“Elegy Written during a Country Churchyard” maybe a poem by Gray. Its speaker strides the countryside at dusk and evokes the cycles of the wildlife to meditate on the inevitability of death for all—including himself. The speaker observes the landscape and watches the plowman and his cattle heading home.
Upon seeing gravesites within the shade of a yew tree, the speaker considers the deaths of poor and rich men alike.The speaker praises the modesty of the graves within the churchyard and realizes that death consigns all men—poor and rich, obscure and renowned—to a fate of oblivion.
Thomas Gray probably began “Elegy Written during a Country Churchyard” about 1746. it had been originally a somewhat shorter poem than the version he published in 1751, and a few have speculated that the poem may are occasioned by actual death, perhaps that of Gray’s friend Richard West in 1742.
When Gray designated his work as an elegy, he placed it during a long tradition of meditative poems that specialize in human mortality and sometimes reflect specifically on the death of one person. By setting his meditation during a typical English churchyard with mounds, gravestones, and yew trees, Gray was also following a practice. a number of the foremost popular poems within the middle of Gray’s century were set in graveyards and meditated on death.
“Elegy Written during a Country Churchyard” is cast in four-line stanzas, or quatrains, during which the primary line rhymes with the third, the second with the fourth. This abab pattern, at this point related to elegiac poetry, gives the poem an appropriately stately pace. The last three stanzas are printed in italic type and given the title “The Epitaph.”
In the first three stanzas (lines 1 to 12), Gray sets the scene for his private and quiet meditations. he’s far away from the town and searching out from a rustic churchyard at a rural scene, but the sights and sounds of this rural world of men and beasts dissolve. Although the scene is gorgeous, life isn’t joyous, and grey reflects that today dies a bit like the one before it, because the plowman plods wearily home.
The poet is alone, but he’s not tired. The text gives a way of the vitality of his solitude and of the stillness of the scene by describing the few things that remain to disturb it: the tinkling of the cattle who have returned home, the drone of the beetle, and therefore the sound of an owl from the tower. This owl—a “moping,” secret, solitary ruler over the churchyard since ancient times—strikes an ominous note and protests that the poet is challenging its reign. With these descriptions, Gray creates the backdrop for his melancholy reflections about eternal truths.
In the next four stanzas (lines 13 to 28), Gray uses the churchyard scene to invoke important images: the strength of the elms, death as symbolized by the graves, and therefore the comfort provided by the yews shading bodies that sleep. The poet begins by reflecting that death for the standard and class means a cessation of life’s simple pleasures: awakening to the songs of birds, sharing life with a wife and youngsters, and enjoying hard and productive work. Gray reflects not on the untimely death of children but on the death that comes after a traditional lifetime.
In the next four stanzas (lines 29 to 44), the poet addresses the upper classes—those ambitiously , grandeur, power, nobility, and pride—and exhorts them to not mock the poor for his or her simplicity or for not having elaborate statues on their graveyard memorials. He tells the living upper classes (perhaps the people Gray envisions as his readers) that ultimately it doesn’t matter what glory they achieve or how elaborate a tombstone they’re going to have. they’re going to die a bit like the poor.
The eight stanzas (lines 45 to 76) that follow provide the central message of the poem: The poor are born with an equivalent natural ability as members of the upper classes.
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