Saturday, April 3, 2010


Full many a gem of purest ray serene

The dark unfathom'd caves of ocean bear:

Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,

And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

- Thomas Gray

The lines illustrate the pathos that some bright people are held back by their obscure origins from attaining worldly fame. But the elegance of the verse dignifies this dire situation in a way which makes us feel reluctant to see it altered. By comparing it to a natural condition, it also makes it seem as though it could not in fact be altered. Intellectually ambitious farm laborers presumably object to the poverty which holds them back; but gems do not mind being in caves, and flowers prefer not to be plucked. The imagery is askew to the argument it is meant to underpin. 'Blush,' carries a resonance of virginity, and so a suggestion that renunciation is desirable, including perhaps the kind of sacrifice force upon talented people from modest social backgrounds.

- Terry Eagleton

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