"The 'Epitaph' was perhaps inspired by the inscription in the church in Mallet, The Excursion i 299-311: 'Lamented shade! whom every gift of heaven / Profusely blest: all learning was his own. / Pleasing his speech , by nature taught to flow, / Persuasive sense and strong, sincere and clear. / His manners greatly plain; a noble grace, / Self-taught, beyond the reach of mimic art, / Adorn'd him: his calmer temper winning mild; / Nor pity softer, nor was truth more bright. / Constant in doing well, he neither sought / Nor shunned applause. No bashful merit sighed / Near him neglected: sympathising he / Wiped off the tear from sorrow's clouded eye / With kindly hand, and taught her heart to smile.' Cp. also the epitaph at the end of Hammond's Elegy ix 41-4: 'Here lies a youth, borne down with love and care, / He could not long his Delia's loss abide, / Joy left his bosom with the parting fair, / And when he durst no longer hope, he died.'"
"Here again want of lucidity is the one defect in a beautiful stanza. Gray seems to mean 'who ever was so much a prey to dumb Forgetfulness as to resign life and its possibilities of joy and sorrow without some regret?' But not only is it patent that millions have been so much a prey to the 'second childishness and mere oblivion' of age that they have passed away without the power to feel regret, but the whole sequence of thought shows that this cannot be Gray's meaning. He uses 'prey' in a prospective sense, the destined prey; accordingly Munro translates
Quis subiturus enim Lethaea silentia &c.It is perhaps Gray's classicism which betrays him here, for Horace, who has sometimes the same sort of obscurity due to condensation, has just this anticipatory use when he says (Odes, II. 3. 21 sq.) that it makes no difference whether as rich and high-born or poor and low-born you linger out life's little day, the victim of merciless Orcus; i.e. certain in either case to become so at last.
Again, Gray seems to be shaping anew the question in Paradise Lost (II. 146 sq.):
''For who would lose,and when he speaks of 'this pleasing anxious being' and 'the warm precincts of the cheerful day,' he may be supposed to express the same horror of the annihilation of thought, the same dread of eternal darkness. Yet, in the main, the terror of which Gray speaks is the forgetfulness of the dead by the living. In this and the following stanza the true significance of the 'frail memorials' is explained. Though men are destined to oblivion they crave to be remembered, as they have craved for human support and affection in their last hours; it is thus that 'even from the tomb the voice of nature cries.' In fact whilst we find the form and some of the accessories of Gray's thought in Milton, we find the substance of it rather in Homer, Virgil and Dante, who give us the same voice of nature as heard from the further shore; as when the spirits say to Dante, Inferno, xvi. 85 sq.:
Though full of pain, this intellectual being,
These thoughts that wander through eternity,
To perish rather, swallowed up and lost
In the wide womb of uncreated Night,
Devoid of sense and motion?''
''if thou escape this darksome clime
Returning to behold the radiant stars,
See that of us thou speak amongst mankind'' "
Pearlescent Beauty ♥: Putting a twist on the phrase 'feeling blue'!
"In Fraser MS. Gray thus writes: 'For Thee, who mindful &c.: as above.' He meant to bring in the second of the four rejected stanzas, followed by this, (Fraser MS.):
If chance that e'er some pensive Spirit more,
By sympathetic Musings here delay'd
With vain, tho' kind, Enquiry shall explore
Thy once-loved Haunt, this long-deserted Shade.