Вы находитесь на странице: 1из 17

ELEGY WRITTEN IN A COUNTRY CHURCHYARD THOMAS GREY ABOUT THE POEM "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" is admittedly the

e single most famous poem in the English language. The sentiments the poem expresses might appear commonplace. The poem does not say anything that other graveyard poems have not said. What makes the poem unique is the perfection of statement the poem has attained. Talking about graveyard poetry, melancholy, reflective poems on life, death and immortality were very popular in the 18th century. Poets like Edward Young, Robert Blair and Thomas Gray, who wrote such poetry, came to be called the 'Graveyard School of Poets'. Edward Young's 10,000-line blank verse poem "Night Thoughts" is the longest of the graveyard poems; Blair's "The Grave" was a famous poem in the 18th century; Gray's "Elegy," as we have seen, is the most famous poem of this school. The Elegy was begun in 1742 while Gray was staying with his mother and aunt at their retirement home in Stoke Poges. Gray carefully revised the poem over a long period and published it in 1751. It achieved instant recognition. What is the cemetery described in the poem? Most critics believe it is the cemetery at Stoke Poges, where the poet had been living when he wrote the poem. Others believe it is either Upton or Thanington near Canterbury. . Who is the narrator in the poem? The poem expresses the thoughts that arise in the poet's mind as he watches the cemetery and contemplates on the dead that lie buried there. In lines 93 to 97 the poet speaks to himself. Lines 98 to 116 are spoken by the "hoary headed swain" to the "kindred spirit" who makes enquiries about the poet's death. A recent commentary of the poem argues that the narrator is actually a ghost: the poem is spoken by one of the dead. What is the sequence of the mournful thoughts the poem expresses? Lines from 1 to 12 describe not the cemetery but what the poet can see around it-men and animals going home for rest, the silence that descends on the landscape and the evening sounds that break this silence. The poet's eyes now shift to the tombs in the churchyard. He now thinks about the life and works 6f the 'rude forefathers' that lie buried there. Their simple life may fail to impress the great ones but the great as well as the poor are defenseless against death. In line 37 ft. the poet contrasts these simple tombs with the ornate tombs of abbey churches. The absence of memorials does not show any inferiority on the part of these humble people; on the contrary, some of them would have become Miltons, Hampdens or Cromwells if they had got the advantage of education. In lines 61 to 68 the poet describes the good things fate prevented these people from carrying out as also the possible wicked actions fate saved them from being guilty of. Their life was like an unhurried march across a secluded valley. Lines 77 to 92 are about the frail memorials in this cemetery and state that they serve man's desire to be remembered after death. In lines 93 to 97 the poet addresses himself and says that if a poet like him comes here a few years later and makes enquiries about him, some old person might give him an account of his life. In lines from 98 to 116 the poet describes himself. PARAPHRASE Lines 1-4: The curfew tolls the knell........................to darkness and tomb. The poet builds up an atmosphere of evening in these lines. The evening-bell is ringing, thus marking the end of the day. The sheep are returning to the village over the pastureland. They are walking in a winding course as is their habit and. as they walk, they cry out. The farmer is also walking heavily homewards tired of the day's labours. The darkness of the night is descending upon the world and the poet finds himself all alone (in the churchyard). Lines 5-8: Now fades the glimmering landscape.....the distant folds. PC-RS/TSRS-DLF/ENG-XII/06 Page 1 of 17

The atmosphere of descending night is continued here from the preceding stanza. The twilight is deepen -ing into darkness and, landscape, which was dimly visible in the twilight, has now become invisible to the eyes. Silence and an air of solemnity mark this hour. No sounds of vulgar mirth are heard and the silence is broken only by the dull, humming sound of the beetle in its circular flight and by the tinkling of bells round the necks of sheep who are being lulled to sleep by this tinkling in their pens situated at some distance from the churchyard where the poet is. (Fold: enclosure where sheep are kept). Lines 9-12: Save from that yonder........................solitary region. There is no sound except the droning of the beetle, the tinkling of bells in the sheepfolds and the occasional hooting of the gloomy and lonely owl. The owl's cry is heard from the ivy-covered churchtower which is the home of the owl. The owl cries whenever some flying bird or insect goes too near the tower and invades the secret spot which has been the dwelling place of the owl for a long time. It would seem as if the owl were complaining to the moon about undue interference with his privacy. Lines 13-16: Beneath these rugged elms... of the hamlet sleep. After having built up the atmosphere of the evening in the first three stanzas, the" poet now comes to the subject of the elegy. Under the rough elm trees and under the huge yew tree in the churchyard are many graves on which grass is growing. The. simple, rustic villagers of the past generations lie buried in these graves where they will sleep for ever and ever, and where their bodies are turning to dust. Note: As Gray stands in the churchyard, he thinks of the poorer folk because the well to do lay buried in the interior of the Church. In Gray's time and long before it, the churchyard was meant as a burial place for the poor while the richer persons were buried inside the church, because the interior of the church was thought to be more sacred. The most coveted spot was close to the high altar.. . Lines 17-20: The breezy call.......................from their lowly bed In these lines the poet tells us that the poor villagers who lie buried in the churchyard in their humble graves will never wake up. When they were alive, they were awakened from their humble beds by the fresh, morning air laden with sweet smells. Or, they used to wake up to the sounds of a swallow twittering froth the shed made of mud-and-straw, the loud and shrill crowing of a cock or the echoing sound of the huntsman's horn the. But now they are dead and are unable to heed these summons of the morning. Lines 21-24: For them no more the blazing ... the envied kiss to share. When these men were alive, they enjoyed the normal pleasures of domestic life. Fire used to burn cheerfully and brightly in their homes, and their wives used to occupy themselves with their evening duties (like cooking, washing the dishes, spinning the wheel). And they used to make the men comfortable. When they went back home they used to be greeted by their children speaking in their imperfect manner. The children used to climb up on their knees and compete with one another in receiving the fond paternal kisses. But all that is ended now. All that life is over now. No fire will burn for them in the domestic hearth any more, No housewives will be working to make them comfortable and no children will run towards them either to welcome them back home or to receive the paternal kisses. They are dead and buried, and never again will they enjoy those simple, domestic pleasures of life. (Lisp: the indistinct, childish manner of speaking) Lines 25-28: Oft did the harvest...................................their sturdy yoke. PC-RS/TSRS-DLF/ENG-XII/06 Page 2 of 17

These lines contain a description of the humble toil of these men during their life-time. Each line of this stanza is a picture by itself bringing before our eye the men at their daily work. When they were alive, these men used to plough the land and reap the harvest year after year. Even the hardest soil used to yield to their plough with which they furrowed the earth: and. many times did they cut the crop with their sickles. They cheerfully used to drive their teams of horses nr oxen, harnessed together for work, taken to the fields to till the land. With the powerful strokes of their axes they used to cut down the trees in the woods. Their work was toilsome and hard but they did it carefully and light-heartedly. Lines 29-32: Let not Ambition mock ... annals of the poor. The poet says that during their life-time these men performed useful labour, enjoyed simple and ordinary pleasures, and lived unknown, inconspicuous lives. Ambitious persons would perhaps think it a poor record. Ambitious persons would be amused by this unimpressive performance. It is true that these men did not set the Thames on fire: but let not persons who hold high positions and who affect great pomp and show, listen with a scornful smile to the brief and simple life-story of poor people. In short, let not the ambitious and the grand persons assume an attitude of contempt towards the humble folk who lie buried in this churchyard. Lines 33-36. The boast of heraldry,.. lead but to the grave. In this famous stanza is expressed a well-known, universal truth, namely, that death conquers all. Death does not respect high birth or high position. Nor can beauty or wealth avail against death. The pride of glorious descent, the display of authority, the gift of beauty, the possession of wealth-all these are nothing before death, which is all-powerful and all conquering. Even a career of victory and conquest, war like deeds and military exploits, must in the long run end in death. This stanza is very appealing because of the home truth that it contains. We are at once reminded of all those great people who ultimately had to make their exit from this world. Lines 37-40: Nor you, Ye proud impute ... the note of praise. In this stanza, the poet addresses the proud people and asks them not to blame these humble dead if friends and relations did not erect any monument to keep their memory alive. What does it matter if no monument (like statues) were erected inside the church with its long corridor, its arched roof ornamented with carvings, and its high sounding sacred music from the organ and choir. (The idea is that it does not matter if no urns have been erected on the tombs of these dead people or if no life-like statues of them have been placed inside the church along the aisle to keep their memory alive). Lines 41-44: Can storied urn or ... cold ear of death? When rich people die, monuments or memorials are erected to keep their memory alive. Life-like statues of such persons may be made on their tombstones depicting the story of their lives. The poet, however, says that such monuments serve little purpose. No matter how life-like a statue may be or how vividly a dead man's life may be depicted on an urn, it is impossible to bring back the departed soul to its body. Likewise, tributes paid to a man after his death will not in the least stir his dust in the grave and words of flattery will fail to please the dead man because he can no longer hear any sound. Neither speeches made in honour of a dead man can restore him to life nor can the praise showered upon him give him any pleasure. Lines 45-48: Perhaps in this neglected spot ... the living lyre. PC-RS/TSRS-DLF/ENG-XII/06 Page 3 of 17

The idea in this stanza is that perhaps some persons, who were endowed by nature with high abilities, lie buried in this unknown, obscure country churchyard, persons whose gifts did not come to light for want of opportunity. It is quite possible that some one lies buried here whose heart was full of a divine inspiration or one who was fit to rule as a sovereign or one who could have developed into a great musician. The poet imagines that under more favourable circumstances the latent gifts of these persons might have found scope for exercise. One of these persons might have become a religions prophet, another an emperor, another a great poet or musician. Lines 49-52: But knowledge to their eyes... did ne'er unroll. The men lying buried in their graves had no opportunities for education. So whatever gifts they had, all remained undeveloped. The vast accumulated knowledge of centuries remained a closed book to them and they lived their lives in complete ignorance because of their want of education. Poverty was a severe handicap to them because it did not allow them to develop their holy ardour and the generous impulses of their hearts. Poverty had a benumbing effect upon their noble instincts, and their poverty dried up their religious enthusiasm or their spiritual ardour. Lines 53-56: Full many a flower ... on the desert air. This is the most famous stanza in the Elegy and one of the finest in the English poetry. It means that many people, possessing exceptional talents and gifts, live and die unknown because they find no opportunity to develop or display those gifts. The idea is illustrated with two very convincing examples. First, there are may exquisite gems, exceptionally bright and beautiful that lie at the bottom of the immeasurable deep oceans. These gems remain unknown to mankind. Second, many beautiful flowers bloom in the wilderness where nobody can see their beauty or smell their fragrance. The f1owers in the wilderness as well as the gems in the depths of the ocean remain unknown to the world. Likewise there may have been, among these humble dead lying in this country churchyard, some individuals whose talents or gifts of potentialities remained undeveloped and unknown. In short, there may have been people in this village who never had an opportunity to show their hidden talent. Lines 57-60: Some village Hampdenhis country's blood. The idea expressed in the twelfth stanza (45-48) is continued in this stanza. The poet imagines that among the humble people who lie buried in the country-churchyard there might be some who, given the opportunity, could have acquired a name and fame for themselves. There might, for instance, be among them one who had the courage and boldness of John Hampden. John Hampden had defied King Charles I by refusing in 1636 to pay the ship money which had unjustly been imposed. There might be, among the dead, some one who boldly defied a cruel task-master in the fields and who, under more, favourable circumstances, might have shot into national importance by virtue of his courage and patriotism or there might be some one among the dead, who had the exceptional poetic gift of Milton but whose gift found no expression or utterance because of adversse circumstances and who, therefore, remained unknown to mankind. Or there might be some one who could have equalled Cromwell in power and ambition but who was prevented by circumstances, from causing a civil war and. bloodshed in this country as Cromwell did by fighting against Charles I. Lines 61-65: Th' applause of list'ning senates... Their lot forbade; The poet says that these men lived unknown lives. Their destiny was obscure and did not permit them to do any great deed or establish any spectacular records in any sphere. If, for example, they had had the opportunity, some of them might have become great politicians and statesmen. In that case they would PC-RS/TSRS-DLF/ENG-XII/06 Page 4 of 17

have addressed parliaments and won loud appreciation for their oratory. They would have treated with scorn challenges from their enemies and threats of destruction from any quarter. They would have worked for the peace, happiness and prosperity of their country and their efforts in this direction would have been reflected in the look of contentment and joy in the eyes of the nation. But none of these things was possible for them. They lived and died unknown. Their talents and abilities, if any, remained dormant and undeveloped. Lines 65-68: nor circumscribed alone ... of mercy on mankind; The obscure destiny of these humble people limited not only the growth of their virtues but also the nature and extent of their crimes. Not only did they lack opportunities for the exercise and development of their natural abilities and gifts, but they had no occasion to do any wrongs to their nation or to the world. Thus their humble destiny had its good side also. It prevented them from committing violence or fighting war or inflicting cruelties on mankind in order to establish empires. It was not possible for them to become tyrants and to cause bloodshed in order to gain a crown. Thus the sphere of their life was too narrow either to allow any great and noble deeds or to permit any crimes and cruelties. Lines 69-72: The struggling pangs of conscious truth ... at the Muse's f7ame. As these persons led humble, unknown lives, they were saved from doing certain degrading things which generally accompany wealth and rank. For instance their humble destiny prevented them from suppressing truth which always struggles to come out but which dishonest people always try to suppress. Similarly these persons did not, as hardened sinners do, kill their consciences which make guilty men blush. In other words, they never lost the sense of right and wrong, and the sense of wrong always made them blush with shame. Again, these men did not degrade themselves by flattering the proud and the wealthy as was the habit of poets who in dedicating their poems to their patrons lavished extravagant and exaggerated praise on them. It was the fashion among the poets in those days to dedicate their works to some prominent and powerful person who, by his patronage could bring them into notice. Such dedications were often full of extravagant and exaggerated praise. Thus poets in those days used to worship the idea of position and wealth ('Luxury and Pride") with their poetic offerings that had been inspired by the goddess of poetry. These humble persons who lie buried in the country churchyard did not, however, have to humiliate and degrade themselves thus. They were spared this degradation because their poetic gifts, if any, remained unused and undeveloped. Lines 73-76: Far from the madding ... tenor of their way. In this stanza is described the calm, peaceful life which these men who now lie buried in the country churchyard, once lived. These men lived far from the scenes of feverish struggle and restless activities of crowds of people in the cities where the noise is almost maddening and where sin and evil dominate human life. These men had no) wild, soaring ambitions. They never followed evil courses and their desires were humble and ordinary. They led a tranquil and retired existence and they never deviated from the peaceful path of life. In this stanza the poet has condemned city life as being evil and sinful. But is "ignoble strife" confined to cities? Do we find no such thing in villages? Lines 77-80: Yet ev'n these bones........................tribute of a sigh. The poet has told us in a previous stanza that no trophies were mounted on the graves of these humble men who lie buried in this country churchyard. But that does not mean, the poet now says, that the dead PC-RS/TSRS-DLF/ENG-XII/06 Page 5 of 17

who lie here are utterly nameless and that there is no memorial of any kind whatsoever for them. Some sort of memorial, though insignificant and humble, does exist to protect these men from complete obscurity. Their graves are, as it were, adorned with carved stones bearing inscriptions in their memory. It is true that the stones have been badly and awkwardly carved and that the inscriptions are phrased in unsatisfactory verses. But these carvings and inscriptions do serve some purpose. A chance passer-by might read these inscriptions and might pay his homage to the dead with a sigh of regret. In other words, the carving and inscriptions on the gravestones might excite the sympathy of some passer-by. Lines 81-84: Their flame, their years ... moralist to die. The names and the ages of these dead men are found engraved on the tombstones. The engravings and the carvings are the work of illiterate persons who, therefore, must have misspelt certain words and must have deformed certain letters. However, these inscriptions serve the purpose of achieving a certain amount of publicity for these unknown men and they may also be regarded as a substitute for poetic lamentations on their death. That is, these inscriptions serve to commemorate these otherwise unknown men. Besides the inscription, many scriptural texts or instructive questions from the Bible are engraved on the tombstones. These holy texts teach us the vanity of human life so that villagers given to reflection would, on reading these texts, get into a philosophical mood and would begin to regard death as a desirable escape from life. These texts would induce in a thoughtful villager a desire to die. Lines 85-88: For who, to dumb forgetfulness ... ling'ring look behind? Is there any human being who, while dying, does not have the desire to be remembered after his death? Was there ever a man who, while giving up this life, wished to be utterly ignored and forgotten? Nobody, while making his exit from this bright, sunlit world, could ever reconcile himself to being completely forgotten. Every dying man casts a regretful look upon this world and wishes to be remembered after his death in some form or the other. A dying man would no doubt become the victim to oblivion but he wants a memory of him to remain in the form of a memorial or an elegy, or an engraving on his tombstone. Lines 89-92: On some fond breast ... live there wonted fires. This stanza may be regarded as an answer to the question contained in the preceding one. When dying, a man seeks comfort and consolation from some loving friend or relative. The presence of a loving friend by the bed-side is a great comfort to the dying man. The dying man needs tears of affection and sympathy from his near and dear ones. Even when one is dead and buried, the same natura1 desire for loving remembrance that lived in the body still lives on and finds expression in the inscriptions on the tombs. Thus everyone yearns for some kindly, loving remembrance while a spark of life yet remains in him; nay, even after the spark of life has been extinguished, even when all is dust and ashes, that yearning must still be felt. In short, the desire for affection, sympathy and remembrance can never die. Lines 93-96: For thee, who mindful..shall inquire thy fate. In this stanza the poet turns his thoughts to himself and thinks of his own death. Addressing himself, he says that he has not ignored the humble and unknown men who lie buried in this churchyard. He has taken notice of these men and has in this poem narrated their simple story. In other words, he has written an elegy to commemorate them. It is quite possible that one day somebody with a temperament similar to that of the poet would in a mood of lonely reflection, make enquiries about the poet's fate. The idea is that, when the poet dies, some other poet might ask questions about him from the inhabitants of this village. PC-RS/TSRS-DLF/ENG-XII/06 Page 6 of 17

Lines 97-100: Haply, some, hoary-headed ... the upland lawn. In reply to the inquiry of some 'kindred- spirit' (of the preceding stanza), some aged villager with grey hair on his head would perhaps make the following reply. We have often seen the men you are inquiring about (that is, Thomas Gray). Every day at dawn we used to see him walking quickly over the dew-covered ground to climb up the hill in order to watch the sun rising." Lines 101-104: There at the foot of ... that babbles by, Continuing his reply, the grey haired shepherd will say that at noontime, Thomas Gray was in the habit of stretching his tired, weary body at the foot of that beech tree with its branches hanging downwards and its roots standing up above the ground; twisted into strange shapes. Lying under the tree he used to gaze thoughtfully at the stream that flowed close by with a murmuring sound. . Lines 105-108 : Hard by yon wood ... in hopeless love. The hoary-headed swain informing the inquirer will say that Thomas Gray was in the habit of roaming about near the wood there. While walking about, he used to speak out his whimsical ideas and fantastic notions to himself. As he walked thus, he sometimes smiled scornfully, and sometimes he looked sorrowful and pale. With his head hanging down, he walked like a man who is lonely and friendless or like a man who is tormented by some anxiety or like one who is completely frustrated in love. It should be remembered that Gray was a melancholy, morbid man. His own mood is correctly described here. Lines 109-112 : One morn I missed ... nor at the wood was he; Continuing his reply the hoary-headed swain will say to his inquirer. "One day I failed to see that man (Thomas Gray, the poet). I did not see him at any of the places he was accustomed to visit. He was not seen on the hill or on the open heath or beneath his loved beech tree, or by the side of the stream or on the upland lawn or even near the wood. The next morning came but still Thomas Gray did not appear. So I wondered what had happened to him." The idea is that the villager would tell the visitor that Thomas Gray was dead. The poet is here referring to his own death here. Lines 113.116: The next with dirges due ... you aged thorn. With this stanza the grey haired swain of line 97 completes his reply to the question of the "kindred spirit" mentioned in line 96. In the preceding stanza, the grey-haired swain has told his questioner that one day Thomas Gray failed to appear at his usual haunts. The next day, the dead body of Gray was seen being carried slowly in a sad procession with the mourners singing funeral songs befitting the occasion. The body was taken to the churchyard where, under an ancient hawthorn tree, it was buried. The swain then invited the questioner to approach the grave and read the epitaph engraved upon it, because the questioner, being an educated man, will be able to read and appreciate the inscription. What the poet means to say is that one day he too would die and be buried in this same churchyard. The epitaph which he has written for himself would be inscribed on his tomb. Lines 117-120: Here rests his head... for her own.


Page 7 of 17

In this grave lies buried a young man who attained neither name nor any financial success In spite of his humble birth, science and scholarship favoured him. He was by temperament a melancholy or thoughtful person. In this stanza Gray has tried further to characterize himself. Lines 121-124: Large was his bounty... a friend. The man who lies buried in this grave (namely, the poet Gray himself) was large hearted, generous, and sincere. God richly compensated him for all his wants and deficiencies. He was not a rich man but he gave to the poor and needy all his sympathy. He felt deeply the misfortunes of people and was often moved to tears by their distress. He expected no material reward from God;. all he wished from God was divine protection and that he did get. Lines 125-128: Nor further seek ... and his God. Let this man (the poet Gray) lie peacefully in his grave and let his faults and virtues not be analysed any further. Some of his qualities have already been pointed out above, and let this analysis be carried no further. Both his virtues and faults lie in their tearful dwelling-place (i.e. the grave) in a state of trembling expectation. His virtues expect to be rewarded in heaven, and his faults hope to be pardoned by God. Let him lie restfully on the bosom of his father, the Almighty God. GLOSSARY AND ANNOTATIONS 1 curfew: the ringing of a bell at a fixed evening hour to announce the putting out of fires Tolls the knell: strikes the hour of death as a funeral bell with slow regular strokes day is coming to an end, darkness sets in parting day: dying day, day that is ending 2 lowing herd: the mooing of the cattle on their way home lea: pastureland 3 ploughman farmer, farm labourer plods walks slowly and heavily weary way: the farmer is tired at the end of the day; his way home is tiring. Note that it is the farmer who is tired not the "way". This is a transferred epithet. 4 and to me only the speaker, or his ghost is left 5 the glimmering landscape The faint sight of the landscape disappears 6 air a solemn stillness holds The sounds also disappear, as if mourning the end of day 7 save: except the drone of the beetle in his flight 8 drowsy tinklings - The musical sound of an odd cow-bell acts like a lullaby to the sheep in their pens 9 ivy-mantled: The tower is covered with ivy 10 moping: depressed, moody, full of pity for itself 12 molest: disturb ancient solitary reign her long term right of ruling over tower 13 rugged elms and yew-trees: evergreen trees usually found in graveyards 14 Refers to the grass "heaving", i.e. rising over the decaying mounds of earth beneath which the dead are buried 15 cell: grave 16 rude: simple, uneducated, unsophisticated hamlet: small village Stanzas 5 to 7 describe what the dead men were accustomed to seeing, hearing and doing when they were alive, which they will not see, hear or do any more. PC-RS/TSRS-DLF/ENG-XII/06 Page 8 of 17

17 breezy call: The morning (morn) is imagined as making a cheerful call with its breeze to the villagers to get up. incense-breathing: Refers to the morning-the words give a picture of the early morning with a slight mist rising from the ground. The particular scent in the morning breeze is also implied in the word incense. 18 swallow twittering small birds having long tails, filling the air with their short soft sounds straw built shed hut made of straw 19 shrill clarion: The crowing of the cock is likened to a thin trumpet call. echoing horn: the early morning sound of the horn that heralds the start of a hunt Stanza 6 is a picture of the family joys of the farmers. 23 sire's: father's Stanza 7 is a description of the farmers' work in the field and in the woods. 26 stubborn glebe: a hard lump of soil 27 jocund: happy team: pair of animals used for ploughing the fields In stanza 8 ambition and grandeur are personified. Personification is a figure of speech where abstract subjects are regarded as human beings. Here the words stand for persons possessing these qualities ambition and grandeur. 29 ambition: here, those who have desire for distinction 30 homely: simple, domestic destiny obscure: Their lives were not destined to be famous 31 grandeur: here, those who belong to the high ranks of society 32 annals: story of their lives, parish registers of births, christenings, marriages and deaths Stanza 9: Here the poet moralises and says that all power and glory in life also end with death and burial. This is one of the reasons why the work of the poor should not be less honoured than the exploits and lives of those in high positions. 33 heraldry: science dealing with lineage, titles and status of persons of rank 35 th inevitable hour: the hour of death which cannot be avoided 36 a line made famous for the great truth it contains Stanza 10: The poet says that it is not the poor farmers' fault if great monuments have not been erected over their tombs. 38 memory: here, personified, those who remember the dead trophies: monuments in remembrance of great deeds / victories 39 aisle: corridor between rows of arches or pews in a church. fretted vault: a screen of carved or embossed woodwork that separates the chancel from the nave in a church or chapel 40 pealing anthem: a song of praise announced with an outburst of sound (either of bells or of the organ) PC-RS/TSRS-DLF/ENG-XII/06 Page 9 of 17

Stanza 11: the outward praises or monuments cannot bring life or glory to those who are dead. 41 storied urn: a vessel where the remains of the dead were kept; on these urns stories or pictures of the life of the person were engraved 42 fleeting breath: the life that has gone 43 provoke: here, call forth to life, challenge 44 soothe: give solace Stanza 12: Here the poet begins the praise of those poor and unlettered farmers by imagining what some of them might have been if they had had the opportunity. 45 neglected spot: the churchyard 46 pregnant with celestial fire: full of divine inspiration; this refers to a poet or an artist 47 sway'd: wielded the power of an emperor 48 waked to ecstasy: played a musical instrument in an inspirational way Stanza 13: Since they were never given the knowledge or the opportunity their powers were never put to use. 49 knowledge: here, personified 51 penury: poverty and the struggle to live. It is described as cold or 'chill' to institute the metaphor that describes how 'poverty' can 'freeze' all inspiration of genius for good. noble rage: the hidden talent of their minds, the poetic fire 52 genial current: the force or power of genius. Stanza 14: Here the poet uses two comparisons to show how valuable and beautiful things are found in nature, with no one to enjoy them. The rustic inheritors of unfulfilled renown are compared first to gems on the ocean floor and then to unseen desert flowers. These lines are often quoted and have become famous for the truth they contain. 53 gem of purest ray serene: gems or jewels that burn with a pure and tranquil light (serene means calm or peaceful) 54 dark unfathomed caves: dark ocean caves which are immeasurably deep 55 blush: bloom Stanzas 15 to 18: The poet here mentions some of the things these poor farmers might have been if they had not been restricted in their lives by their lot. He does not fail to mention both good things and bad things. 57 Hampden: John Hampden (1594-1643) opposed Charles I, especially in his unlawful taxes and was imprisoned several times. He was a parliamentarian and was killed in action during the British Civil War. He was respected as a patriot. 58 the little withstood: fought against some local tyrant with fearless determination. The local tyrant could be some oppressive landlord. 59 Milton: John Milton (1608-1674) famous English poet and author of Paradise Lost 60 Cromwell: Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) was Lord Protector and led the parliamentarians against the King's forces in the British Civil War. He was ruler in England after the defeat of Charles I. Countrys blood: He was the cause of several massacres of his own countrymen most notably the massacre at Drogheda in 1649 by Cromwell's forces. PC-RS/TSRS-DLF/ENG-XII/06 Page 10 of 17

61 listning senates to command: to have the power of a great orator 62 to have the bravery and the fortitude to despise pain and ruin 63 to be generous and be able to give to make people happy 64 to become famous and make history 65 their lot forbade: this was not given to them because of their lot in life, their destiny denied them this chance circumscribed: restricted 66 confined: restricted; because of their lot the farmers also were restricted in their power to commit crimes. The crimes mentioned here are those of the great. 67 killing for power 68 hard-hearted because of the great power they wield Stanza 18: In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries it was difficult, nay impossible, to make a living by writing poetry. Hence, poets had to be patronised by nobles e.g. Dr. Samuel Johnson was patronised by Lord Chesterfield. This obviously required them to write poetry in which they were forced to praise their patrons irrespective of whether the praise was deserved. Some of the nobles were hardly deserving of praise for the high-handed way in which they treated the poor. This stanza is the result of the above. 69 conscious truth to hide: hiding the truth; lying, being truthfully aware of inward guilt and trying to hide it. 70 being shameless 71 living a proud and luxurious life 72 muses flame: at the expense of poetry. The Muses were the nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne. The poets knowingly hid the sins of their patrons and what was worse, used inspiration from the Muse only to worship at the shrine of Luxury and Pride. This was blasphemous. Stanza 19: Their sober wishes never got out of control or wandered off. Their life was like a quiet unhurried journey across a cool and secluded valley. Stanzas 19 to 21: Here again the poet praises the life of these poor farmers and in the rustic churchyard sees the signs of remembrance left for these poor farmers. Their life was not the frenzied life of the cities. 73 Far from the Madding Crowd: Thomas Hardy used these words as the title of one of his famous novels. madding: outraged or a confused, mad race of life ignoble strife: the constant fight for power and position where the principles of truth and justice are often disregarded . 75 sequestered: secluded; away from the struggle mentioned above 76 noiseless: without any great noise Stanza 20: Humble as the place is, the churchyard is not entirely without monuments. There are some memorials here, inscribed with poor verses. 78 frail memorial: here, personified; in remembrance of the persons buried there 80 implores sigh: begs the passers-by to remember the people who lie buried there and to sigh a passing sigh as a mark of honour to the dead. 81 th unlettered muse: a poet without education. On the tombs of these farmers one finds their names, years and also a text from the Bible. 82 the place supply: on the magnificent and sumptuously ornate memorials in the abbey churches, PC-RS/TSRS-DLF/ENG-XII/06 Page 11 of 17

there are elaborate epitaphs praising the dead. 83 The poet has scattered on the monuments several texts from the Bible; these texts are about death, resurrection and related themes. 84 The rustic moralist: These verses make the morally or religiously inclined villager aware of the need to prepare for death. Stanzas 22 and 23: Here the poet moralises again on the wish each one has to be remembered after one's death. No one wants to be completely forgotten. 85-86 No one ever resigned himself to be forgotten. These memorials represent a basic human need the desire to be remembered. 87-88 Nobody has ever left the boundaries of life with all its blessings without turning back to throw one last longing look behind. 89-90 The dying person depends on someone who loved him to remember him with tears. The dying man gets some consolation from the sight of his loved ones weeping over his demise 91 It is as if even from the grave the dead are crying out, asking to be remembered Nature: human nature, natural human feeling, the desire to be remembered. 92 Even our mortal remains continue to experience the desires and passions habitual to man Stanza 24: The poet would like to be one of these unhonoured dead. He would live here and when he dies, lie buried in this churchyard. In this stanza the poet addresses himself. Stanzas 25 to 29: From the second line of stanza 25 till the end of stanza 29 the poet relates what an old farmer may say about him after his death. 97 haply: perhaps hoary-headed swain: white-haired (old) farmer/shepherd 98 him: the poet peep of dawn: daybreak 99 Brushing..away: as he walks fast he appears to be brushing off the dew that wets the grass 100 upland lawn: a meadow or field located on a hill 101nodding beech: a smooth-barked glossy-leaved tree, whose branches move up and down in the breeze. 102 wreathes: twines around 103 listless length: tired body lying on the ground 103-104 Lying in the shade of the beech tree at noon, he would watch carefully the brook flowing by, making a murmuring sound 105 Hard by yon wood: close by that wood now: at one moment Smiling as in scorn: smiling in a way that expresses contempt 106Muttring his wayward fancies: talking to himself in a low voice, expressing his wild imaginings rove: wander about 107 Now: at another moment he appeared weak and spiritless; he looked pale and full of sorrow 108 either driven mad by worries and anxieties or unhappy because he has been jilted by his lady love. 109 customd hill: the hill he used to wander over everyday 110 heath: the meadow his favrite tree: the beech 111 another came: another day arrived rill: brook 113 next: the next day dirges due: suitable songs of mourning in sad array: in a solemn procession PC-RS/TSRS-DLF/ENG-XII/06 Page 12 of 17

114 church-way path: road leading to the church we saw him borne: we saw his body being carried to the graveyard 115 Approach: come nearer lay: song or poem, i.e., the epitaph 116 Graved: engraved, inscribed yon aged thorn: that old hawthorn tree, a small tree with stiff thorns. Stanzas 30 to 32: This is the Epitaph which the poet imagines to be written on his tomb. Note that the words 'fortune', 'fame', 'melancholy', 'heaven' and 'misery' are all used as personification. 117 - 120 This is the epitaph engraved on the tombstone. 117 lap of Earth: The earth is imagined here as the mother. 118 to Fortune and Fame unknown: neither rich nor famous 119 Fair science: knowledge Frownd: showed displeasure on the face. Knowledge did not show any displeasure on the face when approached, despite the fact that he was of humble birth. That is, he was not illiterate like the rest of the community. 120 Melancholy: His mournful nature personified. He was sad (melancholy), mournful by temperament, an indication that he possessed a poetic mind. As Cleanth Brooks says: "Melancholy becomes. .. in association with science a kind of wisdom which allows him to see through the vanities that deluded the proud." 121 Large was his bounty: His acts of generosity were numerous. 122 Heaven was equally generous towards him. Recompense: a reward given to compensate something 123 Misery: the poor people Tear: his sympathy 124 Heaven gave him what he prayed for-a friend. Possibly 'a friend' refers to the kindred spirit who is reading the epitaph and who has come to seek out the lost companion. The poet affirms here the value of friendship. 125 Already two merits of the poet have been disclosed. To mention more would be immodest. 126 Frailties: weaknesses Dread abode: the fearful place he is lodged in-the grave. 127 In the dread abode both his virtues and his frailties rest (repose) waiting tremblingly for the Day of Judgement. CRITICAL APPRECIATION Readers whose memories have made Gray's Elegy one of the most loved poems in English have brought some startling facts to light. Did you know that nearly three-quarters of the lines of the Elegy appear in the Oxford Book of Quotations? The greatness as well as popularity of the elegy consists in its universal appeal. What matters to the readers over is the power of the Elegy to console. The very title describes its function lamenting someones death and affirming the life that preceded it so that we can feel comforted. The first four stanzas give the setting of the poem in time and place it is evening and farmers are returning weary from their daily chores. The poem is about these humble and rustic people, some who are dead, and whose remains rest in a country churchyard. The poem begins with what looks like a drawing from nature, full of literary echoes. The bell tolling for the dying day comes from Dante; that unelegiac creature, the beetle, had already been consecrated to poetic purposes by Shakespeare and Collins; and the owl seems to be behaving in an extremely self-conscious manner. Gray is here far less PC-RS/TSRS-DLF/ENG-XII/06 Page 13 of 17

concerned with nature as an object of contemplation than with his readers the readers whom he wishes to lull into a resigned, submissive, summer evening frame of mind. The opening picture is followed by some extremely obvious reflections about the sights which the rude forefathers of the hamlet will see no more. The next three stanzas speak of what these people had seen and done during their lives, which they will now see or do no more. The poem begins with a death-bell sounding a knell. The solemnity of the evening, the simple pathos of human life and the moving associations of a village church set in a homely landscape of Southern England, are expressed by Gray with perfection, which is beyond praise. The lowing of cattle, the droning of a beetle in flight, the tinkling of sheep-bells, and the owls hooting mourn the passing of a day, described metaphorically as if it were a person. Then the poet's eye shifts to a human graveyard, The curfew tolls the knell of parting day, The lowing herd winds slowly o'er the lea. The ploughman homeward plods his weary way, And leaves the world to darkness and to me. The narrator lingers in the churchyard, noting the songs of approaching nightfall, until the atmosphere of twilight musing is established. His reflections upon life and death have a tone of sadness but are full of an intimate sincerity. He recognizes the simple lives lived close to the soil, and sympathises with their fate with a humanitarian enthusiasm. He feels that one may die after decades of anonymous labour, uneducated, unknown or scarcely remembered, even one's potential remaining unrealized, but still life will have as many joys, and much fewer ill effects on others, than the lives of the rich, the powerful and the famous. The short and simple annals of the poor,.... The boast of heraldry, the pomp and pow'r, And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave, Awaits alike the inevitable hour. The paths of glory lead but to the grave. So the great memorials can do no more for the deceased but be a common grave marker. In the next part of the poem, from stanza eight down to stanza nineteen, the poet examines reasons for their obscurity and finds excuses for it. The poet in turn despises the greatness of the worldly who rely on ambition, grandeur, lineage and speaks of what some of those poor and simple people could have been if they had had the opportunity. He praises them for their greatness in that, if they were not famous heroes, they possessed virtues no less heroic in upholding the real values of life. The proud come out as badly and their arrogance is pointless, since their end will be the same as everybody else's. The lines that follow, on the rustic Hampdens and Miltons whose narrow lot has prevented them from developing their capabilities, are often read mechanically because so many of them have become familiar quotations. They deserve closer attention. Gray is saying in the first place that in society as we know it, many such cases must occur; further, he is saying that this is part of the order of nature, and therefore must occur in any conceivable society. . As Gray looks at the "silent mould'ring heaps" of turf under a moonlit tower where "the ripe forefathers" sleep in a lowly bed, he makes his sunset a truly human death-knell. No morning bird song, evening family life or blazing hearth and farming duties will wake them or welcome and occupy them. They PC-RS/TSRS-DLF/ENG-XII/06 Page 14 of 17

have fallen literally under the sickle, the ploughshare, and the axe that they once wielded. They once tilled 'glebe' lands that the church owned, but now lie under another church property - the parish graveyard. Gray perhaps was the least productive of all other English poets, because he preferred reading to writing and was not much interested in getting his works published. He bore a great load of learning and was reputed to be the most learned man in Europe. We can see the wisdom of his words as he describes the evening scene and the low mounds of the sleeping forefathers. The scene remains outlined in memory as the narrator contrasts it with allegorical figures who represent the general traits of eighteenth-century humanity Ambition (line-29), Grandeur (line31), Honour (line 43) Flattery (line 44), Knowledge (line49), Penury (line-51), Luxury (line-71), Pride (line-71), Forgetfulness (line-85), and Nature (line-91). In shifting from individual names like Hampden, Milton or Cromwell, to universal types that characterize the world at large, Gray exchanges the country "darkness" for civic and national life. Yet he defends the dead in his remote churchyard cemetery from the contempt of abstractions like Ambition and Grandeur. 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. Gray finds it more peaceful to be "Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife." Gray has presented four arguments: I. The goals of the great, which include aristocratic lineage (beauty, power, wealth and glory' share the same end as the "rude forefathers," the grave. From the point of view of the eternal, the human achievements do not vary in value. The memory monuments, 'The storied urn or animated bust," the church anthems, the funeral songs, the praise of Honour (eulogy) or beautifully engraved lines, cannot change the fate. The important living and the unimportant villagers are all reduced to the level of the village dead. II. The poet pointedly questions why were the circumstances different. Had they been released from "Chill Penury" and been on the knowledge roll, would they have not achieved name and fame like Hampden, Milton and Cromwell? III. The unimportant out-of-power country dead lived morally better lives. It kept their crimes confined. "Forbade to wade through slaughter to a throne, And shut the gates of mercy on mankind." IV. The 'uncouth rhymes', 'shapeless structure', and 'many a holy text' that marked their "frail" cemetery, served only one purpose-the important universal need that "implores the passing tribute of a sigh" and taught the 'rustic moralist to die.' In the end what counts is friendship, and being mourned, being cried for by someone who was close. "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, PC-RS/TSRS-DLF/ENG-XII/06 Page 15 of 17

Ev'n in our ashes live their wonted fires.' Gray's restraint, his habit of speaking in universals rather than particulars, and shifting from one speaker to another, control the powerful feelings that these lines arouse. Everything gets framed in a picture at some distance for the viewers. After this stanza, the narrator the 'me' of line-4, finally reveals why he is in the cemetery, telling the artless tale' of the 'unhonour'd Dead:' He has become one of them. Like 'rude forefathers' among whom he is found, the narrators ghost is 'to Fortune and Fame unknown.' He is in the narrative itself casting one longing, lingering look behind at life. The next part of the poem from stanzas 20 to 24 tells us that these simple folk have not really been completely forgotten. Over their humble graves "some frail memorials" have been erected that beg to be noticed. Even the humble rustic wishes to be lovingly remembered. In the 24th stanza the poet talks specifically about himself the one who is a "kindred spirit" and mindful of th' unhonour'd dead". He tells the truth when he says, "Even in our ashes live their wonted fires.' These fires appear in his ashes, which speak this elegy. He had anticipated this confession earlier when he had said "Perhaps in this neglected sport is laid, Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire. Hands, that the rod of empire might have sway'd, or wak' d to ecstasy the living lyre. ' As Nature's voice from the dead, the living lyre, he addresses himself in the past tense as having passed on, as of course he did. If some 'kindred spirit should ask about his 'fate,' an old swain' (shepherd) might describe his last days: how he was seen at the peep of dawn. 'Brushing with hasty steps the dews away, to meet the sun upon the upland lawn'. Then later he saw the narrator's bier being carried towards the church 'with dirges due in sad array,' and his epitaph 'Grav'd on the stone'. 'Only a spirit would know that the paths of glory lead but to the grave.' That is the reason why Gray ends the poem with the swain's invitation to the 'kindred spirit' to read the narrator's own epitaph. The narrator's ghost gave 'all he had, a tear,' and got the only good he wished for, 'a friend'. He affirms the value of friendship above all these goods in life. His wish is granted by the 'kindred spirit' who seeks out his lost companion, as he reposes in 'The bosom of his Father and his God.' In the last five stanzas before the 'Epitaph', Thomas Gray refers to his own death and imagines what a simple peasant may say of him. The 'Epitaph' is meant to describe Gray's own life and he imagines it to be written on his own tomb. Gray was 35 years old when this poem was completed and his wisdom flows from every line. The Elegy is spoken, not by Gray but by a dramatic persona. It is best to describe it as a ghosts monologue with the living about death. This 'Elegy' belongs to the so-called 'graveyard' school of poetry. The most striking thing is that Gray started his poetical career as a classicist but later went on to become the precursor of the Romantic Movement. PC-RS/TSRS-DLF/ENG-XII/06 Page 16 of 17

CONTEMPORARY RELEVANCE Gray's Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard is a very structured poem with a set number of lines per stanza. The poem focuses on Gray's thoughts while he visits the country churchyard, and ends with the epitaph written on one of the tombstones there. The setting automatically makes us realise that the graveyard is small and unknown and will not be registered in-any nation's history. It brings to mind that those lying in the simple 'narrow cells' will not be well-known people of the community though they fulfilled the basic needs of their countrymen. Gray allows us to view the churchyard as if through an arched window and think philosophically about the 'rude forefathers' and their fulfilling deeds. His metaphors and symbols open the mind of the reader making him view the world in a new 'light'. Every nation lives in its villages though the villagers are all forgotten. Agriculture is the basic need of mankind, which these simple, unlearned farmers live and die for. Gray's elegy will forever be universal in its significance as an honour to the farming community of the world at large. It makes one feel that besides being an elegy, this poem is also an ode to the simple fanner- 'the rude forefathers'. Gray's Elegy is a social commentary that will be relevant for all times to come. Moreover, 'death', the topic of the Elegy, will be forever relevant to all of us, for death comes to all, making the rich and the poor equal before it. Death destroys all barriers and social classifications. Gray's Elegy forces us to think about the stark reality of death in life and life in death.


Page 17 of 17