from Elegy In A Country Churchyard
Gray's Elegy In A Country Churchyard was once a truly famous poem, known to many people who didn't normally read poetry through generations of schoolbooks. We are not as fond of sententious poetry, replete with maxims and morals, as our ancestors used to be, and Gray's Elegy does not occupy such a high place in our poetic scheme of things as it did in theirs. But it is still a fine poem, the fineness of which depends in large part on lasting things such as its author's ear for language, evident in his deployment of alliteration but not only there. The 18th Century valued memorability in a poem more than we seem to do and Gray's Elegy often achieves a sort of lapidary effect beyond much present-day poetry.
Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid
Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire;
Hands, that the rod of empire might have swayed,
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 repressed their noble rage,
And froze the genial current of the soul.
Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark unfathomed 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.
The applause of listening senates to command,
The threats of pain and ruin to despise,
To scatter plenty o'er a smiling land,
And read a history in a nation's eyes,
Their lot forbade: nor circumscribed alone
Their growing virtues, but their crimes confined;
Forbade to wade through slaughter to a throne,
And shut the gates of mercy on mankind...