Critical Analysis of Poem An Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard

Critical Analysis of the Poem: 


"An Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" was published in 1751. It brought Gray into lime light and his genius was recognized. Its success was instantaneous and overwhelming. A dignified elegy in classical diction celebrating the graves of humble and unknown villagers was, in itself, such a novelty that all paid attention to it. Its theme that the lives of the rich and poor alike ‘lead but to the grave’ was already familiar. Gray's treatment made all conscious of their foul doings and worldly activities. The elegy had the effect of suggesting that it was not only the ' rude forefathers of the village he was mourning but the death of all men and of the poet himself. It gave the poem its universal appeal.

Critical Analysis of Poem An Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard
Critical Analysis of Poem An Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard 


Love for Rural Life—Evening at a Village: 

Sitting at the churchyard of Stoke Poges, the poet accounts for the rural activities at evening. The evening bell has warned people to cover their fires, put out their lights, and go to bed. The crying group of animals is going on tract with farmers walking with tired steps leaving all in darkness. 

“The plowman homeward plods his weary way, 
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.”

Interest in Ruins and the Churchyard: 

The poet draws a lively word picture of the churchyard. Under rough hedge trees and trees with thick dark green leaves, dry grass moves hither and thither with wind. There are graves decaying to dust. Dead bodies or uneducated villagers are laid in graves. The pleasant morning has no importance for the dead in graves. The poet regards the morning as a person; that is, he personifies morning. Personification is seldom used now, but the eighteenth - century poets delighted in it. It is frequently employed in this poem. No music by birds or alarm by the cock would rouse them from their graves. 

"Each in his narrow cell forever laid, 
The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep." 

Interest in the Dead: 

The poet feels sorry for that farmer who is no more. Now no stove is burnt for him. The housewife does not care for evening duties and children do not wait for his return. They have no wish for kiss. When he was alive he used to cut the harvest with his sickle. His plough used to break hard soil with their strong attacks. He used to drive his bulls quite happily to his field. 

“How jocund did they drive their team afield! 
How bowed the woods beneath their sturdy stroke!” 

Note of Realism: 

The poet warns those who are proud enough to blame the poor farmers for not having memorials for their dead forefathers. It was the custom to bury the poorer people of a village in the churchyard, and the rich or high - born in the church. But the poet does not regard it a matter to be proud of for all these vain customs or formalities are meaningless. The loud songs of their false praise cannot make them alive. The funeral urns such as were used by the ancients were frequently decorated with scenes from the life of the deceased or life - like statues can't call back the dead man to life . The dead body has no sense to hear speeches of sycophancy made to please the dead.

"Can storied urn or animated bust
 Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath?" 

Misfortune of Poor Rustics: 

In these poor graves those unfortunate persons’ dead bodies are laid who were inspired with divine blessing. They were talented enough to hold the sceptre and rule a state. On getting proper opportunity they might have played on a musical instrument and thrilled the souls of all listeners. They were devoid of scholarship. They were ignorant of the wide range of knowledge and treasure of time. Their discouraging poverty crushed their enthusiasm and disheartened their talent. In this condition they remained uneducated and backward. 

"But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page 
Rich with the spoils of time did ne'er unroll;" 

Pessimistic Philosophy: 

The poet asks who is not victim of death and who gives up the life full of joy and sorrow quite willingly. In fact, nobody welcomes death. Everybody dies with desire of living more. Every dying person has faith on a particular friend or relative and hands over his responsibilities to him. The dying person expects some true tears in the eyes of his near and dear ones. Whenever they see his grave, they think about liking and disliking as well as dreams and hopes of the dead. It reminds of the incomplete wishes of the dead. 

“On some fond breast the parting soul relies, 
Some pious drops the closing eye requires;” 

Self -portrait—Note of Subjectivity: 

The poet fears that nobody would think about him. Gray refers to himself as the writer of this poem. If perchance by a passing thought a gentle man enquires about his welfare. Perhaps a country gallant or lover would report that in the morning he could be seen walking fast. At sun - set he used to visit a cleared place in a wood, not cultivated. Now, of course, the word always means grassland near a house which is kept closely cut. 

“For thee, who mindful of th’ unhonoured Dead 
Dost in these lines their artless tale relate:” 

Love for Death: 

It would be told about Gray that there at the foot of distant forest tree that decorates its old fantastic roots so high. His dull time at midday he would spend there and look attentively the stream that flows by it. He used to wander in the distant wood, smiling as in scorn, lost in his wayward thoughts he would wander. He was a dull sorrowful man, like one cheerless, or an unfortunate man mad with care, or rejected in hopeless love. He would say that daily he used to see Gray on a hill but one morning he missed him on that hill. Along the open uncultivated ground, and near his favourite forest tree, another day came but Gray was not seen even beside the stream. Gray was seen neither up the lawn, nor at the wood. The next day with dirges and in sad black mourning clothes he saw some people walking slow through the church - way path. He saw him borne to be buried. He asks those who enquire about Gray to go and read the lines engraved on the stone beneath distant aged thorn - bush. 

Saurabh Gupta

My name is Saurabh Gupta. I have designed this blog to help those students and people who are greatly interested to get knowledge about English Literature. This blog provides precious knowledge and information about English Literature and Criticism.

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