Uploaded on Feb 9, 2011
Heres a virtual movie of Thomas Gray (26 December 1716 -- 30 July 1771) was an English poet, classical scholar and professor at Cambridge University. reading his great poem "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard". The sound recording in this virtual movie comes from a very rare 78rpm record in my collection.
It is believed that Gray wrote his masterpiece, the Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, in the graveyard of the church in Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire, in 1750. The poem was a literary sensation when published by Robert Dodsley in February 1751 and has made a lasting contribution to English literature. Its reflective, calm and stoic tone was greatly admired, and it was pirated, imitated, quoted and translated into Latin and Greek. It is still one of the most popular and most frequently quoted poems in the English language. In 1759 during the Seven Years War, before the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, British General James Wolfe is said to have recited it to his officers, adding: "Gentlemen, I would rather have written that poem than take Quebec tomorrow". The poem's famous depiction of an "ivy-mantled tow'r" could be a reference to the early-medieval St. Laurence's Church in Upton, Slough.
Monument inscribed with the Elegy in Stoke PogesThe Elegy was recognised immediately for its beauty and skill. It contains many outstanding phrases which have entered the common English lexicon, either on their own or as quoted in other works. A few of these include:
"The paths of glory"
"Some mute inglorious Milton"
"Far from the madding crowd"
"The unlettered muse"
Gray also wrote light verse, such as Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes, a mock elegy concerning Horace Walpole's cat. After setting the scene with the couplet "What female heart can gold despise? What cat's averse to fish?", the poem moves to its multiple proverbial conclusion: "a fav'rite has no friend", "[k]now one false step is ne'er retrieved" and "nor all that glisters, gold". (Walpole later displayed the fatal china vase on a pedestal at his house in Strawberry Hill.) Gray's surviving letters also show his sharp observation and playful sense of humour. He is also well known for his phrase,
"where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise,"
This is from his 1742 (see 1742 in poetry) Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College.
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