We All Need a Poem
The imposed quarantine, hopefully ending soon, has, also hopefully, given us more time to think and reflect on the most important things. Surely, it has also given us more time to focus our eyes on TV, computer, tablet and phone screens. The internet, which brings to us happenings around the world instantaneously, is a wonderful modern way of disseminating information, but it has now also constricted the view and does not show the whole picture of what is going on in the world. The news and commentaries are chosen for us by those who control them, thus distorting reality and truth as they aggressively cancel opposing views and the free expression of ideas.
Technology under the control of the powerful and those who want to fashion the world and people in accordance with their agenda do not bode well for humanity for it stifles the conditions under which the same humanity will flourish according to the grand design of its Maker.
History tells us the stories of the once-powerful and mighty -- the Hitlers, the Bonapartes, the King Henrys, the Maos, the Cardinal Richelieus, the Marxes, the Lenins, the Stalins. They were consigned to the dust bins of the past, forgotten, even despised and ridiculed. But wait! Their roots buried deep are shooting back from the ground, and those who are naive enough, evil enough, uncaring enough, are letting them, nay pushing them, to make a comeback.
History also records the valiant heroes of both Country and Faith -- the Thomas Mores, the King Louises, the Joan of Arcs, the Pius Xs, and now the Mother Teresas, the John Paul IIs, the Martin Luther King, Jrs, the selfless American veterans, the Christian Martyrs, the Mother Angelicas.
We will always have the high and the lowly, the mighty and the powerless, the wealthy and the poor, the swell-headed and the simple, the truthful and the deceitful, the good and the evil, the beautiful and the ugly.
It behooves everyone, I think, to focus on what life is really all about. It is time to get out from our now self-imposed quarantine and go to a country churchyard, to memorial parks (erstwhile called cemeteries), and immerse ourselves in the sight and silence of what is around us to bring ourselves back to the reality that we will someday inevitably be part of that growing community. We may in life be unequal, but Death is the great equalizer, as a poet said. It does not respect persons. But to us believers in Christ, the grave is not the end. The urn is not the end. We are all born for higher things.
But even now, in the comfort of our homes, we can make such a visit. The great English poet, Thomas Gray, has done it before and left his poetic musings as a legacy to us. His “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,” masterfully written with all its beauty, can help us make that visit. (it is reproduced here below in its entirety.)
He can make us see, with our mind’s eyes, probably the folly of most of our worldly quests and strivings, and bring us to the reality of a higher realm where we, in the final analysis, and the hunger of our hearts, would like to be.
Consider, for instance, the Elegy's warning, thus:
"The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow'r
And all that beauty all that wealth e'er gave
Awaits alike th' inevitable hour.
The paths of glory lead but to the grave."
We all need a poem, to read slowly, meditatively, more than like a movie, then prayerfully — without the assistance of a commentary.
We all need this poem, I believe.
Because, whether we like it or not, we need the Lord. #
Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard
By Thomas Gray
The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd wind slowly o'er the lea,
The plowman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.
Now fades the glimm'ring landscape on the sight,
And all the air a solemn stillness holds,
Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,
And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds;
Save that from yonder ivy-mantled tow'r
The moping owl does to the moon complain
Of such, as wand'ring near her secret bow'r,
Molest her ancient solitary reign.
Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree's shade,
Where heaves the turf in many a mould'ring heap,
Each in his narrow cell for ever laid,
The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep.
The breezy call of incense-breathing Morn,
The swallow twitt'ring from the straw-built shed,
The cock's shrill clarion, or the echoing horn,
No more shall rouse them from their lowly bed.
For them no more the blazing hearth shall burn,
Or busy housewife ply her evening care:
No children run to lisp their sire's return,
Or climb his knees the envied kiss to share.
Oft did the harvest to their sickle yield,
Their furrow oft the stubborn glebe has broke;
How jocund did they drive their team afield!
How bow'd the woods beneath their sturdy stroke!
Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,
Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;
Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile
The short and simple annals of the poor.
The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow'r,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave,
Awaits alike th' inevitable hour.
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.
Nor you, ye proud, impute to these the fault,
If Mem'ry o'er their tomb no trophies raise,
Where thro' the long-drawn aisle and fretted vault
The pealing anthem swells the note of praise.
Can storied urn or animated bust
Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath?
Can Honour's voice provoke the silent dust,
Or Flatt'ry soothe the dull cold ear of Death?
Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid
Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire;
Hands, that the rod of empire might have sway'd,
Or wak'd to ecstasy the living lyre.
But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page
Rich with the spoils of time did ne'er unroll;
Chill Penury repress'd their noble rage,
And froze the genial current of the soul.
Full many a gem of purest ray serene,
The dark unfathom'd caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flow'r is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.
Some village-Hampden, that with dauntless breast
The little tyrant of his fields withstood;
Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest,
Some Cromwell guiltless of his country's blood.
Th' applause of list'ning senates to command,
The threats of pain and ruin to despise,
To scatter plenty o'er a smiling land,
And read their hist'ry in a nation's eyes,
Their lot forbade: nor circumscrib'd alone
Their growing virtues, but their crimes confin'd;
Forbade to wade through slaughter to a throne,
And shut the gates of mercy on mankind,
The struggling pangs of conscious truth to hide,
To quench the blushes of ingenuous shame,
Or heap the shrine of Luxury and Pride
With incense kindled at the Muse's flame.
Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife,
Their sober wishes never learn'd to stray;
Along the cool sequester'd vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.
Yet ev'n these bones from insult to protect,
Some frail memorial still erected nigh,
With uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture deck'd,
Implores the passing tribute of a sigh.
Their name, their years, spelt by th' unletter'd muse,
The place of fame and elegy supply:
And many a holy text around she strews,
That teach the rustic moralist to die.
For who to dumb Forgetfulness a prey,
This pleasing anxious being e'er resign'd,
Left the warm precincts of the cheerful day,
Nor cast one longing, ling'ring look behind?
On some fond breast the parting soul relies,
Some pious drops the closing eye requires;
Ev'n from the tomb the voice of Nature cries,
Ev'n in our ashes live their wonted fires.
For thee, who mindful of th' unhonour'd Dead
Dost in these lines their artless tale relate;
If chance, by lonely contemplation led,
Some kindred spirit shall inquire thy fate,
Haply some hoary-headed swain may say,
"Oft have we seen him at the peep of dawn
Brushing with hasty steps the dews away
To meet the sun upon the upland lawn.
"There at the foot of yonder nodding beech
That wreathes its old fantastic roots so high,
His listless length at noontide would he stretch,
And pore upon the brook that babbles by.
"Hard by yon wood, now smiling as in scorn,
Mutt'ring his wayward fancies he would rove,
Now drooping, woeful wan, like one forlorn,
Or craz'd with care, or cross'd in hopeless love.
"One morn I miss'd him on the custom'd hill,
Along the heath and near his fav'rite tree;
Another came; nor yet beside the rill,
Nor up the lawn, nor at the wood was he;
"The next with dirges due in sad array
Slow thro' the church-way path we saw him borne.
Approach and read (for thou canst read) the lay,
Grav'd on the stone beneath yon aged thorn."
Here rests his head upon the lap of Earth
A youth to Fortune and to Fame unknown.
Fair Science frown'd not on his humble birth,
And Melancholy mark'd him for her own.
Large was his bounty, and his soul sincere,
Heav'n did a recompense as largely send:
He gave to Mis'ry all he had, a tear,
He gain'd from Heav'n ('twas all he wish'd) a friend.
No farther seek his merits to disclose,
Or draw his frailties from their dread abode,
(There they alike in trembling hope repose)
The bosom of his Father and his God.