Home Uncategorized Tired of the Inhuman? Try This Elegy in a Country Churchyard

Tired of the Inhuman? Try This Elegy in a Country Churchyard


church and grave

by Mary W Maxwell

Gumshoe is supposed to be a news website. So what makes something “news”?  One can get news, or at least new insights into our present condition, by reading old stuff.

Thomas Gray (1716-1771) believed that the world is made up of laborers, farmers, and ordinary people (as well as a few with “the pomp of power”). He recounted the lives of those buried in a country churchyard, giving them the credit they are due.

I think this poem is a timely reminder of our relationship to earth and to history

(best read aloud, if you’re not on the bus):

Gray’s Elegy

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd winds slowly o’er the lea,
The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight,
And all the air a solemn stillness holds,
Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,
And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds:

Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree’s shade,
Where heaves the turf in many a mouldering heap,
Each in his narrow cell for ever laid,
The rude Forefathers of the hamlet sleep.

The breezy call of incense-breathing morn,
The swallow twittering from the straw-built shed,
The cock’s shrill clarion, or the echoing horn,
No more shall rouse them from their lowly bed.

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 bow’d the woods beneath their sturdy stroke!

Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,
Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;
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 th’ inevitable hour:
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 vault
The pealing anthem swells the note of praise.

Can storied urn or animated bust
Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath?
Can Honour’s voice provoke the silent dust,
Or Flattery soothe the dull cold ear of Death?

Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid
Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire;
Hands, that the rod of empire might have sway’d,
Or waked to ecstasy the living lyre:

But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page,
Rich with the spoils of time, did ne’er unroll;
Chill Penury repress’d their noble rage,
And froze the genial current of the soul.

Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark unfathom’d caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

Some village-Hampden, that with dauntless breast
The little tyrant of his fields withstood,
Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest,
Some Cromwell, guiltless of his country’s blood.

Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife,
Their sober wishes never learn’d to stray;
Along the cool sequester’d vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenour of their way.

Yet e’en these bones from insult to protect
Some frail memorial still erected nigh,
With uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture deck’d,
Implores the passing tribute of a sigh.

For who, to dumb forgetfulness a prey,
This pleasing anxious being e’er resign’d,
Left the warm precincts of the cheerful day,
Nor cast one longing lingering look behind?

On some fond breast the parting soul relies,
Some pious drops the closing eye requires;
E’en from the tomb the voice of Nature cries,
E’en in our ashes live their wonted fires.

Haply some hoary-headed swain may say,
Oft have we seen him at the peep of dawn
Brushing with hasty steps the dews away,
To meet the sun upon the upland lawn;

‘There at the foot of yonder nodding beech
That wreathes its old fantastic roots so high.
His listless length at noontide would he stretch,
And pore upon the brook that babbles by.

‘Hard by yon wood, now smiling as in scorn,
Muttering his wayward fancies he would rove;
Now drooping, woeful wan, like one forlorn,
Or crazed with care, or cross’d in hopeless love.

‘One morn I miss’d him on the custom’d hill,
Along the heath, and near his favourite tree;
Another came; nor yet beside the rill,
Nor up the lawn, nor at the wood was he;

‘The next with dirges due in sad array
Slow through the church-way path we saw him borne,-
Approach and read (for thou canst read) the lay
Graved on the stone beneath yon aged thorn.’

The Epitaph

Here rests his head upon the lap of Earth
A youth to Fortune and to Fame unknown.
Fair Science frowned not on his humble birth,
And Melancholy marked him for her own.

Large was his bounty, and his soul sincere,
Heaven did a recompense as largely send:
He gave to Misery all he had, a tear,
He gained from Heaven (’twas all he wish’d) a friend.

No farther seek his merits to disclose,
Or draw his frailties from their dread abode
(There they alike in trembling hope repose),
The bosom of his Father and his God.

Photo Credit:  commons.wikimedia.org




  1. Pavement Pounding Made Good

    To all aficionados of the case of MB. This morning I hoofed it around Hobart to various relevant offices. I was treated politely but did not exactly make progress (Legal aid, Perpetual Trustees, Guardianship Board, Official Visitor).
    Then a guy handed me a flyer and said “Would you vote for the Sex Party?” I said Sorry I am registered in South Australia, I can’t vote here. He said Oh yes you can, and walked me to an AEC installation where they had ballot forms for every state. So did my duty and now don’t have to hasten back to Adelaide to avoid the fine.
    (But there was no Sex party for SA. There was the usual Family First, Aussie Liberty, Marriage Equality, and also “Mature Australia.”)

    Then I was lured into a “Red Shield” op-shop where I bought a beautiful yellow chiffon scarf. This made me look so good, I felt as posh as anything. So in the next office I went to they treated me great. Moreover they sent me to see a Personage. The personage was extremely helpful. That is all I dare say at the moment.

    Who was it said ‘Thank God for the Salvos”?

    There is a nice café called Retro on Salamanca Place near the boats. I will sit there from 12.45 to 1.15pm tomorrow, Wednesday, June 29, in case anyone wants to talk. Look for Mrs Posh in the black coat and yellow scarf.
    Will shout Rick to an apple juice. (Lord, the apple juice is fabulous here.)
    If you forget the name of the café, just think of how retro we are. Go, retro!

    • Gosh, Tassie treated me nice and I have been invited to speak on the MB case on July 27. Details on application.

      Right now am sitting in Launceston airport and the overhead announcement said “Firearms and ammunition must be presented at check-in.” Well, son of a gun.

      I asked my taxi driver about the hydro cloud seeding. She said People feel helpless. The fob-off phrase is “Commericla in confidence.” I told her that the CDC in US has given away some of its medical data bases so that folks cannot get access via Freedom of Information”

      This is a ‘tude race that we can win.

      • Variation on the “stand-on-parliament-house steps” theme:

        I am at Sydney Backpackers, 7 Wilmot St (off Pitt st) in a dorm room for 10, and I am the only person here. For $31 you could become my roomie and we could talk the night away….

  2. “Law was introduced in order to increase wrongdoing ; but where sin increased , God’s grace increased much more.”
    St. Paul . Romans 5 : 20 .
    “Sin must not be your master ; for you do not live under law but under God’s grace.”
    St. Paul . Romans 6 : 14 .

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