I have four questions regarding Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard".

  1. What is the subject of "molest" in this stanza?

    Save that from yonder ivy-mantled tow'r
    The moping owl does to the moon complain
    Of such as, wand'ring near her secret bow'r,
    Molest her ancient solitary reign.

  2. What do the "you" & "ye" pronouns stand for in the following stanza:

    Nor you, ye proud, impute to these the fault,
    If mem'ry o'er their tomb no trophies raise,
    Where thro' the long-drawn isle and fretted vault,
    The pealing anthem swells the note of praise.

  3. What does "her" stand for in the following stanza:

    But knowledge to their eyes her ample page
    Rich with the spoils of time did ne'er unroll;
    Chill penury repress'd their noble rage,
    And froze the genial current of the soul.

  4. What does "he" stand for in the following stanza:

    Hard by yon wood, now smiling as in scorn,
    Mutt'ring his wayward fancies he would rove,
    Now drooping, woeful wan, like one forlorn,
    Or craz'd with care, or cross'd in hopeless love.

  • 'Of such as, wand'ring near her secret bow'r' should be 'Of such, as wand'ring near her secret bow'r'. As you quoted it it doesn't make much sense.
    – user19522
    Oct 16, 2023 at 6:11
  • @user19522: this is indeed the original punctuation, and arguably should not be changed. The rules for comma usage were different in the 18th century. Some modern editors have made the change you suggest, which would indeed probably clarify it for modern readers.
    – Peter Shor
    Oct 18, 2023 at 2:56

1 Answer 1

  1. The subject is such.
    What it means is that the owl is complaining about the people (or animals) who wander near her secret bower and disturb her solitude.
  2. Here, ye is the vocative case of you. The vocative case is used for people you are talking to. While English never had a separate vocative case (it used the nominative case pronouns ye and thou), the pronoun ye was still treated as a vocative case for some time after it stopped being the nominative case of you.
    What it means is "You, all of you proud people, ..."
  3. The antecedent of "her" is "knowledge". If you look at other versions of the poem, "Knowledge" is capitalized, showing that it's a personification.
    What it means is that Knowledge never revealed herself to their eyes.
  4. Here, "he" is the "thee" mentioned three stanzas earlier.

For thee, who mindful of th' unhonour'd Dead
Dost in these lines their artless tale relate;
If chance, by lonely contemplation led,
Some kindred spirit shall inquire thy fate,

Haply some hoary-headed swain may say,
"Oft have we seen him at the peep of dawn

The rest of the poem, up to the epitaph at the end (the last three stanzas), is the hoary-headed swain's response to the question. Since you left out the quotation mark at the beginning of the stanza "Hard by yon wood ..., it's not clear that this is apparent in your version.

Who exactly is "thee" here? Since "thee" has written a poem about the "unhonour'd Dead" (i.e., Dost in these lines their artless tale relate), it appears to be the author of this poem, namely Thomas Gray. He is foreseeing his own death, and writing his own elegy.

  • Thanks a lot for your detailed answer Peter.
    – balteo
    Jun 14, 2023 at 17:59

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