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Thomas Gray: Transitional Poet. Mrs. Cumberland. Objectives. To become acquainted with the work of Thomas Gray To examine the elegy To study an example of the literary transition from Neoclassical to Romantic literature. Thomas Gray. Born in London on December 26,1716

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  • To become acquainted with the work of Thomas Gray
  • To examine the elegy
  • To study an example of the literary transition from Neoclassical to Romantic literature
thomas gray
Thomas Gray
  • Born in London on December 26,1716
  • His father was a violent-tempered man who worked as a scrivener ( public copyist or writer, such as a notary)
  • His mother supplemented income by keeping a shop
    • Allowed Gray to go to Eton and Cambridge
      • He studied classical literature
Gray traveled for three yrs. after graduating.
  • Never married
  • Professor of modern history and languages at Cambridge.
    • Spent time as a poet and scholar
    • Explored British museum ( opened 1759)
    • Died in Cambridge in 1771 after a long illness
gray as a poet
Gray as a Poet
  • Represents a transition from the Neoclassical couplet of Pope to the more expansive verse forms of the Romantic poets
gray as a poet continued
Gray as a Poet ( continued)
  • Four-line stanza form with abab rhyme scheme and iambic pentameter became known as the “elegiac stanza”in honor of his “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”
gray as a poet continued1
Gray as a Poet ( continued)
  • Alternating rhyme of this verse differs from the classical couplet form, but preserves the emphasis on following a pattern
  • Diction has much of the precision and polish of the Neoclassical school.
His depiction of nature and the common life anticipates later Romantic poets like Wordsworth
Gray’s focus on the life of the common people and the effect of nature upon one’s mood are characteristic of the Romantic poet.
elegy in a churchyard
Elegy…in a …Churchyard
  • Most famous of his poems
  • Spent six years composing the poem
  • Reveals personality in emotional expressions on nature and death.
elegy in a churchyard1 a…Churchyard
  • Reflects Pope’s epigram, “What oft was thought, but ne’er so well expressed”

A poem lamenting the death of a friend or a famous person

Compare Tennyson’s “In Memoriam” or Whitman’s “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom”


A speech or writing extolling the virtues and services of a person- especially referring t a funeral oration

Note: Gray’s “Elegy” does not refer to a particular death, but rather reflection of the lives of people buried in the churchyard and, by extension, of humankind in general.

  • The poem is Neoclassical in style
    • Regular iambic pentameter lines
      • “The curfew tolls the knell of parting day…”
  • Poetic in diction
    • “storied urn”
    • “the dull cold ear of Death”
  • The poem is Romantic in tone
    • Scenes of nature
    • Exaltation of humble country folk and gentle melancholy tone
additional activities
Additional Activities
  • Read “Elegy” and Edward Young’s “Night Thoughts” or Robert Blair’s “The Grave” and compare their views on death with Gray’s
One of Gray’s contemporaries is William Collins. Read Collins’s “ode to Evening” and compare its Neoclassical and Romantic elements with those of Gray’s “Elegy”
Two modern elegies are “Elegy for Jane” by Theodore Roethke ( 1908-1963) and “Elegy for William Hubbard” by Tony Connor ( 1930-) Compare the subject matter of these two elegies with Gray’s poem