Five stanzas, written in 1742 and published in 1753: if Thomas Gray really did read Spenser before sitting down to compose his poetry, on this occasion the poem would have been Muiopotmos. A political parody of this poem was published in Gentleman's Magazine 74 (August 1804) 761-62.
Miss Anstey to Elizabeth Montagu: "Have you heard that Mr. Gray is going to publish his whole stock of poetry, which, though it will consist of only one volume, and contains but few things which have not been already printed, the price will be half a guinea; but what seems most extraordinary, it is expected there will be a great demand for them, and I am told there is already a great number bespoke, for they are to be embellished and illustrated in the most curious and ingenious manner with copper plates drawn and imagined by Mr. Bentley" 18 January 1753; in Emily J. Climenson, Elizabeth Montagu (1906) 2:23.
Ralph Griffiths: "We have now before us one of the most elegant publications that our country hath produced for some years past: whether we consider the beauty of the printing, the genius that appears in the designs for the cuts, or the masterly execution of most of the engravings. Nor will the connoisseur in prints, we are persuaded, think the price of this volume too high: whatever may be the judgment of the mere poetical purchaser, to whom it may appear somewhat rare to pay half a guinea for thirty-six pages of verse; which are all that this book contains besides the explanation of the designs, (which make four pages more) and the copper plates. With regard to the ingenious author of these poems; to enlarge in his praise, would be impertinence; as his church-yard elegy is in every one's hands, and not more justly than universally admired. This piece, of which several editions have been printed, is one of the six contained in this collection" Monthly Review 8 (June 1753) 477.
Samuel Johnson: "His Ode on Spring has something poetical, both in the language and the thought; but the language is too luxuriant, and the thoughts have nothing new. There has of late arisen a practice of giving to adjectives, derived from substantives, the termination of participles, such as the 'cultured' plain, the 'daisied' bank; but I was sorry to see, in the lines of a scholar like Gray, 'the honied Spring.' The morality is natural, but too stale; the conclusion is pretty" "Life of Gray" in Lives of the English Poets (1779-81); ed. Hill (1905) 3:434.
Percival Stockdale: "'It has something poetical;' — 'the conclusion is pretty.' — This is a part of Johnson's supercilious, and ridiculous manner of abusing it. — 'The language is too luxuriant.' — This is the censure that he passed on a poetical style, the most accurate, elegant, and glowing that can be imagined. The rose, and the jasmine; the luxury, and delight of a healthy frame, are apt to disgust, and overpower a distempered constitution. His cavilling at 'the cultured plain;' 'the daisied bank;' and 'the honied spring;' is too frivolous, and pedantick for my particular notice. He says that 'the thoughts have nothing new;' 'the morality is natural but too stale.' — Our dictatorial critick ought to have known, that in the province of the moralist; nay even in the province of the poet; it is perhaps impossible to produce thoughts (by thoughts I here mean moral sentiments) absolutely new. Perhaps it was always impossible" Lectures on the truly eminent English Poets (1807) 2:553-54.
George Gregory: "In truth, we have no modern specimens of lyric poetry which equal the Allegro and Penseroso of Milton, we have many that far surpass the efforts of Dryden and Pope. Mr. Gray's Bard, the Progress of Poetry, his Ode on Eton College, the rich yet simple effusion to Spring, may be classed among the highest efforts of the lyric muse" in Letters on Literature, Taste, and Composition (1808) 2:206-07.
Henry Neele: "Milton still continues in undisputed possession of the epic supremacy, but the lyrical crown of Gray was swept away at one fell swoop, by the ruthless arm of Dr. Johnson. That the doctor's celebrated critique was unduly severe, must be admitted; but the stern censor had truth on his side, nevertheless. There is more of art than nature in Gray; more of recollection than invention; more of acquirement than genius. If I may make use of a colloquial illustration, I should say, that the marks of the tools are too evident on all that he does. I do not object to effort and labour being exercised on that which is intended for the public eye; but the highest effort, and the most successful labour, are those which produce the effects without exhibiting the means. Who can doubt but that the works of Milton were the result of long, and painful, and elaborate labour; but the only evidence of that labour is the perfection to which they are wrought. In Milton we see the poet; in Gray, the verse constructor. In Milton we see the stately edifice reared; in Gray, the materials brought together for its erection. One shows us the palette, and the canvass, and the brush; the other shows us the picture; the production of the master mind, without whose informing genius, the palette, and the canvass, and the brush, are but idle and worthless toys" Russell Institution Lectures on English Poetry, 1827; in Remains (1829) 141-42.
George Saintsbury: "I have little doubt — and it is this which gives [Johnson's Life of Gray] its real interest for me — that one main reason of Johnson's antipathy to Gray's poetry was the same as that for which we like it. He suspected, if he did not fully perceive, the romantic snake in Gray's classically waving grass. And he had on his own grounds good reason for suspecting it. Gray might use Greek and Latin tags almost extravagantly. But he sedulously eschewed the couplet; and, while preferring lyric, he chose lyrical forms which, though Johnson was too much of a scholar to dare to call them irregular, violated his own theories of the prompt and orderly recurrence of rhyme, and the duty of maintaining a length of line as even as possible" History of English Criticism (1911) 225-26.
Lo! where the rosy-bosom'd Hours,
Fair VENUS' train appear,
Disclose the long-expecting flowers,
And wake the purple year!
The Attic warbler pours her throat,
Responsive to the cuckow's note,
The untaught harmony of spring:
While whisp'ring pleasure as they fly,
Cool Zephyrs thro' the clear blue sky
Their gather'd fragrance fling.
Where'er the oak's thick branches stretch
A broader browner shade;
Where'er the rude and moss-grown beech
O'er-canopies the glade;
Beside some water's rushy brink
With me the Muse shall sit, and think
(At ease reclin'd in rustic state)
How vain the ardour of the Crowd,
How low, how little are the Proud,
How indigent the Great!
Still is the toiling hand of Care:
The panting herds repose:
Yet hark, how thro' the peopled air
The busy murmur glows!
The insect youth are on the wing,
Eager to taste the honied spring,
And float amid the liquid noon:
Some lightly o'er the current skim,
Some shew their gayly-gilded trim
Quick-glancing to the sun.
To Contemplation's sober eye
Such is the race of Man:
And they that creep, and they that fly,
Shall end where they began.
Alike the Busy and the Gay
But flutter thro' life's little day,
In fortune's varying colours drest:
Brush'd by the hand of rough Mischance,
Or chill'd by age, their airy dance
They leave, in dust to rest.
Methinks I hear in accents low
The sportive kind reply:
Poor moralist! and what art thou?
A solitary fly!
Thy Joys no glittering female meets,
No hive hast thou of hoarded sweets,
No painted plumage to display:
On hasty wings thy youth is flown;
Thy sun is set, the spring is gone—
We frolick, while 'tis May.