Wednesday, 12 April 2017

A Plague Upon the House of Plantagenet

"If the subject of a Poem is obscure, or not generally known, or not interesting, and if it abounds with allusions, and facts of this improper, and uninteresting character, the writer who chuses the subject, and introduces those improper, and unaffecting allusions, and facts, betrays a great want of poetical judgment, and taste. Mr. Gray had a vitiated fondness for such insipid fable, narrative, and references."

Based on a Thomas Gray poem, inspired by a Welsh tradition that said that Edward I had put to death any bards he found, to extinguish Welsh culture; the poem depicts the escape of a single bard.


The following Ode is founded on a Tradition current in Wales,
that EDWARD the First, when he compleated the conquest of
that country, ordered all the Bards, that fell into his hands,
to be put to death.

I. 1.

1'Ruin seize thee, ruthless king!3 Explanatory
2'Confusion on thy banners wait,2 Explanatory
3'Though fanned by Conquest's crimson wing2 Explanatory
4'They mock the air with idle state.3 Explanatory
5'Helm nor hauberk's twisted mail,2 Explanatory
6'Nor even thy virtues, tyrant, shall avail1 Textual
7'To save thy secret soul from nightly fears,1 Explanatory
8'From Cambria's curse, from Cambria's tears!'3 Explanatory
9Such were the sounds, that o'er the crested pride2 Explanatory
10Of the first Edward scattered wild dismay,
11As down the steep of Snowdon's shaggy side4 Explanatory
12He wound with toilsome march his long array.3 Explanatory
13Stout Gloucester stood aghast in speechless trance:3 Explanatory
14'To arms!' cried Mortimer, and couched his quivering lance.5 Explanatory

I. 2.

15On a rock, whose haughty brow2 Explanatory
16Frowns o'er old Conway's foaming flood,4 Explanatory1 Textual
17Robed in the sable garb of woe,2 Explanatory4 Textual
18With haggard eyes the poet stood;6 Explanatory4 Textual
19(Loose his beard, and hoary hair4 Explanatory
20Streamed, like a meteor, to the troubled air)6 Explanatory
21And with a master's hand, and prophet's fire,1 Explanatory
22Struck the deep sorrows of his lyre.
23'Hark, how each giant-oak, and desert cave,2 Explanatory
24'Sighs to the torrent's awful voice beneath!
25'O'er thee, oh king! their hundred arms they wave,
26'Revenge on thee in hoarser murmurs breathe;2 Explanatory
27'Vocal no more, since Cambria's fatal day,1 Explanatory
28'To high-born Hoel's harp, or soft Llewellyn's lay.12 Explanatory1 Textual

I. 3.

29'Cold is Cadwallo's tongue,9 Explanatory3 Textual
30'That hushed the stormy main:10 Explanatory3 Textual
31'Brave Urien sleeps upon his craggy bed:8 Explanatory3 Textual
32'Mountains, ye mourn in vain5 Explanatory
33'Modred, whose magic song10 Explanatory
34'Made huge Plinlimmon bow his cloud-topped head.5 Explanatory
35'On dreary Arvon's shore they lie,5 Explanatory
36'Smeared with gore, and ghastly pale:1 Explanatory
37'Far, far aloof the affrighted ravens sail;2 Explanatory
38'The famished eagle screams, and passes by.3 Explanatory
39'Dear lost companions of my tuneful art,2 Explanatory
40'Dear, as the light that visits these sad eyes,3 Explanatory
41'Dear, as the ruddy drops that warm my heart,2 Explanatory
42'Ye died amidst your dying country's cries—2 Explanatory
43'No more I weep. They do not sleep.4 Explanatory4 Textual
44'On yonder cliffs, a grisly band,3 Explanatory
45'I see them sit, they linger yet,3 Explanatory
46'Avengers of their native land:1 Explanatory
47'With me in dreadful harmony they join,4 Explanatory
48'And weave with bloody hands the tissue of thy line.'5 Explanatory

II. 1.

49"Weave the warp, and weave the woof,8 Explanatory
50"The winding-sheet of Edward's race.1 Explanatory
51"Give ample room, and verge enough4 Explanatory
52"The characters of hell to trace.3 Explanatory
53"Mark the year and mark the night,1 Explanatory
54"When Severn shall re-echo with affright3 Explanatory
55"The shrieks of death, through Berkeley's roofs that ring,6 Explanatory
56"Shrieks of an agonizing King!6 Explanatory
57"She-wolf of France, with unrelenting fangs,5 Explanatory
58"That tear'st the bowels of thy mangled mate,1 Explanatory
59"From thee be born, who o'er thy country hangs2 Explanatory
60"The scourge of heaven. What terrors round him wait!4 Explanatory
61"Amazement in his van, with Flight combined,4 Explanatory
62"And Sorrow's faded form, and Solitude behind.2 Explanatory3 Textual

II. 2.

63"Mighty victor, mighty lord,1 Explanatory6 Textual
64"Low on his funeral couch he lies!3 Explanatory6 Textual
65"No pitying heart, no eye, afford1 Explanatory6 Textual
66"A tear to grace his obsequies.1 Explanatory1 Textual
67"Is the sable warrior fled?3 Explanatory
68"Thy son is gone. He rests among the dead.
69"The swarm that in thy noon-tide beam were born?4 Explanatory6 Textual
70"Gone to salute the rising morn.2 Explanatory6 Textual
71"Fair laughs the morn, and soft the zephyr blows,7 Explanatory6 Textual
72"While proudly riding o'er the azure realm7 Explanatory6 Textual
73"In gallant trim the gilded vessel goes;6 Explanatory6 Textual
74"Youth on the prow, and Pleasure at the helm;7 Explanatory6 Textual
75"Regardless of the sweeping whirlwind's sway,8 Explanatory6 Textual
76"That, hushed in grim repose, expects his evening-prey.6 Explanatory6 Textual

II. 3.

77"Fill high the sparkling bowl,3 Explanatory
78"The rich repast prepare,2 Explanatory
79"Reft of a crown, he yet may share the feast:3 Explanatory
80"Close by the regal chair3 Explanatory
81"Fell Thirst and Famine scowl3 Explanatory
82"A baleful smile upon their baffled guest.5 Explanatory6 Textual
83"Heard ye the din of battle bray,3 Explanatory
84"Lance to lance, and horse to horse?2 Explanatory1 Textual
85"Long years of havoc urge their destined course,2 Explanatory
86"And through the kindred squadrons mow their way.2 Explanatory
87"Ye towers of Julius, London's lasting shame,5 Explanatory6 Textual
88"With many a foul and midnight murther fed,2 Explanatory1 Textual
89"Revere his consort's faith, his father's fame,
90"And spare the meek usurper's holy head.4 Explanatory6 Textual
91"Above, below, the rose of snow,5 Explanatory
92"Twined with her blushing foe, we spread:4 Explanatory
93"The bristled Boar in infant-gore5 Explanatory
94"Wallows beneath the thorny shade.2 Explanatory
95"Now, brothers, bending o'er the accursed loom,
96"Stamp we our vengeance deep, and ratify his doom.3 Explanatory

III. 1.

97"Edward, lo! to sudden fate2 Explanatory
98"(Weave we the woof. The thread is spun)2 Explanatory
99"Half of thy heart we consecrate.7 Explanatory
100"(The web is wove. The work is done.)"1 Explanatory
101'Stay, oh stay! nor thus forlorn4 Explanatory6 Textual
102'Leave me unblessed, unpitied, here to mourn:4 Explanatory7 Textual
103'In yon bright track, that fires the western skies,1 Explanatory6 Textual
104'They melt, they vanish from my eyes.1 Explanatory6 Textual
105'But oh! what solemn scenes on Snowdon's height1 Explanatory8 Textual
106'Descending slow their glittering skirts unroll?3 Explanatory6 Textual
107'Visions of glory, spare my aching sight,2 Explanatory
108'Ye unborn ages, crowd not on my soul!3 Explanatory
109'No more our long-lost Arthur we bewail.5 Explanatory6 Textual
110'All-hail, ye genuine kings, Britannia's issue, hail!8 Explanatory6 Textual

III. 2.

111'Girt with many a baron bold3 Explanatory6 Textual
112'Sublime their starry fronts they rear;4 Explanatory6 Textual
113'And gorgeous dames, and statesmen old1 Explanatory
114'In bearded majesty, appear.2 Explanatory4 Textual
115'In the midst a form divine!7 Explanatory
116'Her eye proclaims her of the Briton-line;6 Explanatory4 Textual
117'Her lion-port, her awe-commanding face,3 Explanatory6 Textual
118'Attempered sweet to virgin-grace.2 Explanatory
119'What strings symphonious tremble in the air,2 Explanatory1 Textual
120'What strains of vocal transport round her play!1 Explanatory1 Textual
121'Hear from the grave, great Taliessin, hear;4 Explanatory
122'They breathe a soul to animate thy clay.1 Explanatory1 Textual
123'Bright Rapture calls, and soaring, as she sings,3 Explanatory4 Textual
124'Waves in the eye of heaven her many-coloured wings.1 Explanatory

III. 3.

125'The verse adorn again1 Explanatory3 Textual
126'Fierce war and faithful love,4 Explanatory
127'And truth severe, by fairy fiction dressed.4 Explanatory
128'In buskined measures move6 Explanatory3 Textual
129'Pale Grief, and pleasing Pain,4 Explanatory
130'With Horror, tyrant of the throbbing breast.2 Explanatory4 Textual
131'A voice, as of the cherub-choir,5 Explanatory
132'Gales from blooming Eden bear;2 Explanatory
133'And distant warblings lessen on my ear,2 Explanatory
134'That lost in long futurity expire.3 Explanatory
135'Fond impious man, think'st thou, yon sanguine cloud,4 Explanatory
136'Raised by thy breath, has quenched the orb of day?4 Explanatory
137'Tomorrow he repairs the golden flood,7 Explanatory
138'And warms the nations with redoubled ray.3 Explanatory
139'Enough for me: with joy I see2 Explanatory
140'The different doom our fates assign.4 Explanatory
141'Be thine despair and sceptered care;1 Explanatory
142'To triumph, and to die, are mine.'2 Explanatory1 Textual
143He spoke, and headlong from the mountain's height3 Explanatory
144Deep in the roaring tide he plunged to endless night.4 Explanatory3 Textual

Gray's annotations

Mocking the air with colours idly spread.
    Shakespear's King John. [V. i. 72]
The Hauberk was a texture of steel ringlets, or rings interwoven, forming a coat of mail, that sate close to the body, and adapted itself to every motion.
— [By] The crested adder's pride.
    Dryden's Indian Queen. [III. i. 84]
Snowdon was a name given by the Saxons to that mountainous tract, which the Welch themselves call Craigian-eryri: it included all the highlands of Caernarvonshire and Merionethshire, as far east as the river Conway. R. Hygden[,] speaking of the castle of Conway built by King Edward the first, says, ''Ad ortum amnis Conway ad clivum montis Erery [At the source of the River Conway on the slope of Mt. Erery];'' and Matthew of Westminster, (ad ann. 1283,) ''Apud Aberconway ad pedes montis Snowdoniae fecit erigi castrum forte [Near (or at) Aberconway at the foot of Mt. Snowdon, he caused a fortified camp to be constructed.].''
Gilbert de Clare, surnamed the Red, Earl of Gloucester and Hertford, son-in-law to King Edward.
Edmond de Mortimer, Lord of Wigmore. They both were Lords-Marchers, whose lands lay on the borders of Wales, and probably accompanied the King in this expedition.
['... haggard, wch conveys to you the the Idea of a Witch, is indeed only a metaphor taken from an unreclaim'd Hawk, wch is called a Haggard, & looks wild & farouche & jealous of its liberty.' Letter to Wharton, 21 Aug. 1755, T & W no. 205.]
The image was taken from a well-known picture of Raphael, representing the Supreme Being in the vision of Ezekiel: there are two of these paintings (both believed original), one at Florence, the other at Paris.
Shone, like a meteor, streaming to the wind.
    Milton's Paradise Lost. [i. 537]
The shores of Caernarvonshire opposite to the isle of Anglesey.
Cambden and others observe, that eagles used annually to build their aerie among the rocks of Snowdon, which from thence (as some think) were named by the Welch Craigian-eryri, or the crags of the eagles. At this day (I am told) the highest point of Snowdon is called the eagle's nest. That bird is certainly no stranger to this island, as the Scots, and the people of Cumberland, Westmoreland, &c. can testify: it even has built its nest in the Peak of Derbyshire. [See Willoughby's Ornithol. published by Ray.] [John Ray (1627-1705) published (1676) and translated (London, 1678) the Ornithologia of his patron Francis Willughby (1635-72).]
As dear to me as are the ruddy drops,
That visit my sad heart—
    Shakesp. Jul. Caesar. [II. i. 289-90]
See the Norwegian Ode, that follows. [Fatal Sisters]
Edward the Second, cruelly butchered in Berkley-Castle [in 1327 near the Severn River in western England].
Isabel of France, Edward the Second's adulterous Queen.
Triumphs of Edward the Third in France.
Death of that King, abandoned by his Children, and even robbed in his last moments by his Courtiers and his Mistress [Alice Perrers, in 1377].
Edward, the Black Prince, dead some time before his Father [in 1376].
Magnificence of Richard the Second's reign. See Froissard, and other contemporary Writers.
Richard the Second, (as we are told by Archbishop Scroop and the confederate Lords in their manifesto, by Thomas of Walsingham, and all the older Writers)[,] was starved to death [in 1400]. The story of his assassination by Sir Piers of Exon, is of much later date.
Ruinous civil wars of York and Lancaster.
Henry the Sixth, George Duke of Clarence, Edward the Fifth, Richard Duke of York, &c. believed to be murthered secretly in the Tower of London. The oldest part of that structure is vulgarly attributed to Julius Caesar.
[Consort] Margaret of Anjou, a woman of heroic spirit, who struggled hard to save her Husband and her Crown.
[Father] Henry the Fifth.
Henry the Sixth very near being canonized. The line of Lancaster had no right of inheritance to the Crown.
The white and red roses, devices of York and Lancaster [presumably woven above and below on the loom].
The silver Boar was the badge of Richard the Third; whence he was usually known in his own time by the name of the Boar.
Eleanor of Castile died a few years after the conquest of Wales. The heroic proof she gave of her affection for her Lord [she is supposed to have sucked the poison from a wound Edward I received] is well known. The monuments of his regret, and sorrow for the loss of her, are still to be seen at Northampton, Geddington, Waltham, and other places.
It was the common belief of the Welch nation, that King Arthur was still alive in Fairy-Land, and should return again to reign over Britain.
Both Merlin [Myrddin] and Taliessin had prophesied, that the Welch should regain their sovereignty over this island; which seemed to be accomplished in the House of Tudor [1768].
Accession of the House of Tudor [1757].
Speed relating an audience given by Queen Elizabeth to Paul Dzialinski, Ambassadour of Poland, says, 'And thus she, lion-like rising, daunted the malapert Orator no less with her stately port and majestical deporture, than with the tartnesse of her princelie checkes.' [John Speed (1552-1629) published his History of Great Britaine ... to ... King James in 1611.]
Taliessin, Chief of the Bards, flourished in the VIth Century. His works are still preserved, and his memory held in high veneration among his Countrymen. [His Book exists in only a thirteenth-century version and many of the poems in it may not be by Taliessin.]
Fierce wars and faithful loves shall moralize my song.
    Spenser's Proëme to the Fairy Queen [l. 9].
The succession of Poets after Milton's time.

Works cited

  • The Poetical Works of Thomas Gray: English and Latin. Edited with an introduction, life, notes and a bibliography by John Bradshaw. Reprinted edition. The Aldine edition of the British poets series. London: George Bell and sons, 1903 [1st edition 1891].
  • Gray: Poetry and Prose. With essays by Johnson, Goldsmith and others. With an Introduction and Notes by J. Crofts. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1948 [1st ed. 1926].
  • Poems of Thomas Gray. Edited by W. C. Eppstein. London and Glasgow: Blackie & Son Ltd., 1959.
  • Eighteenth-Century Poetry. An Annotated Anthology. Edited by David Fairer and Christine Gerrard. Blackwell annotated anthologies. Oxford: Blackwell, 1999.
  • The Works of Thomas Gray: In Prose and Verse. Ed. by Edmund Gosse, in four vols. London: MacMillan and Co., 1884, vol. i.
  • Thomas Gray: Selected Poems. Ed. by John Heath-Stubbs. Manchester: Carcanet New Press Ltd., 1981.
  • The Poems of Thomas Gray, William Collins, Oliver Goldsmith. Edited by Roger Lonsdale. Longman Annotated English Poets Series. London and Harlow: Longmans, 1969.
  • The Poems of Gray and Collins. Edited by Austin Lane Poole. Revised by Leonard Whibley. Third edition. Oxford editions of standard authors series. London: Oxford UP, 1937, reprinted 1950 [1st ed. 1919].
  • Selections from the Poetry and Prose of Thomas Gray. Ed. with an introduction and notes by William Lyon Phelps. The Athenaeum press series. Boston: Ginn & company, 1894.
  • The Complete English Poems of Thomas Gray. Edited with an Introduction and Notes by James Reeves. The Poetry Bookshelf series. London: Heinemann; New York: Barnes & Noble, 1973.
  • The Complete Poems of Thomas Gray: English, Latin and Greek. Edited by Herbert W. Starr and J. R. Hendrickson. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1966.
  • Gray's English Poems, Original and Translated from the Norse and Welsh. Edited by Duncan C. Tovey. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1922 [1st ed. 1898].

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