Elegy written in a Country Churchyard By Thomas Gray

Elegy written in a Country Churchyard By Thomas Gray : Critical Appreciation

Introduction :

Elegy written in a Country Churchyard By Thomas Gray is one of the Most Popular Poems in the English Language. Thoms Gray began writing this elegy in 1742 and finished in 1750. It was first published in 1751 when Gray knew that it was going to be printed under someone else’s name.

The poem became so popular that it ran through eleven editions in two years and Gray became very famous. it attracted the attention of the people. it has been translated in many languages. This elegy is most read and gives delight to the readers with instructions.

In this elegy, The churchyard is that of Stoke Pogis in Buckinghamshire. Where Gray was living when he composed the poem and where he was buried after his death. This elegy does not present the death of an individual but expresses the melancholy thoughts of the poet while he sees the graves of simple villagers.

Theme of this Poem :

The theme of this poem is pathetic story of simple villagers. It deals with the lives of the simple country people. This Poem does not present the personal grief but expresses the universal grief of poor and simple villagers.

In the first Part of the poem, the poet draws the pathetic picture of those people lying under the dust who had talents which found no opportunity to flower. The poet laments this waste of talents.

Poet says that they have no scope for misusing their talents. So, They were free from vices and crimes. Thus, Destiny saved them from evil chances. Want of scope kept them away from greatness as well as from evil ways.

The elegy ends with an Epitaph on the poet supposed to be written by a villager. The poet wrote this because, He wanted to identify himself with the poor and simple villagers.

Subject Matter :

Gray’s Elegy is one of the most famous poems in English Literature. Gray was inspired to write this elegy by the sad and untimely death of his close friend, Richard West. Gray’s Elegy does not deal with anyone person. It describes the life of simple villagers buried at Stoke Pogis Churchyard.

First Part of Poem :

The departure of the day, the return of the cattle and the farmers give us a clue as to the ultimate end of everything.

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea,
The plowman homeward plods his weary way,

The curfew bells were rung as the warning for the extinction of fire at the fixed time in the Evening. It was introduced by William, the conqueror. In those days the houses were built of timber and fires had to be put out as a matter of precaution (protection).

The poet says vividly that nothing in this world can bring the dead villagers back to life. No fire will be made by their wives to welcome the villagers. The dead villagers will never again see their children to kiss them or to lisp for their fathers’ return.

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,

The cutting of crops, the ploughing of the fields and the clearing of the forest were the daily routine works of the dead villagers.

Oft did the harvest to their sickle yield,
How jocund did they drive their team afield!

Emotional Part of Poem :

The poet becomes emotional and requests to high born people not to laugh at the simple, miserable and unknown lives of the dead villagers.

Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,
Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;

The poet emphasis the truth that Pride, Power, Beauty and Influence will go to death.

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.

He says again that the proud people should not try to find fault with the dead villagers and laugh at them if no monuments have been raised over their graves.

Nor you, ye proud, impute to these the fault,
If Mem’ry o’er their tomb no trophies raise,

The poet syas that no monuments can ever reanimate the dead villagers.

Can storied urn or animated bust
         Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath?
Can Honour’s voice provoke the silent dust,
         Or Flatt’ry soothe the dull cold ear of Death?

Pride Part of Poem :

Poet says that many of them might have become great poets or great politicians. They were like gems hidden the depth ot the ocean or flowers that blooms and fade away in the forest.

Full many a gem of purest ray serene,
The dark unfathom’d caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flow’r is born to blush unseen,

Their poverty and ignorance prevented them from becoming great men like Hampden, Milton and Cromwell.

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.

They never wished wealth, power and position. Their life was simple, peaceful and without any great ambition.

 Their sober wishes never learn’d to stray;
Along the cool sequester’d vale of life
         They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.

The monuments over their graves contain their names, dates of birth and death and verses written by an unlettered village poet.

Their name, their years, spelt by th’ unletter’d muse,
The place of fame and elegy supply:
And many a holy text around she strews,

There are many beautiful sentences on their tombs from the Bible : “I love them that love me, Blessed are they that keep my ways.”

According to the poet, None wants to be forgotten completely after death, The poor dead persons also expect love and sympathy from their friends and relatives.

On some fond breast the parting soul relies,
 Some pious drops the closing eye requires;

End Part of Poem :

The poem ends with a personal note. The poet imagines that he would die and a villager would tell the passerby that The poet was seen walking hastily to see sunrise on the hill.

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.

He would take rest under the beech tree and look at the flowing stream.

“There at the foot of yonder nodding beech
         That wreathes its old fantastic roots so high,
His listless length at noontide would he stretch,


Next morning, His coffin was carried in a procession towards the churchyard. It was inscribed over his grave that he was a poor and humble scholar. In return for his sincerity and kindness, God blessed him with a true friend.

Here rests his head upon the lap of Earth
A youth to Fortune and to Fame unknown.

Large was his bounty, and his soul sincere,
He gain’d from Heav’n (’twas all he wish’d) a friend.

Poet prayed that one should not disclose the weakness of the dead because he had offered his merits and demerits to God. He had found a place in God’s bosom after his death on the earth.

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.

Description of Nature :

Elegy written in a Country Churchyard By Thomas Gray is very popular due to the description of nature. In the opening three stanzas of the poem, It has great charm and beauty. After the departure of time, Cattle and villagers are moving homeward and leaving the poet in darkness which is growing silence in atmosphere.

This silence is interrupted by the droning flight of the beetles and the tinklings of sheep bells and the hooting of owls. Poet describes the nature by these following lines :

The plowman homeward plods his weary way,
         And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

Now fades the glimm’ring 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;

The moping owl does to the moon complain
Molest her ancient solitary reign.

Reflections on life :

Gray’s elegy expresses feelings and thoughts that are universal in life. These thoughts are expressed in a beautiful language. This elegy contains a thought of death that levels all, No doubt, it is a common idea which never grows old.

Dr. Johnson remarks ,It abounds with images which find a mirror in every mind and with sentiments to which every bosom must return an echo.”

Autobiographical Note :

The autobiographical note is very remarkable. We may prove it by the remarks of Johnson :

I have never seen the notions at any other place, yet he that reads them here, persuades himself that he has always felt them. Had Gray written often this , it had been vain to blame and useless to praise him when we analyse the autobiography of poet we find following in him. “

  • Passionate love for nature.
  • The feeling of loneliness which made him melancholic.
  • Love of knowledge.
  • love and sympathy for the Poor and Common Men.
  • Feeling that he failed to achieve fortune as well as fame in the world.

Autobiographical part of the poem :

The autobiographical part of the poem comes in the last nine stanzas of the poem. The purpose of the poet in writing these lines about himself was his desire to identify himself with the poor and simple villagers.

Gray says that some country poet may write about him that he was seen at the time of sunrise going hostily to the hill-top.

He was often seen lying full length under a beech tree at Noon. He heared and liked the murmuring sound of the brook. It seemed that poetic thoughts were going into his mind. sometimes like a lonely man.

Next day, he was not seen and the report of death came. He was carried through the churchyard. An Epitaph was raised on his grave. The Epitaph gave certain autobiographical details of his life. It pointed out that poet failed to get fortune and fame in his life.

he was melancholic by Nature, he was a sincere and liberal minded person. He sympathised with the poor. For this kind and noble sympathy, he was rewarded with a true friend.

When we study gray’s life then we find that he was a sincere and a very learned man.

Note of music :

Elegy written in a Country Churchyard By Thomas Gray has a note of Music which is according to the theme of this poem.

The Music goes deep into the hearts of the people. It gives a great sincere sense to the Poor and Simple Men.

Poetic beauty :

Gray’s choice of diction words and phrases is figurative. He personifies many abstract nouns like Ambition, Grandeur, Honour, Knowledge, Memory and Flattery.

Gray has also used ‘Transferred Epithet‘ in this line :

The plowman homeward plods his weary way.”

  • The poem is written in Cross rhymed iambic pentameter quatrains (four line stanzas).
  • Each line contains Ten Syllables (5 feet).
  • Its rhyme scheme is ab ab.

Conclusion :

When we analyse this poem we find that Gray’s elegy is common acceptable by People because it is based on a common theme that “Death overcomes to Everyone.”

Grierson and smith write. ” The elegy deserves its fame. “

Elegy shows that this poem is perhaps the most famous single poem. In both his choice of theme and in style Gray follows the tradition.

This elegy has orthodoxness. This elegy is popular, not because of any originality of idea but because of the harmonious balance of all the elements that create o fine poetical effect.

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