,

And Death, sad refuge from the storms of fate!

The fond complaint, my song, disprove,

And justify the laws of Jove.

Say, has he given in vain the heavenly Muse?

Night, and all her sickly dews,

Her spectres wan, and birds of boding cry,

He gives to range the dreary sky:

Till down the eastern cliffs afar

Hyperion’s march they spy, and glittering shafts of war.

In climes beyond the solar road,

Where shaggy forms o’er ice-built mountains roam,

The Muse has broke the twilight gloom

To cheer the shivering native’s dull abode,

And oft, beneath the odorous shade

Of Chili’s boundless forests laid,

She deigns to hear the savage youth repeat,

In loose numbers wildly sweet,

Their feathered-cinctured chiefs, and dusky loves.

Her track, where’er the Goddess roves,

Glory pursue, and generous Shame,

Th’ unconquerable Mind, and Freedom’s holy flame.

Woods, that wave o’er Delphi’s steep,

Isles, that crown th’ Ægean deep,

Fields, that cool Ilissus laves,

Or where Mæander’s amber waves

In lingering labyrinths creep,

How do your tuneful echoes languish,

Mute, but to the voice of anguish?

Where each old poetic mountain

Inspiration breathed around:

Every shade and hallow’d fountain

Murmur’d deep a solemn sound:

Till the sad Nine, in Greece’s evil hour,

Left their Parnassus for the Latian plains.

Alike they scorn the pomp of tyrant Power,

And coward Vice, that revels in her chains.

When Latium had her lofty spirit lost,

They sought, O Albion! next thy sea-encircled coast.

Far from the sun and summer gale,

In thy green lap was Nature’s darling laid,

What time, where lucid Avon stray’d,

To Him the mighty mother did unveil

Her awful face: the dauntless child

Stretched forth his little arms, and smiled.

This pencil take (she said), whose colours clear

Richly paint the vernal year:

Thine too these golden keys, immortal boy!

This can unlock the gates of joy:

Of horror that, and thrilling fears,

Or ope the sacred source of sympathetic tears.

Nor second He, that rode sublime

Upon the seraph-wings of Ecstasy,

The secrets of th’ abyss to spy.

He pass’d the flaming bounds of place and time:

The living Throne, the sapphire-blaze,

Where Angels tremble while they gaze,

He saw; but blasted with excess of light,

Closed his eyes in endless night.

Behold, where Dryden’s less presumptuous car,

Wide o’er the fields of glory bear

Two coursers of ethereal race,

With necks in thunder clothed, and long-resounding pace.

Hark, his hands the lyre explore!

Bright-eyed Fancy hovering o’er

Scatters from her pictured urn

Thoughts that breathe, and words that burn.

But ah! ’tis heard no more—

O Lyre divine! what daring Spirit

Wakes thee now? Tho’ he inherit

Nor the pride, nor ample pinion,

That the Theban eagle bear

Sailing with supreme dominion

Thro’ the azure deep of Air:

Yet oft before his infant eyes would run

Such forms as glitter in the Muse’s ray,

With orient hues, unborrow’d of the Sun:

Yet shall he mount, and keep his distant way

Beyond the limits of a vulgar fate,

Beneath the Good how far—but far above the Great.