The Progress of Poesy

by Thomas Gray

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"Beneath The Good How Far–but Far Above The Great"

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Last Updated on January 19, 2017, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 200

Context: Gray wrote poetry for his friends. He had little but scorn for the intellectual qualities and knowledge of the general public. Therefore, he declared, concerning the lines and references in his poem that traced the history of poetry from the Greek Pindar to the great English figures, that they were "vocal to the intelligent; for the many they need interpreters." However, many of its footnotes were in Greek that would be of little help to the general reader. Most of the names mentioned in the ode are familiar today. After the poet's tribute to Shakespeare (see, "Nature's darling") and to Milton (see, "He pass'd the flaming Bounds"), Gray lauds the greatness of Dryden. However, now that Dryden is dead, Gray asks who will inherit the lyre of the Theban Eagle (Pindar). Perhaps some one still a child will one day prove how far goodness can outshine greatness. (See, "They're only truly great").

Yet oft before his infant eyes would run
Such forms as glitter in the Muse's ray,
With orient hues, unborrowed of the Sun;
Yet shall he mount, and keep his distant way
Beyond the limits of a vulgar fate;
Beneath the Good how far–but far above the Great.

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"He Passed The Flaming Bounds Of Place And Time"