Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College

Original Text: 
Thomas Gray, An Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College (London: R. Dodsley, 1747). PR 3502 O55 1747A ROBA.
2      That crown the wat'ry glade,
5And ye, that from the stately brow
7      Of grove, of lawn, of mead survey,
8Whose turf, whose shade, whose flowr's among
10      His silver-winding way.
11Ah, happy hills, ah, pleasing shade,
12      Ah, fields belov'd in vain,
13Where once my careless childhood stray'd,
14      A stranger yet to pain!
15I feel the gales, that from ye blow,
16A momentary bliss bestow,
17      As waving fresh their gladsome wing,
18My weary soul they seem to soothe,
19And, redolent of joy and youth,
20      To breathe a second spring.
21Say, Father Thames, for thou hast seen
22      Full many a sprightly race
23Disporting on thy margent green
24      The paths of pleasure trace,
25Who foremost now delight to cleave
26With pliant arm thy glassy wave?
27      The captive linnet which enthrall?
28What idle progeny succeed
29To chase the rolling circle's speed,
30      Or urge the flying ball?
31While some on earnest business bent
32      Their murm'ring labours ply
33'Gainst graver hours, that bring constraint
34      To sweeten liberty:
35Some bold adventurers disdain
36The limits of their little reign,
37      And unknown regions dare descry:
38Still as they run they look behind,
39They hear a voice in ev'ry wind,
40      And snatch a fearful joy.
41Gay hope is theirs by fancy fed,
42      Less pleasing when possest;
43The tear forgot as soon as shed,
44      The sunshine of the breast:
45Theirs buxom health of rosy hue,
46Wild wit, invention ever-new,
47      And lively cheer of vigour born;
48The thoughtless day, the easy night,
49The spirits pure, the slumbers light,
50      That fly th' approach of morn.
51Alas, regardless of their doom,
52      The little victims play!
53No sense have they of ills to come,
54      Nor care beyond to-day:
55Yet see how all around 'em wait
56The ministers of human fate,
57      And black Misfortune's baleful train!
58Ah, show them where in ambush stand
59To seize their prey the murth'rous band!
60      Ah, tell them they are men!
62      The vultures of the mind
63Disdainful Anger, pallid Fear,
64      And Shame that skulks behind;
65Or pining Love shall waste their youth,
66Or Jealousy with rankling tooth,
67      That inly gnaws the secret heart,
68And Envy wan, and faded Care,
69Grim-visag'd comfortless Despair,
70      And Sorrow's piercing dart.
71Ambition this shall tempt to rise,
72      Then whirl the wretch from high,
73To bitter Scorn a sacrifice,
74      And grinning Infamy.
75The stings of Falsehood those shall try,
76And hard Unkindness' alter'd eye,
77      That mocks the tear it forc'd to flow;
78And keen Remorse with blood defil'd,
80      Amid severest woe.
81Lo, in the vale of years beneath
82      A griesly troop are seen,
83The painful family of Death,
85This racks the joints, this fires the veins,
86That ev'ry labouring sinew strains,
87      Those in the deeper vitals rage:
88Lo, Poverty, to fill the band,
89That numbs the soul with icy hand,
90      And slow-consuming Age.
91To each his suff'rings: all are men,
92      Condemn'd alike to groan,
93The tender for another's pain;
94      Th' unfeeling for his own.
95Yet ah! why should they know their fate?
96Since sorrow never comes too late,
97      And happiness too swiftly flies.
98Thought would destroy their paradise.
99No more; where ignorance is bliss,
100     'Tis folly to be wise.


1] Written in August 1742, and first published, anonymously, in 1747, this was the first of Gray's English poems to appear in print. To the edition of 1768 Gray prefixed a motto from Menander of which the literal translation is, "I am a man--a sufficient excuse for being miserable." Gray was a pupil at Eton, the most famous of the great English schools, from 1725 to 1734. Among his closest associates there was Horace Walpole, youngest son of England's prime minister. Back to Line
3] Science: in the eighteenth century, used of knowledge in general, and not in the restricted sense which it has since acquired. Back to Line
4] Henry: Henry VI, founder of Eton College; he had a reputation for sanctity. Back to Line
6] Windsor: on the opposite side of the Thames from Eton. Back to Line
9] the hoary Thames. Ancient art represented river-gods in the form of aged men. Back to Line
61] fury Passions: cf. Pope, Essay on Man, III, 167: "The Fury-passions from that blood began." Back to Line
79] In his note on this line Gray quotes Dryden's Fable of Palamon and Arcite, derived from Chaucer's Knight's Tale (II, 582): "Madness laughing in his ireful mood." Back to Line
84] Queen: The reference is to Death, although Death is usually personified as masculine. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
G. G. Falle
RPO Edition: 
3RP 2.216.