The Parish Register "From The Cradle To The Grave"
by George Crabbe

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"From The Cradle To The Grave"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Crabbe was an early exponent of realism. He disliked intensely the old pastoral, rustic poetry which idealized village life and doted on rural simplicity; he was at the same time completely opposed to the developing school of romanticism, which treated the same subject in more dramatic and sentimental terms. His first major work, The Village, is a satirical reply to Goldsmith's The Deserted Village; in it and in the works that followed it, he recreates in poetry the lives and condition of the poor with stark and unflinching bluntness. It is true that he tends to exaggerate the misfortunes of these people into a picture of unrelieved agony at times, but this comes from his determination to tell their story without any coating of romance. In The Parish Register, as in his other poems of like nature, he surveys the inhabitants of a rural area and draws their portraits both realistically and psychologically. He characterizes them in a variety of ways: an epigrammatic comment, a skeletonized biography, or a revealing speech. This poem is a chain of connected tales; it begins with a number of births, follows the people through their lives, and ends with their death and burial. In the opening lines Crabbe announces that "The year revolves, and I again explore/ The simple annals of my parish poor." The first story under "Baptisms" is that of a girl whose child is born out of wedlock; its father, a sailor, is killed at sea. The youthful mother is abused by all and cast out by her father. Other stories follow: of those who long for children and cannot have them, and of others who have too many; of children wanted and unwanted; of ignorance, and of strange names conferred on children for incomprehensible reasons. The poem then traces out some of the lives thus inauspiciously begun, and in the third section, "Burials," brings them to a cheerless end. Crabbe begins "Burials" with the following lines:

There was, 'tis said, and I believe, a time
When humble Christians died with views sublime;
When all were ready for their faith to bleed,
But few to write or wrangle for their creed;
When lively Faith upheld the sinking heart,
And friends, assured to meet, prepared to part;
When Love felt hope, when Sorrow grew serene,
And all was comfort in the death-bed scene.
Alas! when now the gloomy king they wait,
'Tis weakness yielding to resistless fate;
Like wretched men upon the ocean cast,
They labour hard and struggle to the last;
'Hope against hope,' and wildly gaze around,
In search of help that never shall be found:
Nor, till the last strong billow stops the breath,
Will they believe them in the jaws of Death!
When these my Records I reflecting read,
And find what ills these numerous births succeed;
What powerful griefs these nuptial ties attend,
With what regret these painful journeys end;
When from the cradle to the grave I look,
Mine I conceive a melancholy book.