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Elegy Written In A Country Churchyard Analysis

Author: poem of Thomas Gray Type: poem Views: 40

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The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,

The lowing herd wind slowly o'er the lea,

The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,

And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight,

And all the air a solemn stillness holds,

Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,

And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds;

Save that from yonder ivy-mantled tower

The moping owl does to the moon complain

Of such as, wandering near her secret bower,

Molest her ancient solitary reign.

Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree's shade,

Where heaves the turf in many a mould'ring heap,

Each in his narrow cell for ever laid,

The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep.

The breezy call of incense-breathing morn,

The swallow twittering from the straw-built shed,

The cock's shrill clarion, or the echoing horn,

No more shall rouse them from their lowly bed.

For them no more the blazing hearth shall burn,

Or busy housewife ply her evening-care;

No children run to lisp their sire's return,

Or climb his knees the envied kiss to share.

Oft did the harvest to their sickle yield,

Their furrow oft the stubborn glebe has broke:

How jocund did they drive their team afield!

How bowed the woods beneath their sturdy stroke!

Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,

Their homely joys and destiny obscure;

Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile

The short and simple annals of the poor.

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow'r,

And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave,

Awaits alike th' inevitable hour.

The paths of glory lead but to the grave.

Nor you, ye proud, impute to these the fault,

If Memory o'er their tomb no trophies raise,

Where through the long-drawn aisle, and fretted vault,

The pealing anthem swells the note of praise.

Can storied urn, or animated bust,

Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath?

Can Honour's voice provoke the silent dust,

Or Flattery soothe the dull cold ear of Death?

Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid

Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire;

Hands, that the rod of empire might have swayed,

Or waked to ecstasy the living lyre;

But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page,

Rich with the spoils of Time, did ne'er unroll;

Chill Penury repressed their noble rage,

And froze the genial current of the soul.

Full many a gem of purest ray serene

The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear;

Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,

And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

Some village-Hampden that with dauntless breast

The little tyrant of his fields withstood,

Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest,

Some Cromwell, guiltless of his country's blood.

Th' applause of list'ning senates to command,

The threats of pain and ruin to despise,

To scatter plenty o'er a smiling land,

And read their history in a nation's eyes,

Their lot forbad: nor circumscribed alone

Their growing virtues, but their crimes confined;

Forbad to wade through slaughter to a throne,

And shut the Gates of Mercy on mankind,

The struggling pangs of conscious truth to hide,

To quench the blushes of ingenuous shame,

Or heap the shrine of Luxury and Pride

With incense kindled at the Muse's flame.

Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife

Their sober wishes never learned to stray;

Along the cool sequestered vale of life

They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.

Yet ev'n these bones from insult to protect

Some frail memorial still erected nigh,

With uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture decked,

Implores the passing tribute of a sigh.

Their name, their years, spelt by th' unlettered Muse,

The place of fame and elegy supply:

And many a holy text around she strews,

That teach the rustic moralist to die.

For who, to dumb Forgetfulness a prey,

This pleasing anxious being e'er resigned,

Left the warm precincts of the cheerful day,

Nor cast one longing ling'ring look behind?

On some fond breast the parting soul relies,

Some pious drops the closing eye requires;

Ev'n from the tomb the voice of Nature cries,

Ev'n in our ashes live their wonted fires.

For thee, who, mindful of th' unhonoured dead,

Dost in these lines their artless tale relate;

If chance, by lonely Contemplation led,

Some kindred spirit shall enquire thy fate,—

Haply some hoary-headed swain may say

"Oft have we seen him at the peep of dawn

Brushing with hasty steps the dews away

To meet the sun upon the upland lawn;

"There at the foot of yonder nodding beech,

That wreathes its old fantastic roots so high,

His listless length at noon-tide would he stretch,

And pore upon the brook that babbles by.

"Hard by yon wood, now smiling as in scorn,

Mutt'ring his wayward fancies would he rove;

Now drooping, woeful-wan, like one forlorn,

Or crazed with care, or crossed in hopeless love.

"One morn I missed him from the customed hill,

Along the heath, and near his fav'rite tree;

Another came; nor yet beside the rill,

Nor up the lawn, nor at the wood was he:

"The next, with dirges due in sad array

Slow through the church-way path we saw him borne,—

Approach and read, for thou can'st read, the lay

Graved on the stone beneath yon aged thorn."


Here rests his head upon the lap of earth

A Youth, to Fortune and to Fame unknown:

Fair Science frowned not on his humble birth,

And Melancholy marked him for her own.

Large was his bounty, and his soul sincere,

Heaven did a recompense as largely send:

He gave to Misery (all he had) a tear,

He gained from Heaven ('twas all he wished) a friend.

No farther seek his merits to disclose,

Or draw his frailties from their dread abode,

(There they alike in trembling hope repose,)

The bosom of his Father and his God.


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||| Analysis | Critique | Overview Below |||

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| Posted on 2013-01-19 | by a guest

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its good its actually my report for January 9 2013 thats why I have to analyze but its great to report a wonderful poem like this.

| Posted on 2013-01-07 | by a guest

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| Posted on 2012-12-10 | by a guest

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It simply explains that we must trashed all material things because in the end it\'s not all about fame or money that matters it\'s all about how we maximize our life and make it a worth living and fruitful one :)

| Posted on 2012-06-25 | by a guest

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Thomas Gray\'s \"Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard\" is a poem clearly demonstrating the history and tradition of the society.

| Posted on 2011-10-31 | by a guest

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this is a weird poem.... those who liked it should read \'Death The Leveler \'...

| Posted on 2011-10-31 | by a guest

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The poem is so precised. The author stated there how he decided to choose between simplicity or fame. It teaches us to enjoy life being simple. Life must be valued together with those people who inspire you along the way. Most especially, we prefer to become rich rather than being simple.

| Posted on 2011-10-17 | by a guest

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this poem is an attempt at bypassing of the inevitabilities of death, an attempt to create an epitaph via the medium of the spoken word in order to be remembered, Gray begins with a consideration of those who had lived in the village yet moves on to invoke his own personal agenda, namely, a poetic legacy. this poem can also be read through the lens of the pastoral tradition, which will ultimately impact the final reading of the poem.

| Posted on 2011-06-01 | by a guest

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I will not offer an analysis buy only wish to comment that it is a beautiful poem to read aloud. It\'s alliterative passages flows smoothly off the tongue while it\'s care full punctuation allows the reader to bring exactly the right emphasis and intonation that the reading requires. It\'s deeper and superficial meanings and inferences are easily brought to the fore.
Abe Plaatjes

| Posted on 2010-12-20 | by a guest

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Great analysis. Helped a lot in understanding the underlying theme in the elegy; that life is not about the glory, fame and riches but rather the things that make you happy. We all die so give up meaningless possessions and enjoy life to its fullest.

| Posted on 2010-12-13 | by a guest

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this poem was given to us to analyze...this is a clear image f a man sitting around the chuchyard retelling his thoughts of what he perceives to the people laid to rest...and expressing how he salute the men from the countryside

| Posted on 2010-08-03 | by a guest

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This peom can show the reality of this journey we call life. it shows the modest person in his appemt to jsut be one with the world instead of having all those wordly martierals

| Posted on 2010-05-18 | by a guest

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this poem ir really stupid and i dont know what it means. f***

| Posted on 2010-04-21 | by a guest

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| Posted on 2010-03-12 | by a guest

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The tragedy of wasted talent or unrecognized worth is a major theme of this poem. It strikes a chord in most human hearts. So does the thought of inevitable death as a leveller No wonder then that Dr Johnson criticised the Elegy saying the sentiments were commonplace.
The analysis given earlier has a misquote; the line is "how BOWED the woods beneath their sturdy stroke" and not "HUMMED".

| Posted on 2009-08-10 | by a guest

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Gray’s “Elegy” is one of the best-known poems about death in all of European literature. The poem presents the reflections of an observer who, passing by a churchyard that is out in the country, stops for a moment to think about the significance of the strangers buried there. Scholars of medieval times sometimes kept human skulls on their desktops, to keep themselves conscious of the fact that someday they, like the skulls’ former occupants, would die: from this practice we get the phrase memento mori, which we say to this day to describe any token one uses to keep one’s mortality in mind. In this poem, the graveyard acts as a memento mori, reminding the narrator to not place too much value on this life because someday he too will be dead and buried. The speaker of the poem is surrounded by the idea of death, and throughout the first seven stanzas there are numerous images pointing out the contrast between death and life. After mentioning the churchyard in the title, which establishes the theme of mortality, the poem itself begins with images of gloom and finality. The darkness at the end of the day, the forlorn moan of lowing cattle, the stillness of the air (highlighted by the beetle’s stilted motion) and the owl’s nocturnal hooting all serve to set a background for this serious meditation. However, it is not until the fourth stanza that the poem actually begins to deal with the cemetery, mentioned as the place where the village forefathers “sleep.” In the following stanzas, the speaker tries to imagine what the lives of these simple men might have been like, touching upon their relations with their wives, children, and the soil that they worked. They are not defined by their possessions, because they had few, and instead are defined by their actions, which serves to contrast their lives with their quiet existence in the graveyard. This “Elegy” presents the dead in the best light: their families adored them and they were cheerful in their work, as they “hummed the woods beneath their steady stroke.” The speaker openly admits that they are spoken of so well precisely because they are dead, because death is such a terrible thing that its victims deserve the respect of the living. In line 90, the poet explains, “Some pious drops the closing eye requires,” explaining that the living should show their respect for death with their sorrow.
Search for Self
The speaker of this poem goes through a process of recognizing what is important to him and choosing how to live his life (which leads to the epitaph with which he would like to be remembered). In stanza 8, the poem begins naming the attributes that are normally considered desirable but are now considered pointless when compared with the lives of the rustic dead in the country graveyard. Ambition and Grandeur, according to the speaker, should not think less of these people because of their simple accomplishments. He goes on to assert that Pride and Memory have no right to ignore them, and that Honor and Flattery will be as useless to the rich as to the poor when they are dead. The speaker, an educated person, gives much consideration to the subject of Knowledge, and whether the lack of it made the lives of these country people less significant. Their poverty blocked the way to knowledge, he decides, and the lack of knowledge separated them from vices as well as virtues, so that in the end he does not consider his education a factor in making him better or worse than them either. In the end, having eliminated all of the supposed benefits of the wealthy, educated world that he comes from, the speaker identifies himself with the graveyard inhabitants to such a degree that he winds up in this humble graveyard after his death. In contrast to the simple graves that he pondered over throughout his life, though, the speaker’s grave is marked with a warm-hearted memorial, the “Epitaph” at the end of the poem. Assuming that such a thoughtful person would not have been so immodest as to write this epitaph for himself, there must have been some other literate person to remember him. He is also remembered by an illiterate member of the farm community, the “hoary-headed swain” who has to ask someone to read the epitaph. Before the death of the poem’s narrator, this Swain established a nonverbal relationship with him, observing him from afar, wondering about him just as the narrator wondered about the country people buried there.
Class Conflict
A superficial reading of this poem might leave the impression that the author intends to present members of the lower class as being more worthy of praise than their upper-class counterparts. This would be a reasonable assumption, since so much of the poem is devoted to praising the simple virtues of the poor. In the larger scope, though, the position that Gray takes is that all people, poor or rich, are equal. This is a meditation on death, which has been called the “great equalizer” because no can avoid it. The reason that the poem seems to favor one class over the other is that it is working against the assumption that only those of the upper class are worthy of attention when they die. It is the humble condition of the country churchyard, with gravestones unmarked or possibly marked just with names by illiterate people unable to read, that draws attention to the virtues of the poor and uneducated (which society often forgets), and so much of the poem is spent praising their moral strength. The virtues of the wealthy and famous are not denied, they just are not explored in this poem because they are already so familiar. Evidence of the poem’s evenhandedness about the different classes can be seen in the fact that, while praising the poor country people throughout, Gray also acknowledges that education, which may give them opportunity to develop moral excellence, may also lead them to corruption: as he says in stanza 17, the humble circumstances of the poor limited the growth not only of their virtues but also of their crimes. The poem thus leaves open the question of superiority. Society glorifies the rich, and the poem’s narrator glorifies the poor, but, as he reminds us, “The paths of glory lead but to the grave.”

| Posted on 2008-07-15 | by a guest

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