Compendium on "Elegy written in a country Churchyard" by Thomas Gray
An elegy is a poem which laments the dead. In fact, elegy is written in memory of any individual person, after his demise. However, Thomas Gray, the author of this poem, has not followed these conventions. Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" is noteworthy in that it mourns the death not of great or famous people, but of common men. Gray sees a country churchyard at sunset, which impels him to meditate on the nature of human mortality.
A short review of Thomas Gray `s poetry on "Elegy written in a country churchyard"
Compendium on “Elegy written in a country Church yard” by Thomas Grey
An elegy is a poem which laments the dead. In fact, elegy is written in memory of any individual person, after his demise. However, Thomas Gray, the author of this poem, has not followed these conventions. Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" is noteworthy in that it mourns the death not of great or famous people, but of common men. Grey sees a country churchyard at sunset, which impels him to meditate on the nature of human mortality. The poem invokes the classical idea of "memento mori", a Latin phrase which states plainly to all mankind, "Remember that you are mortal."
It was an evening time. The poet is standing in the church yard. The ringing of a curfew bell is heard. A herd of cattle from pasture started returning home. Farm workers, after hard work, started going homes, indicating that the activities of day time are drawing to a close. The poet is then left alone to contemplate the isolated rural scene. The poet sets a melancholy atmosphere by describing the ringing of curfew bell in somber tone. The curfew bell does not simply ring; it "knells"—a term usually applied to bells rang at a death or funeral. From the very beginning, Gray reminds us of human mortality.
There is a tone of sincere melancholy throughout. He started composing the verses of this poem by bringing before his mind`s eyes the Churchyard at Stock-Poges. The poem begins with the description of the Church Yard at Stock-Poges towards sunset. He alone stands by the side of the graveyards. The curfew or the evening bell warning the people to retire to rest has tolled. The farmer is returning home after his day`s work. It is dark all around and the air itself is silent in a solemn manner without any breeze. The cattle are going homeward and none is to be seen except the poet standing by the side off the graveyards. The whole atmosphere is serene. Nothing is heard except the hooting of the owl and the drowning sound of the beetle and tinkling of the bells of the herd in distant folds in the village. Even those noises are feeble, showing that the beetle and Cattle are tired. There is indeed one sound which is not “drowsy”. The sound of an owl hooting intrudes upon the evening quiet .The hooting of the moping Owl appears that it complains to the moon that the poet is trying to destroy her ancient solitary reign.
The hooting of Owl adds to the gloom, since it appears to be complaining about persons that go near her lonely living place. There is no companion for the poet at that time except darkness. In such an atmosphere, the poet is found by himself by the side of the church yard. The melancholy atmosphere is suited to the poem.
“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.”
The theme of this poem is in tune with Gray`s life and his character. He was shy and reserved by nature. He did not desire to push himself forward. He was unknown to fame and fortune. His life was spent mostly in the quiet atmosphere of the countryside. When he was offered the poet-laureate award, he politely refused .He took up his residence at Cambridge and paid frequent visits to Stock-Poges, where his mother and aunt were living. He was content with paying his tributes to the short simple annals of the poor, among whom he lived. It was in the midst of the simple and poor that he was buried. His body was laid by the side of his mother in the Church yard at Stock-Poges, which forms the background for this Elegy.
Thomas Gray has drawn the attention of the readers to the beautiful and calm atmosphere of the countryside, as contrasted with the ugly and feverish society. He is one of the poets of the century, who turned his face away from the themes that were commonly dealt with by others. He directed his attention to the people of the countryside. He stressed that the poor people, who lived in villages, had many virtues, unknown to the city dwellers.
Gray starts off by building up the gloomy, desolate atmosphere of a countryside evening, when the entire world has wound its weary way homeward, then, having painted in the background, turns his attention to the foreground, and the row of narrow graves in which "the rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep". He then reflects a while on the pastoral life, before introducing the poem's main theme - the inevitable tragedy of lives wasted, of potential crushed by Chill Penury, and then winding down with a reflection on a particular grave (that is his own) and its epitaph.
The poem opens with a death-bell sounding, a knell. The lowing of cattle, the droning of a beetle in flight, the tinkling of sheep-bells, and the owl's hooting, mourn the passing of a day, described metaphorically as if it were a person, and then suitably the narrator's eye shifts to a human graveyard. From creatures that wind, plod, wheel, and wander, he looks on still, silent heaps and on turf under a moonlit tower where “The rude forefathers” sleep in a "lowly bed." Gray makes his sunset a truly human death-knell. No morning bird-song, evening family life, or farming duties will wake, welcome, or occupy them. They have fallen literally under the sickle, the ploughshare, and the axe that they once wielded. They once tilled glebe land, fields owned by the church, but now lie under another church property, the parish graveyard.
The poet proceeds to think about the simple and poor persons who are buried in this grave yard. He is pained to think that they do not live any more. While they live, they used to wake up early in the morning, roused by the early morning breeze, the song of the swallow, the crowning of the cock and the sound of the horns of the hunters. Their wives kept the fire burning for them and worked hard. When they used to return from their work in the evening, their children would run up to them, lisping their names and eager to have their kisses first. They used to harvest the corn, plough the furrow, drive their team of oxen to the field and cut wood with strong axes. All these activities have come to an end for them now. No such happy event would happen anymore.
The poet turns the other side and compares the activities of the rich. It is likely that they would treat with contempt the short and simple history of the poor. Grey asks them not to be proud of themselves because they were ambitious and had achievements to their credit. Despite all their richness, pomp and power and rank, all persons are to die one day. Death closes all. Grey tells them not to be proud of their big monuments over their graves and the poor had no such things. The poet laments that it is not the mistakes of the poor that they did not have any such monuments over their grave yards. All monuments built in their honour and words spoken in their praise after their death cannot make them come back to life. Death levels every one and there are no distinctions in the grave yard.
The poet adds that the neglected poor need not be inferior to rich. Some of them might have had poetic genius, other musical talents and a few others would have ability to rule nations. But, they would not have had the opportunity of education to develop their capacity in these areas. Poverty might have prevented them from coming up. Their talents might have remained unknown like gems under ocean and the flowers blossomed in desert. Grey admits that there are points in their remaining unpopular to the world. Otherwise, they would have also committed crimes like murder or telling lies or flattering others, like those rich and pomp. Their lives were smooth because they lived away from the fretful world.
The very thought about the poor who remained unpopular but honest makes the poet to think about himself. He pictures what will happen when he himself is dead. He feels that just as he remembers the unhonoured dead, others, like him, will remember him. One of them might have seen the poet wandering in the lawns of Stock-Poges. He used to be up early in order to appreciate the beauty of the sunrise. He used to lie under a beech tree at noon and be looking at a brook. He used to roam about, smiling to him or muttering ideas which occurred to him. Sometimes he is gloomy or full of care. The old peasant might have seen him on such occasions and then misled him when he died. He would have moved to pity when the poet was being taken to the grave. Grey thus identifies himself completely with the unknown people of the countryside who are now buried in this graveyard.
The poet anticipates his death and burial in the same churchyard, when an unlettered rustic youth might pay him a similar tribute of praise.
The poet concludes his poem by informing what is to be written as epitaph in his monument. He describes himself fully. He mentions that how he was quite an unknown person and did not earn any name or fame. He was by nature gloomy. But he had a kind heart and was sincere. He was sympathetic towards those who suffered. Hence he is sure that God would have sympathy for himself. Accordingly, he pleads for mercy and peace for his soul in the bosom of God .His epitaph would read as under.
“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 recompense as largely send:
He gave to misery (all he had) a tear,
He gained from Heaven ('twas all he wished) a friend.”
Tears start rolling down from eyes for readers who read the Elegy of Thomas Grey, as melancholy permeates the whole atmosphere and the poem is a masterpiece in English Literature.
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