Lonsdale, Roger, ed. The Poems of Thomas Gray, William Collins, Oliver Goldsmith. New York: Longman, 1969. Sells, A. L. Lytton. Thomas Gray: His Life and Works. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1980.
"GRONGAR HILL" John Dyer (1726) John
Dyer made his reputation as a landscape painter poet with "Grongar Hill," a richly descriptive poem that praised his home in his native Wales. He published three versions, the first in Richard Savage's Miscellaneous Poems (1726), which contained five additional Dyer poems. The second revised version appeared in the first volume of A New Miscellany, Written Chiefly by Persons of Quality. To Which is added Grongar Hill, a Poem, dated 1725, although it appeared later. Dyer's patroness, the countess of Hertford, may have supported its publication. The final revision was published in the first volume of Miscellany (1726), compiled by a friend from Westminster, David Lewis. The poem later influenced the Romantics in their view of nature, and William Wordsworth would express his admiration of Dyer's technique.
Dyer did not use the traditional heroic couplet of John Dryden and Alexander Pope for "Grongar Hill." He chose instead to imitate the Welsh cywdd couplet, closer to seven syllables per line, although it is commonly described as an "octosyllabic couplet." When he began the poem as a teen, he had used the heroic couplet but later became enthralled with John Milton's poems "L'Allegro" and "Il Penseroso," adopting a similar meter. The poem's theme is best expressed in the line "quiet in the soul," a quiet that poetry allowed Dyer to feel as he valued personal harmony with the world at large. His abundant use of i centers his modern thought, couched in a neoclassical approach, in the typical 18th-century format of including personal detail within more general observation, suggesting that the poet's experience parallels that of his readers.
Dyer begins his 158-line poem in the classical vein, his speaker calling on a Nymph to "aid thy sister Muse" as Phoebus, or the sun, rises and "Grongar Hill invites my song." The intimacy with which the speaker embraces his surroundings is reflected in a reverent tone. It remains a special place, as he explains:
Grongar, in whose mossy cells,
Sweetly musing, Quiet dwells;
Grongar, in whose silent shade,
For the modest Muses made. (15-18)
The speaker then describes himself at times, "With my hand beneath my head," observing his surround ings " 'Till Contemplation had her fill." Dyer employs alliteration as the speaker references "groves, and grottos where I lay" (29) and notes that "Wide and wider spreads the vale," soon skillfully repeating his allusion to circular movement. Dyer adopts the figurative language of simile, comparing the spreading vale in the next line to "circles on a smooth canal." As the reader learns of the round tops of mountains disappearing against the sky, Dyer further extends his conceit, writing
Still the prospect wider spreads, Adds a thousand woods and meads, Still it widens, widens still, And sinks the newly-risen hill. (37-40)
He employs chiasmus (inversion) in the line "Still it widens, widens still," the second phrase reversing the second, and uses antithesis by implying opposite ideas in describing a "newly-risen" hill, which simultaneously is sinking.
once the speaker climbs "the mountain's brow," a phrase in which Dyer employs personification, he describes the scene before him. After again noting in wonder nature in terms of its hues and light, he becomes more specific, his voice rising to a note of reverential praise. In lines 49-56 Dyer employs alliteration, consonance, assonance, and participle verb forms (towering and rushing), all of which build momentum, imitating in form the building emotion obvious in multiple exclamations:
old castles on the cliffs arise, Proudly towering in the skies! Rushing from the woods, the spires Seem from hence ascending fires! Half his beams Apollo sheds on the yellow mountain-heads! Gilds the fleeces of the flocks, And glitters on the broken rocks!
When Dyer reaches line 77, he begins a contemplative stage, his speaker observing the decay of a once-fine tower with protective walls, built into the mountain side. He celebrates all manner of creatures, again employing repetition to strong effect. He uses alliteration in line 83 to repeat the h sound, choosing the adjective hoary to imbue a sense of age to the scene:
'Tis now the raven's bleak abode;
'Tis now the apartment of the toad;
And there the fox securely feeds;
And there the pois'nous adder breeds,
Conceal'd in ruins, moss, and weeds;
While, ever and anon, there falls
Huge heap of hoary moulder'd walls. (77-83)
Such contemplation allows his focus on fate, the ultimate power over men's best plans. Lines 84-85 are especially heavy with alliteration of the letter l, causing a lumbering effect that suggests the ever-steady passage of time: "Yet time has seen, that lifts the low, And level lays the lofty brow." The speaker reminds readers that "A little rule, a little sway, /A sunbeam in a winters day," may be fate's only gift to "the proud and mighty" as they move from cradle to grave.
In lines 121-122 Dyer cautions through his speaker, "So we mistake the Future's face, / Ey'd thro' Hope's deluding glass." However, he does not intend his message to be negative. Rather he urges his audience to do what he tries to do:
O may I with myself agree, And never covet what I see: Content me with an humble shade, My passions tam'd, my wishes laid; (129-132)
The speaker cautions those who search for peace behind "the lofty door" or "on the marble floor" that they will be disappointed. He points them, instead, toward nature, and more specifically toward Grongar Hill, where "Quiet" and "Pleasure" abide. It serves as his touchstone, a place of quiet in which he has learned to observe as much about himself as he does in the scenes of nature that surround him:
Grass and flowers Quiet treads,
On the meads, and mountain-heads,
Along with Pleasure, close ally'd,
Ever by each other's side
And often, by the murm'ring rill,
Hears the thrush, while all is still,
Within the groves of Grongar Hill. (152-158)
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