Explain the lines “Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife, /Their sober wishes never learn’d to stray”

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 tenor of their way. (Stanza 19)

The present passage is an extract from Thomas Gray‘s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. The poet has already dwelt on the circumscribed lot of the rude forefathers of the hamlet, that forbade their growing virtues and confined their criminal instincts. Now the poet speaks of their plain, quiet living, in their humble village, without least affected by the turmoil of the world at war.

Their grim poverty and utter ignorance stood as a hard bar to the possible prospects of the poor villagers to attain name and fame, riches and power. But they also had no scope to enter into any contest or conflict to attain power or position. No sinister scheme or heinous plan could be conceived by them to fulfil their high ambition. In fact, they never involved themselves in the mad rivalry or mean confrontation to gain their objective. They did never know or practise how to move away from the right track- from the path of innocence and honesty. In fact, their way of living was all calm and peaceful, far from the vicious effects of jealousy, malice and hypocrisy. Their course of life was all simple and remained unaffected by the distraction of the crowd and the noises of a striving and aspiring world.

Gray’s stanza is a tribute to the simple, noiseless tenour of poor life. His elegy passes from lamentation to moralization here. Of course, this is the characteristic didacticism of the Augustan world, which the poet has fitted in with his humanitarian zeal.

Also read: Explain The curfew tolls the knell of parting day/The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea