“The paths of glory lead but to the grave.” This quote has long since turned into a proverb. It was originally used by Thomas Grey, in his poem “Elegy written in a Country Churchyard” in the ninth stanza. The poem had actually been written in a small country church burial ground, where in fact lies Thomas Grey’s body. Here is a short but brilliant excerpt from his poem:
The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow’r,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,
Awaits alike th’ inevitable hour.
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.
Thomas Grey was an English poet, letter-writer, classical scholar, and professor at Pembroke College, Cambridge. He is most widely known for his Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, published in 1751. Grey was an extremely self-critical writer who published only 13 poems in his lifetime, despite being very popular.
What is glory?
Glory has several meanings, differing from individual to individual. Glory is defined as the high renown or honour won by any notable achievements. It is also synonymous to magnificence or great beauty.
Any successful accomplishment which is rewarding and gives us a cherishing and cheerful outlook of life is what can be precisely understood from the word glory. It is definitely not all that easy to attain success in any job. It requires talent, dedication and efficiency to be successful.
The paths of glory lead but to the grave. This phrase can have both a positive and negative outlook, which can either encourage to seek out glory or explain to us where that glory will lead us to. However, in the end, it is important to make our own choice and choose which type of glory we are in search of and for what reason.
The Negative Outlook of Glory
In the negative outlook of glory, the glory we are referring to is not for the better of mankind, but simply for ourselves. It is to glorify our own beliefs and faith, for one’s own personal happiness. This type of glory is not always justified.
People run behind the materialistic things like wealth, property etc., or they keep wandering to attain the abstracts like power, name and fame to find their Glory. This type of life may seem to be very glorious for those who have success in their mission, but all this glory simply leads to the grave.
If we closely visualise, the person who has an aim to achieve is under great stress. He is the one who doesn’t care for his health or for that matter the purest form of life like love, affection, emotions etc., as he simply lacks time for each and every thing that it not devoted to achieving his glory.
There are such people who would, rather than living their life and enjoying the same to the fullest, move greedily towards their so-called aim without looking back once. They often end up with various types of diseases. These diseases are definitely leading to the grave. It just depends if they are killed instantly or their life is slowly eaten up like a pest devouring a leaf.
Whatever it is that we gain in life by heroics acts, obtaining or assuming power, beauty, and wealth, it has very less sustenance, and life is still perishable. People who become glorious, become successful in fulfilling their desire, their greed, their aim but they fail to understand the losses they are suffering in their life. They fail to value the time, people, love and affection which are priceless and precious things.
Battles are fought between multiple nations, to ascertain which of them is more glorious. Members of different religions fight against each other to glorify their respective God. Political parties fight against each other and pull the others down to uphold their own glory.
Celebrities step on each other’s toes to push themselves forward. Murders and crimes are committed for nothing but revengeful motives. All of this leads to the grave. Poor or rich, coloured or white, agnostic or atheistic, everyone goes to the same tomb at the end.
The Positive Outlook of Glory
From Socrates and Jesus to Lincoln and Gandhi, there is an unbroken tradition of martyrs whose life and actions brought glory to mankind but who had to sacrifice their lives at the altar of their principles. These great souls were much ahead of their times in their ideas and ways of thinking.
Moreover, they had great courage of conviction which made them bold in the face of their opponents who were making desperate efforts to preserve their outworn ideas with the help of brutal power. The day belonged to the tyrants but the future did reverence to the martyrs.
We have several great men in the history we learn, because history rarely forgets the names of those who are great.
Of course, at the time that these men took up the challenge, they knew what risk it posed to their lives and being. They knew that they would not be glorifying themselves for even a minute.
Regardless, they worked hard. Some of them saw mankind reap the benefits and glory, the seeds of which they had sown. Others did not get to experience the fruits of their hard work in their lifetime, for Death had already claimed them.
This sort of glory, which will help people far and wide, is the one we should dedicate ourselves to. Death will come, and we will all go to the grave, some sooner, some later. Isn’t that what life is? It is but a journey from the womb to the tomb. This is the positive outlook of glory.
The Inevitability of Death
One who has been born, shall die, as shall one who will be born. During the entirety of life, people torment themselves for money, material goods, love, family, health, glory etc. But all the varieties of trouble a life might encounter, with all its preoccupations, find their submergence in death. Death is an inevitable phenomena associated with life, since the very moment that worldly existence of life form is realised.
In fact, we have continuous reminders of the mortality of human life and the inevitability of death irrespective of any social position, beauty, wealth or any glory.
There is an ancient Jataka parable with a lovely meaning pertaining to Death. According to this story, a grieving lady once visited Buddha with the corpse of her son, weeping and mourning, to request bring back the life. Buddha smiled, agreed and asked her to bring him a handful of cereal from a family in which nobody had died before.
The lady nodded and went on her search, knocking from door to door but in vain, for every family had much more than just one death. Tired of her efforts, the lady returned to Buddha crying out loud and bewailing her fate. But she had understood what he was trying to teach her. He summed up the lesson that although death is certain, its time is not.
After having discussed this phrase so carefully, we can make certain conclusions. One can plan for a safer life by keeping away from any glory, for the more glorious the path, the closer it is to dying.
Nevertheless, there is no safe box which can’t be torn apart by the claws of death. Death is like the deep dense woods whose immensity cannot be fathomed from ground because the vision is blocked by the first few rows of trees itself.
To conclude, I would like to quote Oriana Fallaci, an Italian author, journalist and an ardent interviewer, who having keenly observed her political interviewees, said, “Glory is a heavy burden, a murdering poison. To bear it is an art, and to have that art is rare.”
It is up to you to choose the correct path: the path of glory for yourself or the path of glory for mankind?