Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Here rests his head upon the lap of Earth
A youth to Fortune and to Fame unknown.
Fair Science frown'd not on his humble birth,
And Melancholy mark'd him for her own.
- Now we're supposed to imagine that we, like the "kindred spirit" who asked about the dead speaker, are reading Thomas Gray's imagined epitaph. Morbid?
- Yes. But kind of cool, we have to admit. Let's see what it says…
- This is where the speaker is resting his head on the ground.
- Yes, that's a metaphor! Dead people don't really "rest their heads" anywhere—they're dead, after all. And "Earth" is being personified when the speaker imagines that it could have a "lap."
- The speaker calls himself a young person who is unknown both to Fortune (i.e., good luck or wealth—it could mean either) and to Fame. In other words, he was of humble birth.
- But at least he was no stranger to knowledge, or science, in spite of his humble origins. He was a scholar and a poet!
- But, alas, he was sometimes kinda depressed.
- We get more personification here, too—you can tell because all those nouns (Fame, Fortune, Science, Melancholy) are capitalized.