Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard was published in 1751. Thomas Gray began writing this poem in 1742 shortly after the death of his close friend Richard West. This Elegy is noteworthy that it mourns the death not of great or famous people but of common men. It’s Gray’s masterpiece and it’s emotional and philosophical at the same time. The beauty of the poem lies in simplicity. Poet brings out the ultimate truth about life and death.
THEMES OF ELEGY WRITTEN IN A COUNTRY CHURCHYARD
UNIVERSALITY OF DEATH: The central focus of Gray’s elegy is the inevitability of death and how people from different social class are remembered. In this elegy Gray meditates on death as it relates to the rustic commoners who populate the village and the country churchyard. Gray’s opening salvo in this contrast between two vast social classes emphasizes death’s universality; just as the poor and the common people are subjected to death, the paths of the rich and glory lead to grave as well. Death is the ultimate which is blind to mankind’s social class and destruction.
SOCIAL CLASS AND VALUE: Gray’s meditation on how the wealth and the poor are remembered allows him to explore social class and value. The poem suggests that an individual’s value should not be tied to social class. The poem asks whether the rich and the powerful can be brought back to life by “storied urn” or “animated bust” any more effectively than the poor whose graves are marked by “no trophies”.
IMPORTANCE OF LOVE: Despite their humble lives the dead enjoyed simple pleasures in life. One of these is the love of their families and friends. A clear image of children greeting his father when he came home from the fields is shown. The lively picture of family is full of joy. Gray identifies family and friends both simple pleasures as the greatest joy in life
THE QUALITY OF MORTALITY: Within the odes and elegies of gray we find him questioning towards the very concept of morality and what it really means to say when one exists.