Gray's Elegy and Goldsmith's Deserted Village

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Q) Compare and contrast Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” and Goldsmith’s “The Deserted Village”.

Oliver Goldsmith’s “The Deserted Village” and Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” were published within a gap of two years in the final decade of eighteenth century, i.e. 1740 and 1742 respectively. Both the poems were written in the Pastoral form, by which they portrayed as well as challenged the socio-political and economic developments in the eighteenth century England. Where Goldsmith writes about his concerns about the phenomenon of “depopulation” in the English villages, Gray questions the increasing disparity between the rich and the poor. Interestingly, what both the author’s portrayed were the outcomes of the thriving Capitalism in England and the growing imperialism.

Gray’s “Elegy” and Goldsmith’s “The Deserted Village” are written with an English village in the hinterland: in the former, Gray moans the death of the village dwellers’ unsung “artless tales” and in the latter, Goldsmith laments the dismantling of the village life. W. W. Greg has argued in Pastoral Poetry and Pastoral Drama, Pastoral was used by the eighteenth century poets as a yearning to “escape, if it were but in imagination and for a moment, to a life of simplicity and innocence from the bitter luxury of the court and the menial bread of princes.” The “Elegy” and “The Deserted Village” ostensibly reflect this yearning of their poets. However, it is to be understood that both the poets use Pastoral as a tool to comment upon the rising greed and avarice of the upcoming bourgeoisie and their growth at the expense of the countryside. Gray, in his “Elegy”, uses the graves of unknown poor villagers as a metaphor to warn the rich of the cities against the inevitability of death despite one’s social status and wealth: “The boasts of heraldry, the pomp of power,/ …Awaits alike the inevitable hour.” Goldsmith, in his “The Deserted Village”, weaves a...
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