Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College

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Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College
by Thomas Gray
For a detailed, annotated version of this poem, visit The Thomas Gray Archive

      Ye distant spires, ye antique towers
            That crown the watery glade,
      Where grateful Science still adores
            Her Henry's holy shade;
      And ye, that from the stately brow
      Of Windsor's heights th' expanse below
            Of grove, of lawn, of mead survey,
      Whose turf, whose shade, whose flowers among
      Wanders the hoary Thames along
            His silver-winding way:

      Ah, happy hills! ah, pleasing shade!
            Ah, fields belov'd in vain!
      Where once my careless childhood stray'd,
            A stranger yet to pain!
      I feel the gales that from ye blow
      A momentary bliss bestow,
            As waving fresh their gladsome wing,
      My weary soul they seem to soothe,
      And, redolent of joy and youth,
            To breathe a second spring.

      Say, Father Thames, for thou hast seen
            Full many a sprightly race
      Disporting on thy margin green
            The paths of pleasure trace—
      Who foremost now delight to cleave
      With pliant arm, thy glassy wave?
            The captive linnet which enthral?
      What idle progeny succeed
      To chase the rolling circle's speed
            Or urge the flying ball?

      While some on earnest business bent
            Their murmuring labours ply
      'Gainst graver hours that bring constraint
            To sweet liberty:
      Some bold adventurers disdain
      The limits of their little reign
            And unknown regions dare descry:
      Still as they run they look behind,
      They hear a voice in every wind,
            And snatch a fearful joy.

      Gay hope is theirs by fancy fed,
            Less pleasing when possest;
      The tear forgot as soon as shed,
            The sunshine of the breast:
      Theirs buxom health, of rosy hue,
      Wild wit, invention ever new,
            And lively cheer, of vigour born;
      The thoughtless day, the easy night,
      The spirits pure, the slumbers light
            That fly th' approach of morn.

      Alas! regardless of their doom,
            The little victims play;
      No sense have they of ills to come,
            Nor care beyond to-day:
      Yet see how all around 'em wait
      The ministers of human fate
      And black Misfortune's baleful train!
      Ah, show them where in ambush stand,
      To seize their prey, the murderous band!
            Ah, tell them they are men!

      These shall the fury Passions tear,
            The vultures of the mind,
      Disdainful Anger, pallid Fear,
            And Shame that skulks behind;
      Or pining Love shall waste their youth,
      Or Jealousy with rankling tooth
            That inly gnaws the secret heart,
      And Envy wan, and faded Care,
      Grim-visaged comfortless Despair,
            And Sorrow's piercing dart.

      Ambition this shall tempt to rise,
            Then whirl the wretch from high
      To bitter Scorn a sacrifice
            And grinning Infamy.
      The stings of Falsehood those shall try,
      And hard Unkindness' alter'd eye,
            That mocks the tear it forced to flow;
      And keen Remorse with blood defil'd,
      And moody Madness laughing wild
            Amid severest woe.

      Lo, in the vale of years beneath
            A griesly troop are seen,
      The painful family of Death,
            More hideous than their queen:
      This racks the joints, this fires the veins,
      That every labouring sinew strains,
            Those in the deeper vitals rage;
      Lo! Poverty, to fill the band
      That numbs the soul with icy hand,
            And slow-consuming Age.

      To each his sufferings: all are men,
            Condemn'd alike to groan—
      The tender for another's pain,
            Th' unfeeling for his own.
      Yet, ah! why should they know their fate,
      Since sorrow never comes too late,
            And happiness too swiftly flies?
      Thought would destroy their Paradise.
      No more;—where ignorance is bliss,
            'Tis folly to be wise.

This work was published before January 1, 1923, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.