Gray has entered the following note in the margin of the Pembroke MS: - ''Publish'd in Febry.1751, by Dodsley, & went thro' four editions, in two months; and afterwards a fifth, 6th, 7th, & 8th, 9th, 10th, & 11th; printed also in 1753 with Mr. there is a 2d edition; & again by Dodsley in his 'Miscellany,' vol. Roberts, & published in 1762, & again in the same year by Rob. A.''It first appeared with Gray's name in the ''Six Poems'' of 1753.[(It was already the hour which turns back the desire Of the sailors, and melts their hearts, The day that they have said good-bye to their sweet friends, And which pierces the new pilgrim with love, If he hears) — from afar the bell Which seems to mourn the dying day.] Ch'i veggio nel pensier, dolce mio fuoco, Fredda una lingua, & due begli occhi chiusi Rimaner doppo noi pien di faville.[For I see in my thoughts, my sweet fire, One cold tongue, and two beautiful closed eyes Will remain full of sparks after our death.] Expanding the poem lines () shows the results of a computationally facilitated analysis of the text.
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[For I see in my thoughts, my sweet fire, One cold tongue, and two beautiful closed eyes Will remain full of sparks after our death.] was begun at Stoke-Poges in the autumn of 1742, probably on the occasion of the funeral of Jonathan Rogers, on the 31st of October. (Price sixpence).'' There was a preface by Horace Walpole.
In the winter of 1749 Gray took it in hand again, at Cambridge, after the death of his aunt, Mary Antrobus. The poem was circulated in MS., and on the 10th of February 1751 Gray received a letter from the editor of the , asking leave to publish it. The text here given is that of the Edition of 1768, which appears to be authoritative and final.
An editor of the , a cheap periodical, sent word to Gray that he was about to print it, and naturally the author did not care to have a poem of this nature make its entrance into the world by so obscure a by-path.
He therefore had it published (anonymously) on February 16, 1751, by the great London publisher, Dodsley. Edition followed edition in rapid succession; it was translated into living and dead languages; and - a sure evidence of popularity - it was repeatedly parodied.