Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard

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Thomas Gray wrote “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” in 1742, shortly after the death of his close friend Richard West who died from tuberculosis (“Gray, Thomas”). The death of his dear friend influenced him to write an elegy, which is a poem expressing sorrow or lamentation, especially towards one who has died (“Poetry for Students”). An elegy is usually a pensive or reflective poem that can be nostalgic or melancholy (“Elegy”). Gray uses figurative language and detailed description to get his message across to his reader. Instead of mourning for the people with wealth and high status, his elegy focuses on the common person. With detailed imagery and diction of the Augustan Era, Thomas Gray expresses the beauty of life and conveys the themes of death and self-search in his pastoral elegy, “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.”

The poem was written at the end of the Augustan Age and at the beginning of the Romantic Period, where both periods are evident in the poem. Gray combined in a unique way a classic form typical of the Augustan Era with contents and attitudes portrayed from the Romantic Period (“Gray, Thomas”). “On one hand, it has the ordered, balanced phrasing and rotational sentimental of Neoclassical poetry. On the other hand, it tends toward the emotionalism and individualism of the Romantic poets; most importantly, it idealizes and elevates the common man.” (Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” 73). His poem focuses on common people and really describes their lives and ponders on the things they could have accomplished if they were given the chance to do greater things. He also uses georgic verses, poetry that describes agriculture, which was popular in the eighteenth century. Gray also associates man and nature, which suggests a romantic attitude (“Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” 78). He is able to combine both the Augustan Era and Romantic Period into his poem, making it unique and different from others.

This poem was written in heroic quatrains, which consists of four lines per stanza. Heroic quatrains have a rhyme scheme of abab pattern and are written in iambic pentameter. Its regular, steady rhythm helps create a tranquil and quite mood, which is appropriate to the pondering nature of this poem (“Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”). “Gray sets his lyrics in the comforts of nature and selects mild images – a knell, fading, drowsiness, and moping – rather than the extremes of gothic horror.” (Snodgrass, Mary Ellen).

The poem begins with an observation of a country day coming to an end and farmers returning home. The first line of the poem sets a solemn tone that makes the mood of the poem gloomy, which can lead to the description of the graveyard and the pondering of the speaker. The speaker considers the pleasures that the dead will no longer enjoy and invoke the idea that everyone dies eventually. Earthly matters once valuable will no longer matter when a person is dead. He tries to persuade the reader not to look down on the poor because of their simple accomplishment because the speaker says that if the poor got a chance to do great things they could have accomplished a lot. The speaker is wondering if someone will remember him when he is dead. He imagines an old farmer remembering him after his death and describes what the old man would say about him. (The speaker wonders if someone will remember his when he is dead and imagines what an old farmer would say about him...and finish it somehow)The last three stanzas of the poem are the speaker’s epitaph. In his epitaph, he asks anyone that passes his grave to be remembered for being generous and sincere rather than wealthy and famous. The speaker wishes to be recognized not with the great and famous, but with the common people he has praised in his poem (“Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”).

Gray’s poem is reflective towards the questions of life and death and shows sympathy for the underclass society. He uses...
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