Last Updated on January 19, 2017, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 250
Context: Thomas Gray spent most of his life adding constantly to his store of knowledge, for he was primarily a scholar, rather than a poet. He had a deep and continuing interest in literature and language, ancient and modern history, art and architecture, botany and zoölogy; in all these areas he was a learned man. Much of his life he spent as a recluse, living in rooms in one of the colleges at Cambridge, reading and studying. In 1768 Gray was offered a professorship in modern history at Cambridge by the Duke of Grafton, a personal friend. A year later the Duke was elected to the Chancellorship of the University. It was for his installation ceremony that Gray wrote "The Installation Ode." Gray did not particularly want to compose the "Ode," but he felt an obligation to the Duke for his kindness. The poem consists of airs, choruses, recitatives; the music was composed by a Doctor Randall, at that time Professor of Music at Cambridge. The general theme of the piece is an invocation of the blessing of the long-departed founders of the university on the occasion of the installation. Near the middle of the 94-line poem, a quartet asks and answers several questions:
What is grandeur, what is power?
Heavier toil, superior pain.
What the bright reward we gain?
The grateful memory of the good.
Sweet is the breath of vernal shower,
The bee's collected treasures sweet,
Sweet music's melting fall, but sweeter yet
The still small voice of gratitude.
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