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"Sonnet [on the Death of Mr Richard West]"

"Sonnet [on the Death of Mr Richard West]"


1 In vain to me the smiling mornings shine,
2 And reddening Phoebus lifts his golden fire:
3 The birds in vain their amorous descant join,
4 Or cheerful fields resume their green attire:
5 These ears, alas! for other notes repine,
6 A different object do these eyes require.
7 My lonely anguish melts no heart but mine;
8 And in my breast the imperfect joys expire.
9 Yet morning smiles the busy race to cheer,
10 And new-born pleasure brings to happier men:
11 The fields to all their wonted tribute bear;
12 To warm their little loves the birds complain.
13 I fruitless mourn to him that cannot hear,
14 And weep the more because I weep in vain.

Expanding the poem lines (+) shows the results of a computationally facilitated analysis of the text. These results should be considered as a basis for deeper interpretative enquiry such as can be found in the notes and queries.

0 "Sonnet [on the Death of Mr Richard West]"

Metrical notation:  -+|-+|-+|-+|-+/
Metrical foot type:  iambic (-+)
Metrical foot number:  pentameter (5 feet)
Rhyme scheme:  ababcdcdefefef
Syllable pattern:  10
Stanza:  octet (8 lines), sestet (6 lines)
Genre(s):  sonnet

Notation symbols: | (foot boundary), || (caesura), / (metrical line boundary), + (metrically prominent), - (metrically non-prominent)


1 In vain to me the smiling mornings shine,    
Rhyme:  ababcdcdefefef   |   Rhyme word:  shine   |   Rhyme sound:  /aɪn/   |   Rhyme (line position):  end
Metre:  -+|-+|-+|-+|-+/   |   Syllables:  10
Figure:  alliteration (phonological): me/mornings /m/
Figure:  assonance (phonological): smiling/shine /aɪ/
Figure:  consonance (phonological): In/vain/mornings/shine /n/
Figure:  consonance (phonological): me/mornings /m/

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2 And reddening Phoebus lifts his golden fire:    
Rhyme:  ababcdcdefefef   |   Rhyme word:  fire   |   Rhyme sound:  /aɪə/   |   Rhyme (line position):  end
Metre:  -+|-+|-+|-+|-+/   |   Syllables:  10
Figure:  alliteration (phonological): Phoebus/fire /f/
Figure:  assonance (phonological): Phoebus/golden /əʊ/
Figure:  assonance (phonological): lifts/his /ɪ/
Figure:  consonance (phonological): Phoebus/lifts/fire /f/
Figure:  consonance (phonological): lifts/golden /l/

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3 The birds in vain their amorous descant join,    
Rhyme:  ababcdcdefefef   |   Rhyme word:  join   |   Rhyme sound:  /ɔɪn/   |   Rhyme (line position):  end
Metre:  -+|-+|-+|-+|-+/   |   Syllables:  10
Figure:  consonance (phonological): birds/descant /d/
Figure:  consonance (phonological): in/vain/join /n/

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4 Or cheerful fields resume their green attire:    
Rhyme:  ababcdcdefefef   |   Rhyme word:  attire   |   Rhyme sound:  /aɪə/   |   Rhyme (line position):  end
Metre:  -+|-+|-+|-+|-+/   |   Syllables:  10
Figure:  assonance (phonological): fields/green /iː/
Figure:  consonance (phonological): cheerful/fields /f/

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5 These ears, alas! for other notes repine,    
Rhyme:  ababcdcdefefef   |   Rhyme word:  repine   |   Rhyme sound:  /aɪn/   |   Rhyme (line position):  end
Metre:  -+|-+|-+|-+|-+/   |   Syllables:  10
Figure:  consonance (phonological): These/other /ð/
Figure:  consonance (phonological): These/ears /z/
Figure:  consonance (phonological): notes/repine /n/

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6 A different object do these eyes require.    
Rhyme:  ababcdcdefefef   |   Rhyme word:  require   |   Rhyme sound:  /aɪə/   |   Rhyme (line position):  end
Metre:  -+|-+|-+|-+|-+/   |   Syllables:  10
Figure:  alliteration (phonological): different/do /d/
Figure:  assonance (phonological): different/require /ɪ/
Figure:  assonance (phonological): eyes/require /aɪ/
Figure:  consonance (phonological): different/do /d/
Figure:  consonance (phonological): these/eyes /z/

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7 My lonely anguish melts no heart but mine;    
Rhyme:  ababcdcdefefef   |   Rhyme word:  mine   |   Rhyme sound:  /aɪn/   |   Rhyme (line position):  end
Metre:  -+|-+|-+|-+|-+/   |   Syllables:  10
Figure:  alliteration (phonological): My/melts/mine /m/
Figure:  assonance (phonological): My/mine /aɪ/
Figure:  assonance (phonological): lonely/no /əʊ/
Figure:  consonance (phonological): My/melts/mine /m/
Figure:  consonance (phonological): lonely/melts /l/
Figure:  consonance (phonological): lonely/no/mine /n/
Figure:  consonance (phonological): heart/but /t/

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8 And in my breast the imperfect joys expire.    
Rhyme:  ababcdcdefefef   |   Rhyme word:  expire   |   Rhyme sound:  /aɪə/   |   Rhyme (line position):  end
Metre:  -+|-+|-+|-+|-+/   |   Syllables:  10
Figure:  assonance (phonological): in/imperfect/expire /ɪ/
Figure:  assonance (phonological): my/expire /aɪ/
Figure:  consonance (phonological): my/imperfect /m/
Figure:  consonance (phonological): breast/expire /s/

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9 Yet morning smiles the busy race to cheer,    
Rhyme:  ababcdcdefefef   |   Rhyme word:  cheer   |   Rhyme sound:  /ɪə/   |   Rhyme (line position):  end
Metre:  -+|-+|-+|-+|-+/   |   Syllables:  10
Figure:  consonance (phonological): smiles/race /s/

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10 And new-born pleasure brings to happier men:    
Rhyme:  ababcdcdefefef   |   Rhyme word:  men   |   Rhyme sound:  /en/   |   Rhyme (line position):  end
Metre:  -+|-+|-+|-+|-+/   |   Syllables:  10
Figure:  assonance (phonological): And/happier /æ/
Figure:  assonance (phonological): new-born/to /uː/
Figure:  assonance (phonological): pleasure/men /e/
Figure:  consonance (phonological): new-born/men /n/
Figure:  consonance (phonological): new-born/brings /b/
Figure:  consonance (phonological): pleasure/happier /p/

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11 The fields to all their wonted tribute bear;    
Rhyme:  ababcdcdefefef   |   Rhyme word:  bear   |   Rhyme sound:  /eə/   |   Rhyme (line position):  end
Metre:  -+|-+|-+|-+|-+/   |   Syllables:  10
Figure:  assonance (phonological): their/bear /eə/
Figure:  consonance (phonological): fields/all /l/
Figure:  consonance (phonological): tribute/bear /b/

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12 To warm their little loves the birds complain.    
Rhyme:  ababcdcdefefef   |   Rhyme word:  complain   |   Rhyme sound:  /eɪn/   |   Rhyme (line position):  end
Metre:  -+|-+|-+|-+|-+/   |   Syllables:  10
Figure:  alliteration (phonological): little/loves /l/
Figure:  consonance (phonological): warm/complain /m/
Figure:  consonance (phonological): little/loves /l/

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13 I fruitless mourn to him that cannot hear,    
Rhyme:  ababcdcdefefef   |   Rhyme word:  hear   |   Rhyme sound:  /ɪə/   |   Rhyme (line position):  end
Metre:  -+|-+|-+|-+|-+/   |   Syllables:  10
Figure:  alliteration (phonological): him/hear /h/
Figure:  assonance (phonological): fruitless/to /uː/
Figure:  assonance (phonological): that/cannot /æ/
Figure:  consonance (phonological): fruitless/that /t/
Figure:  consonance (phonological): mourn/cannot /n/
Figure:  consonance (phonological): mourn/him /m/
Figure:  consonance (phonological): him/hear /h/

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14 And weep the more because I weep in vain.    
Rhyme:  ababcdcdefefef   |   Rhyme word:  vain   |   Rhyme sound:  /eɪn/   |   Rhyme (line position):  end
Metre:  -+|-+|-+|-+|-+/   |   Syllables:  10
Figure:  alliteration (phonological): weep/weep /w/
Figure:  assonance (phonological): weep/weep /iː/
Figure:  assonance (phonological): because/in /ɪ/
Figure:  consonance (phonological): weep/weep /w/
Figure:  consonance (phonological): weep/weep /p/
Figure:  consonance (phonological): in/vain /n/
Figure:  diacope (morphological): weep/weep

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Expanding the poem lines (+) shows notes and queries taken from various critical editions of Gray's works, as well as those contributed by users of the Archive. There are 2 textual and 10 explanatory notes/queries.

All notes and queries are shown by default.

0 "Sonnet [on the Death of Mr Richard West]" 2 Explanatory, 2 Textual

Title/Paratext] "This is one of Gray's [...]" J. Bradshaw, 1891.

"This is one of Gray's earliest original productions in English verse, the first being the first scene of "Agrippina," sent to West in March, 1742; the next was the "Ode on the Spring," sent to West in June; and then this Sonnet, written at Stoke in August.
    There is a copy of this Sonnet in Gray's handwriting in his Commonplace Books, in Pembroke College."

The Poetical Works of Thomas Gray: English and Latin. Edited with an introduction, life, notes and a bibliography by John Bradshaw. The Aldine edition of the British poets series. London: George Bell and sons, 1891, 247.

Title/Paratext] "It is remarkable that since [...]" J. Bradshaw, 1891.

"It is remarkable that since the Sonnets of Milton (1642-1655) there had been no Sonnets that have survived, except a single one by Walsh "On Death" (see my "English Anthology," p. 236), more than fifty years before this of Gray's, which, moreover, was not published till Mason's "Life of Gray" in 1775.
    This Sonnet possesses an additional interest from the use made of it by Wordsworth in the Preface to his "Lyrical Ballads" (1800), in illustration of his assertion that "there neither is nor can be any essential difference between the language of prose and metrical composition"; and on account of Coleridge's criticism of Wordsworth's theory, and of the Sonnet itself, in his "Biographia Literaria" (1817), chap, xviii."

The Poetical Works of Thomas Gray: English and Latin. Edited with an introduction, life, notes and a bibliography by John Bradshaw. The Aldine edition of the British poets series. London: George Bell and sons, 1891, 247.

Title/Paratext] "Gray invariably added 'ing' without [...]" D.C. Tovey, 1922 [1st ed. 1898].

"Gray invariably added 'ing' without change to a verb ending in e, e.g. smileing, writeing, &c. He had his theories of spelling, as had Milton; though I do not think Gray ever stated them; he certainly never enforced them upon his printers."

Gray's English Poems, Original and Translated from the Norse and Welsh. Edited by Duncan C. Tovey. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1922 [1st ed. 1898], 89.

Title/Paratext] "West was the dearest of [...]" D.C. Tovey, 1922 [1st ed. 1898].

"West was the dearest of Gray's Eton friends. He was the son of Richard West, who died Lord Chancellor of Ireland at the age of 35. The mother of Gray's Richard West was daughter of the historian Bishop Burnet, and sister of Judge Burnet. When Gray was at Peterhouse, Cambridge, West was at Christchurch, Oxford, which he left early in 1738, intending (as Gray then intended) to devote himself to law; but he was disgusted with legal studies, became restless, and seems to have had some thoughts of entering the army. His health was bad, and was not improved by domestic troubles. For the circumstances of his death see Introduction to the preceding Ode, and references there; and for further particulars of life and literary remains Gray and His Friends, pp. 13-17 and 65-151."

Gray's English Poems, Original and Translated from the Norse and Welsh. Edited by Duncan C. Tovey. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1922 [1st ed. 1898], 88-89.

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1 In vain to me the smiling mornings shine, 1 Explanatory

1.6 smiling] "Milton three times speaks of [...]" J. Bradshaw, 1891.

"Milton three times speaks of the "smiling morn," "Paradise Lost," v. 124, 168; xi. 175."

The Poetical Works of Thomas Gray: English and Latin. Edited with an introduction, life, notes and a bibliography by John Bradshaw. The Aldine edition of the British poets series. London: George Bell and sons, 1891, 247.

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2 And reddening Phoebus lifts his golden fire:
3 The birds in vain their amorous descant join, 2 Explanatory

3.6-7 amorous descant] "amorous descant is from Milton, [...]" J. Bradshaw, 1891.

"amorous descant is from Milton, "Paradise Lost," iv. 603:—

    "all but the wakeful nightingale;
She all night long her amorous descant sung.""

The Poetical Works of Thomas Gray: English and Latin. Edited with an introduction, life, notes and a bibliography by John Bradshaw. The Aldine edition of the British poets series. London: George Bell and sons, 1891, 247.

3.6-7 amorous descant] "Milton, P[aradise]. L[ost]. iv. 602: [...]" D.C. Tovey, 1922 [1st ed. 1898].

"Milton, P[aradise]. L[ost]. iv. 602:

    "...all but the wakeful nightingale,
She all night long her amorous descant sung."
            Luke.
Descant means variation upon plain song in music; and as applied to the nightingale by Milton has a distinctive truth which is lost in Gray."

Gray's English Poems, Original and Translated from the Norse and Welsh. Edited by Duncan C. Tovey. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1922 [1st ed. 1898], 89.

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4 Or cheerful fields resume their green attire: 1 Explanatory

4.7 attire:] "Milton also uses this word [...]" J. Bradshaw, 1891.

"Milton also uses this word of the clothing of the fields:—

            "Earth in her rich attire
Consummate lovely smiled."—Par. Lost, vii. 501."

The Poetical Works of Thomas Gray: English and Latin. Edited with an introduction, life, notes and a bibliography by John Bradshaw. The Aldine edition of the British poets series. London: George Bell and sons, 1891, 247.

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5 These ears, alas! for other notes repine,
6 A different object do these eyes require.
7 My lonely anguish melts no heart but mine;
8 And in my breast the imperfect joys expire. 2 Explanatory

8.1-8 And ... expire.] "Rogers quotes Dryden (Ovid—an insufficient [...]" D.C. Tovey, 1922 [1st ed. 1898].

"Rogers quotes Dryden (Ovid—an insufficient reference):

"And in my ear the imperfect accent dies,"
—not I suppose for the thought—but for the form of the line. Gray acknowledged his obligations to the numbers of Dryden, and no doubt moulded many of his lines on more or less conscious reminiscence. See Progress of Poesy ad fin. and notes there."

Gray's English Poems, Original and Translated from the Norse and Welsh. Edited by Duncan C. Tovey. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1922 [1st ed. 1898], 89.

8.6 imperfect] "incomplete, because he no longer [...]" J. Bradshaw, 1891.

"incomplete, because he no longer has his friend to share them."

The Poetical Works of Thomas Gray: English and Latin. Edited with an introduction, life, notes and a bibliography by John Bradshaw. The Aldine edition of the British poets series. London: George Bell and sons, 1891, 248.

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9 Yet morning smiles the busy race to cheer,
10 And new-born pleasure brings to happier men:
11 The fields to all their wonted tribute bear;
12 To warm their little loves the birds complain.
13 I fruitless mourn to him that cannot hear,
14 And weep the more because I weep in vain. 2 Explanatory

14.1-9 And ... vain.] ""A similar line occurs in [...]" J. Bradshaw, 1891.

""A similar line occurs in Cibber's Alteration of 'Richard the Third':—

'So we must weep, because we weep in vain.'—ii. 2.
    'Solon, when he wept for his son's death, on one saying to him, 'Weeping will not help,' answered: [Greek line (omitted)] 'I weep for that very cause, that weeping will not avail.' It is also told of Augustus. See also Fitzgeoffry's 'Life and Death of Sir Francis Drake':—
            'Oh! therefore do we plaine,
And therefore weepe, because we weepe in vaine.'"—Mitford."

The Poetical Works of Thomas Gray: English and Latin. Edited with an introduction, life, notes and a bibliography by John Bradshaw. The Aldine edition of the British poets series. London: George Bell and sons, 1891, 248.

14.1-4 And ... more] " ''So must we weep, [...]" D.C. Tovey, 1922 [1st ed. 1898].

" ''So must we weep, because we weep in vain,''
Cibber's alteration of Shakespeare's Richard III. II. 2. Solon, according to Diogenes Laertius, when he wept on his son's death, replied to one who told him 'weeping will not help' [Greek line (omitted)], I weep for that very cause, that weeping will not avail. The same is told of Augustus. See also Fitzgeffry's Life and Death of Sir Francis Drake, II. 99
        ''Oh! therefore do we plaine,
And therefore weepe, because we weepe in vaine.''
    From Mitford. Cf. Addison in Spectator no. 574."

Gray's English Poems, Original and Translated from the Norse and Welsh. Edited by Duncan C. Tovey. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1922 [1st ed. 1898], 89.

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Works cited

  • The Poetical Works of Thomas Gray: English and Latin. Edited with an introduction, life, notes and a bibliography by John Bradshaw. The Aldine edition of the British poets series. London: George Bell and sons, 1891.
  • Gray's English Poems, Original and Translated from the Norse and Welsh. Edited by Duncan C. Tovey. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1922 [1st ed. 1898].

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