|Stoke Poges Churchyard, Buckinghamshire|
Thomas Gray who wrote “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” was an extremely self-critical poet, paralyzed by the fear of failure. Though he had devoted his life to a self-imposed programme of literary study, and was known as one of the most learned men of his generation, he published a mere 13 poems in his lifetime, 1000 lines, which might be mistaken for “the collected works of a flea,” he said sadly.
In the graveyard of Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire, he ponders the graves of those whose lives were not blighted by ambition–or thwarted ambition.
But were they any less gifted then the household names of their generation? Statistically, the inhabitants of Stoke Poges should have had the same probability of producing a genius like Milton, a leader like Cromwell as any other town. They did not. Why? Gray muses
Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid
Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire;
Hands, that the rod of empire might have sway’d,
Or waked to ecstasy the living lyre:
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.
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.
Some village Hampden, that with dauntless breast
The little tyrant of his fields withstood,
Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest,
Some Cromwell, guiltless of his country’s blood.
Th’ applause of list’ning senates to command,
The threats of pain and ruin to despise,
To scatter plenty o’er a smiling land,
And read their history in a nation’s eyes,
Their lot forbad:
Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife,
Their sober wishes never learn’d to stray;
Along the cool sequester’d vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenour of their way.
He mourns these “mute inglorious Miltons,” “born to blush unseen and waste their sweetness on the desert air.”
However, with the explosion of blogging, the gatekeepers are losing their power, and anyone with a winsome voice who speaks to people can eventually find her audience, though she might live far from urban literary hubs. Miltons, particularly female ones, are no longer mute or inglorious!
In fact, “Miltons”, who live far from the madding crowd, find a voice–and an audience. The farmer’s wife Ann Voskamp in rural Canada, mother of six children who finds the sacred in the everyday. Or the nomadic Jessica Bowman, to mention at random, two blogs I enjoyed this week. Sweetness is no longer wasted on the desert air, in Gray’s phrase. It can be shared. And that is good, for sweetness should be shared.
Blogging is the greatest democratization of writing the world has seen–and probably its greatest explosion of shared knowledge and experience. That’s not to say an audience comes immediately—it still takes time, and application. However, one can gain one’s audience unmediated, based on whether your writing speaks to head, spirit and heart, without needing to convince a gatekeeper.
And that is one of the many reasons I love blogging.