I’ve never done anything but dream. This, and this alone, has been the meaning of my life. My only real concern has been my inner life. FERNANDO PESSOA

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Common People Like You

I want to live like common people/I want to do whatever common people do/I want to sleep with common people/I want to sleep with common people like you Common People JARVIS COCKER

In Thomas Gray's finest and most well-known poem, Elegy Written In A Country Churchyard, which I quoted in my last post, the dead lie all around - and of course they will continue to lie all around: Can storied urn or animated bust/Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath?

Gray muses that many of these ordinary villagers, these 'rude Forefathers', had many shining skills, talents and virtues which were forever destined to remain secret and unremarked: Full many a gem of purest ray serene,/The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear;/Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,/And waste its sweetness on the desert air. In just a few lines Gray shows how history is written by society's tiny percentage of the rich, the influential and the literate; and how popular history, ordinary everyday history, the history of the 'common people', has by and large been erased from the records - or it was never recorded in the first place.

In one of the most often-quoted verses from this poem, Gray characterizes again the 'hidden' life of the long-suffering, country poor: Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife,/Their sober wishes never learnt to stray;/Along the cool sequestered vale of life/They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.

This verse may sound a bit patronising - but I don't think it's meant to be so: Let not ambition mock their useful toil,/Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;/Nor grandeur hear with a disdainful smile/The short and simple annals of the poor.

2 comments:

The Weaver of Grass said...

Re: Thomas Grey - he was writing in the eighteenth century in the time when "the rich man in his castle/the poor man at his gate/ god made them high and lowly/ and ordered their estate was the usual thinking. I think this went on until the first world war when suddenly these "poor men at the gate" were fighting and losing their lives for the country (a pretty awful and useless war but it made the poor stand up for themselves - they already had the Industrial Revolution behind them -
it is interesting that that particular verse of All Things Bright and Beautiful was dropped many years ago. The poor and "lowly" had burst out of their "prison" and things would never be the same again!

The Solitary Walker said...

Indeed, things were never the same again. But behind our rightly valued meritocracy lie other, different, sinister dangers: rampant and obscene consumerism, greed for short-term personal advantage, pursuit of a selfish, superficial life. No protesting against the status quo as in the 60s. An I'm All Right Jack So Screw You mentality everywhere. Realization of global catastrophe coming too little too late.

Also I think this inevitable and expected credit crunch/recession may produce a new poor, underclass.

At least that 18th century God's gone out the window. Thank God!