Pre-Romantic Poetry Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”
18th Century Pre-Romantic Poetry • Like Neoclassical Poetry, it has a polished expression of ideas and uses balanced phrases and sophisticated vocabulary. • Like Romantic Poetry, it has a new focus on nature and the life of common folk and an expression of heightened feelings.
Thomas Gray (1716-1771) • Only one of 12 children to survive infancy • Suffered from convulsions as a child
His literary output was small because he wrote slowly, striving for perfection. • His poems are counted among the finest in the English language. • He expresses new, Romantic yearnings in the formal style of his time.
“Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” (1742) The poem contains some of the best-remembered lines in English poetry. Stokes Poge, the church and churchyard that probably inspired the poem.
An elegy is . . . A solemn and formal lyric poem about death. It may mourn a particular person or reflect on a serious or tragic theme, such as the passing of youth or beauty.
This poem uses a graveyard at twilight to meditate on the lives of the ordinary people interred there.
Gray laments not one particular death, but the obscurity into which death will plunge us all.
There is nobility in all people, but that difficult circumstances prevent those talents from being manifested.
Gray contrasts the simplicity and virtue of the English farmers of the past with the vain, boastful present.
He speculates about the potential leaders, poets, and musicians who may have died in obscurity and been buried there.
All life’s endeavors, positive or negative, are rendered useless by the shadow of the tomb.
The poem ends with an epitaph which sums up the poet’s own life and beliefs.
Until one day when I am carried in and buried here, too. And here’s my epitaph . . .