Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College
Gray, Thomas (1716-1771)

  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 beloved 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 margent 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 sweeten 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 defiled,
  And moody Madness laughing wild
    Amid severest woe.

  Lo, in the vale of years beneath
    A grisly 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.

Immortal Poems of the English Language (Williams)