The Bard. A Pindaric Ode

The Bard. A Pindaric Ode
Thomas Gray

Illustrations by William Blake. For a detailed, annotated version of this poem, visit The Thomas Gray Archive

370161The Bard. A Pindaric OdeThomas Gray



B   A   R   D.


P I N D A R I C     O D E




The following Ode is founded on a Tradi-
tion current in Wales, that EDWARD the First,
when he compleated the conquest of that coun-
try, ordered all the Bards, that fell into

his hands, to be put to death.





B   A   R   D.
P I N D A R I C     O D E

'Ruin seize thee, ruthless King!
Confusion on thy banners wait,
Tho' fanned by Conquest's crimson wing
They mock the air with idle state.[1]
5Helm, nor Hauberk's twisted mail,[2]
Nor even thy virtues, Tyrant, shall avail



To save thy secret soul from nightly fears,
From Cambria's curse, from Cambria's tears!'
Such were the sounds, that o'er the crested pride[3]
10Of the first Edward scatter'd wild dismay,
As down the steep of Snowdon's shaggy side[4]
He wound with toilsome march his long array.
Stout Glo'ster stood aghast in speechless trance:[5]
'To arms!' cried Mortimer, and couch'd his quiv'ring lance.[6]


15On a rock, whose haughty brow
Frowns o'er old Conway's foaming flood,
Robed in the sable garb of woe,
With haggard eyes the Poet stood;[7]
(Loose his beard, and hoary hair[8]
20Stream'd, like a meteor, to the troubled air)[9]
And with a Master's hand, and Prophet's fire,
Struck the deep sorrows of his lyre.



'Hark, how each giant-oak, and desert cave,
Sighs to the torrent's aweful voice beneath!
25O'er thee, oh King! their hundred arms they wave,
Revenge on thee in hoarser murmurs breath;
Vocal no more, since Cambria's fatal day,
To high-born Hoel's harp, or soft Llewellyn's lay.


Cold is Cadwallo's tongue,
30That hush'd the stormy main:
Brave Urien[10] sleeps upon his craggy bed:
Mountains, ye mourn in vain
Modred, whose magic song
Made huge Plinlimmon[11] bow his cloud-top'd head.



35 On dreary Arvon's shore they lie,[12]
Smeared with gore, and ghastly pale:
Far, far aloof the affrighted ravens sail;
The famished eagle screams, and passes by.[13]
Dear lost companions of my tuneful art,
40 Dear, as the light that visits these sad eyes,[14]
Dear, as the ruddy drops that warm my heart,
Ye died amidst your dying country's cries—
No more I weep. They do not sleep.
On yonder cliffs, a grisly band,
45 I see them sit, they linger yet,
Avengers of their native land:
With me in dreadful harmony they join,[15]
And weave with bloody hands the tissue of thy line.'


'Weave the warp, and weave the woof,
50 The winding-sheet of Edward's race.



Give ample room, and verge enough
The characters of hell to trace.
Mark the year, and mark the night,
When Severn shall re-eccho with affright[16]
55 The shrieks of death, thro' Berkley's roofs that ring,
Shrieks of an agonizing King!
She-Wolf of France, with unrelenting fangs,[17]
That tear'st the bowels of thy mangled Mate,
From thee be born, who o'er thy country hangs[18]
60 The scourge of Heav'n. What Terrors round him wait!
Amazement in his van, with Flight combined,
And Sorrow's faded form, and Solitude behind.


Mighty Victor, mighty Lord,
Low on his funeral couch he lies![19]



65 No pitying heart, no eye, afford
A tear to grace his obsequies.
Is the sable Warriour fled?[20]
Thy son is gone. He rests among the Dead.
The Swarm, that in thy noon-tide beam were born?
70 Gone to salute the rising Morn.
Fair laughs the Morn, and soft the Zephyr blows,[21]
While proudly riding o'er the azure realm
In gallant trim the gilded Vessel goes;
Youth on the prow, and Pleasure at the helm;
75 Regardless of the sweeping Whirlwind's sway,
That, hush'd in grim repose, expects his evening-prey.


Fill high the sparkling bowl,[22]
The rich repast prepare,
Reft of a crown, he yet may share the feast:
80 Close by the regal chair



Fell Thirst and Famine scowl
A baleful smile upon their baffled Guest.
Heard ye the din of battle bray,[23]
Lance to lance, and horse to horse?
85 Long Years of havock urge their destined course,
And thro' the kindred squadrons mow their way.
Ye Towers of Julius, London's lasting shame,
With many a foul and midnight murther fed,
Revere his Consort's faith, his Father's fame,[25]
90 And spare the meek Usurper's holy head.[26]
Above, below, the rose of snow,[27]
Twined with her blushing foe, we spread:
The bristled Boar in infant-gore[28]
Wallows beneath the thorny shade.
95 Now, Brothers, bending o'er th' accursed loom
Stamp we our vengeance deep, and ratify his doom.




Edward, lo! to sudden fate
(Weave the woof. The thread is spun)
Half of thy heart we consecrate[29]
100 (The web is wove. The work is done.)'
'Stay, oh stay! nor thus forlorn
Leave me unbless'd, unpitied, here to mourn:
In yon bright track, that fires the western skies,
They melt, they vanish from my eyes.
105 But oh! what solemn scenes on Snowden's height
Descending slow their glitt'ring skirts unroll?
Visions of glory, spare my aching sight,
Ye unborn Ages, crowd not on my soul!
No more our long-lost Arthur we bewail.[30]
110 All-hail, ye genuine Kings, Brittania's Issue, hail![31]




Girt with many a Baron bold
Sublime their starry fronts they rear;
And gorgeous Dames, and Statesmen old
In bearded majesty, appear.
115 In the midst a Form divine!
Her eye proclaims her of the Briton-Line;
Her lyon-port, her awe-commanding face,[32]
Attemper'd sweet to virgin-grace.
What strings symphonious tremble in the air,
120 What strains of vocal transport round her play!
Hear from the grave, great Taliessin, hear;[33]
They breathe a soul to animate thy clay.
Bright Rapture calls, and soaring, as she sings,
Waves in the eye of Heav'n her many-colour'd wings.




125 The verse adorn again
Fierce War, and faithful Love,[34]
And Truth severe, by fairy Fiction drest.
In buskin'd measures move[35]
Pale Grief, and pleasing Pain,
130 With Horrour, Tyrant of the throbbing breast.
A Voice, as of the Cherub-Choir,[36]
Gales from blooming Eden bear;
And distant warblings lessen on my ear,[37]
That lost in long futurity expire.
135 Fond impious Man, think'st thou, yon sanguine cloud,
Rais'd by thy breath, has quench'd the Orb of day?
To-morrow he repairs the golden flood,
And warms the nations with redoubled ray.



Enough for me: With joy I see
140 The different doom our Fates assign.
Be thine Despair, and scept'red Care,
To triumph, and to die, are mine.'
He spoke, and headlong from the mountain's height
Deep in the roaring tide he plung'd to endless night.

Gray's annotations

  1. 4 Mocking the air with colours idly spread.
    Shakespear's King John. [V. i. 72]
  2. 5 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.
  3. 9 — [By] The crested adder's pride.
    Dryden's Indian Queen. [III. i. 84]
  4. 11 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.].
  5. 13 Gilbert de Clare, surnamed the Red, Earl of Gloucester and Hertford, son-in-law to King Edward.
  6. 14 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.
  7. 18 [`... 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_1971} T & W no. 205.]
  8. 19 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.
  9. 20 Shone, like a meteor, streaming to the wind.
    Milton's Paradise Lost. [i. 537]
  10. [The bards’ names ‘beyond their Welshness, are not of great significance’ (note by Katherine Turner]
  11. [Plinlimmon: a mountain]
  12. 35 The shores of Caernarvonshire opposite to the isle of Anglesey.
  13. 38 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).]
  14. 40 As dear to me as are the ruddy drops,
    That visit my sad heart—
    Shakesp. Jul. Caesar. [II. i. 289-90]
  15. 47 See the Norwegian Ode, that follows. [Fatal Sisters]
  16. 54 Edward the Second, cruelly butchered in Berkley-Castle [in 1327 near the Severn River in western England].
  17. 57 Isabel of France, Edward the Second's adulterous Queen.
  18. 59 Triumphs of Edward the Third in France.
  19. 64 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].
  20. 67 Edward, the Black Prince, dead some time before his Father [in 1376].
  21. 71 Magnificence of Richard the Second's reign. See Froissard, and other contemporary Writers.
  22. 77 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.
  23. 83 Ruinous civil wars of York and Lancaster.
  24. 87 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.
  25. 89 [Consort] Margaret of Anjou, a woman of heroic spirit, who struggled hard to save her Husband and her Crown. [Father] Henry the Fifth.
  26. 90 Henry the Sixth very near being canonized. The line of Lancaster had no right of inheritance to the Crown.
  27. 91 The white and red roses, devices of York and Lancaster [presumably woven above and below on the loom].
  28. 93 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.
  29. 99 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.
  30. 109 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.
  31. 110 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].
  32. 117 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.]
  33. 121 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.]
  34. 126 Fierce wars and faithful loves shall moralize my song.
    Spenser's Proëme to the Fairy Queen [l. 9].
  35. 128 Shakespear.
  36. 131 Milton.
  37. 133 The succession of Poets after Milton's time.


This work was published before January 1, 1929, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

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