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Thomas Gray to Thomas Wharton, 26 December 1754

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Strophe 1.

Awake, Æolian lyre, awake,
And give to transport all thy trembling strings!
From Helicon's harmonious springs
A thousand rills their mazy progress take:
The laughing Flowers, that round them blow,
Drink life & fragrance, as they flow.
Now the rich stream of musick winds along
Deep, majestic, smooth, and strong,
Thro' verdant vales, & Ceres' golden reign:
Now rolling down the steep amain
With torrent-rapture see it pour;
The Rocks & nodding Groves rebellow to the roar.

(Antistrophe 1.)

Oh Sovereign of the willing Soul,
Parent of sweet & solemn-breathing airs,
Enchanting Shell! the sullen Cares;
And frantic Passions hear thy soft controul.
On Thracia's hills the Lord of war
Has curb'd the fury of his car,
And drop'd his thirsty lance at thy command.
Perching on the sceptred hand
Of Jove thy magick lulls the feather'd King
With ruffled plumes, & flagging wing;
Quench'd in black clouds of slumber lie
The terrour of his beak, & light'nings of his eye.

Epode 1.

Thee the Voice, the Dance, obey
Temper'd to thy warbled lay.
O'er Idalia's velvet-green
The rosy-crowned Loves are seen
On Cytherea's day
With antick Sports, & blew-eyed Pleasures,
Frisking light in frolick measures:
Now pursuing, now retreating,
Now in circling troops they meet;
To brisk notes the cadence beating
Glance their many-twinkling feet.
Slow melting strains the Queen's approach declare;
Wher'e'er she turns, the Graces homage pay,
With arms sublime, that float upon the air,
In gliding state she wins her easy way.
O'er her warm cheek & rising bosom move
The bloom of young Desire, & purple light of Love.

(Strophe 2da.)

Man's feeble race what Ills await,
Labour & Penury, the racks of Pain,
Disease, and Sorrow's weeping Train,
And Death, sad refuge from the storms of Fate?
The fond complaint, my Song, disprove,
And justify the laws of Jove.
Say, has he given in vain the heavenly Muse?
Night, & all her sickly Dews,
Her Spectres wan, and Birds of boding cry,
He gives to range the dreary sky:
Till fierce Hyperion from afar
Pours on their scatter'd rear his glitt'ring shafts of war.

(Antistrophe 2da.)

In climes beyond the solar road,
Where shaggy Forms o'er ice-built mountains roam,
The Muse has broke the twilight-gloom
To chear the shivering Native's dull abode;
And oft beneath the od'rous shade
Of Chili's boundless forests laid
She deigns to hear the savage Youth repeat
In loose numbers wildly sweet
Their feather-cinctured Chiefs & dusky Loves.
Her track wher'e'r the Goddess roves,
Glory pursue, and generous Shame,
Th' unconquerable Mind, & Freedom's holy flame.

(Epode 2da.)

Woods, that wave o'er Delphi's steep,
Isles, that crown th' Egæan deep,
Fields, that cool Ilissus laves,
Or where Mæander's amber-waves
In ling'ring labyrinths creep,
How do your tuneful Ecchoes languish
Mute, but to the voice of Anguish?
Where each old poetic Mountain
Inspiration breath'd around;
Every Shade & hallow'd Fountain
Murmur'd deep a solemn sound:
Till the sad Nine in Greece's evil hour
Left their Parnassus for the Latian plains.
(Alike they scorn the pomp of tyrant Power,
And coward Vice, that revels in her chains.)
When Latium had her lofty spirit lost,
They sought, oh Albion, next thy sea-encircled coast.

(Strophe 3a.)

Far from the Sun and summer-gale
In thy green lap was Nature's Darling laid,
What time, where lucid Avon stray'd,
To him the mighty Mother did unveil
Her aweful face: the dauntless Child
Stretch'd forth his little arms, & smiled.
'This pencil take, (she said) whose colours clear
'Richly paint the vernal Year.
'Thine too these golden keys, immortal Boy,
'This can unlock the gates of Joy:
'Of Terror that, & thrilling Fears;
'Or ope the sacred Source of sympathetic tears.

(Antistrophe 3a.)

Nor second He, that rode sublime
Upon the seraph-wings of Extasy
The secrets of th' Abyss to spy.
He pass'd the flaming bounds of Place & Time.
The living Throne, the sapphire-Blaze,
Where Angels tremble while they gaze,
He saw: but blasted with excess of light,
Closed his eyes in endless night.
Behold, where Dryden's less presumptuous car
Wide o'er the fields of Glory bear
Two Coursers of ethereal race
With necks in thunder cloth'd, & long-resounding pace.

(Epode 3a.)

Hark! his hands the Lyre explore.
Full-plume'd Fancy, hov'ring o'er
Scatters from her pictured Urn
Thoughts, that breath, & Words, that burn:
But ah! 'tis heard no more—
Oh Lyre divine, what daring Spirit
Wakes thee now? tho' he inherit
Nor the pride, nor ample pinion,
That the Theban Eagle bear
Sailing with supreme dominion
Thro' the azure deep of air:
Yet oft before his infant-eyes would run
Such Forms, as glitter in the Muse's ray
With orient hues, unborrow'd of the Sun.
Yet shall he mount, & keep his distant way
Beyond the limits of a vulgar fate,
Beneath the Good how far! – but far above the Great.

If this be as tedious to You, as it is grown to me, I shall be sorry that I sent it you. I do not pretend to debellate any one's Pride: I love my own too well to attempt it. as to mortifying their Vanity it is too easy & too mean a task for me to delight in. you are very good in shewing so much sensibility on my account. but be assured, my Taste for Praise is not like that of Children for fruit. if there were nothing but Medlars & Blackberries in the world, I could be very well content to go without any at all. I dare say that M—n (tho' some years younger than I,) was as little elevated with the approbation of Ld D: and Ld M: , as I am mortified by their silence. I desire you would by no means suffer this to be copied; nor even shew it, unless to very few, & especially not to mere Scholars , that can scan all the measures in Pindar, & say the Scholia by heart. the oftener, & (in spite of poor Trollope ) the more you write to me, the happier I shall be. I envy your Opera. your Politicks I don't understand; but I think, matters can never continue long in the situation they now are. Barbarossa I have read, but I did not cry: at a modern Tragedy it is sufficient not to laugh. I had rather the King's Arms look'd askew upon me, than the Mitre; it is enough to be well-bred to both of them. You do not mention Ld Strathmore, so that I doubt, if you received my little Letter about him. Masn is still here: we are all mighty glad he is in Orders, & no better than any of us. pray inform me, if Dr. Clerke is come to Town, & where he is fix'd, that I may write to him, angry as he is. my Compliments to my Friend Mrs. Wharton, to your Mother, & all the little Gentry.

I am ever, dear Dr, most sincerely
Letter ID: letters.0225 (Source: TEI/XML)


Writer: Gray, Thomas, 1716-1771
Writer's age: 38
Addressee: Wharton, Thomas, 1717-1794
Addressee's age: 37[?]


Date of composition: 26 December 1754
Date (on letter): Dec: 26. 1754
Calendar: Gregorian


Place of composition: Cambridge, United Kingdom
Address (on letter): Camb:

Physical description

Form/Extent: A.L.; 4 pages (3p. poem, 1p. letter), 240 mm x 192 mm


Language: English
Incipit: If this be as tedious to You, as it is grown to me, I shall be sorry...
Mentioned: Brown, John
Clerke, John, 1717-1790
Mason, William, 1724-1797
The Progress of Poesy. A Pindaric Ode

Holding Institution

Egerton MS 2400, ff. 67-68, Manuscripts collection, British Library , London, UK <>
Availability: The original letter is extant and usually available for academic research purposes

Print Versions

  • The Poems of Mr. Gray. To which are prefixed Memoirs of his Life and Writings by W[illiam]. Mason. York: printed by A. Ward; and sold by J. Dodsley, London; and J. Todd, York, 1775, letter xx, section iv, 232
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: J. Mawman, 1816, section IV, letter XLV, vol. ii, 251-253
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 5 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: W. Pickering, 1835-1843, section IV, letter LII, vol. iii, 126-128
  • The Letters of Thomas Gray, including the correspondence of Gray and Mason, 3 vols. Ed. by Duncan C. Tovey. London: George Bell and Sons, 1900-12, letter no. CXVI, vol. i, 256-259
  • Correspondence of Thomas Gray, 3 vols. Ed. by the late Paget Toynbee and Leonard Whibley, with corrections and additions by H. W. Starr. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971 [1st ed. 1935], letter no. 194, vol. i, 412-418