'Elegy Written In A Country Church-Yard' by Thomas Gray

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The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd wind slowly o'er the lea,
The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness, and to me.

Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight,
And all the air a solemn stillness holds,
Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,
And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds:

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.

Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree's shade,
Where heaves the turf in many a mouldering heap,
Each in his narrow cell for ever laid,
The rude Forefathers of the hamlet sleep.

The breezy call of incense-breathing morn,
The swallow twittering from the straw-built shed,
The cock's shrill clarion, or the echoing horn,
No more shall rouse them from their lowly bed.

For them no more the blazing hearth shall burn,
Or busy housewife ply her evening care:
No children run to lisp their sire's return,
Or climb his knees the envied kiss to share,

Oft did the harvest to their sickle yield,
Their furrow oft the stubborn glebe has broke;
How jocund did they drive their team afield!
How bow'd the woods beneath their sturdy stroke!

Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,
Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;
Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile
The short and simple annals of the Poor.

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave,
Awaits alike th' inevitable hour:-
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.

Nor you, ye Proud, impute to these the fault
If Memory o'er their tomb no trophies raise,
Where through the long-drawn aisle and fretted vault
The pealing anthem swells the note of praise.

Can storied urn or animated bust
Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath?
Can Honour's voice provoke the silent dust,
Or Flattery soothe the dull cold ear of Death?

Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid
Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire;
Hands, that the rod of empire might have sway'd,
Or waked to ecstasy the living lyre:

But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page,
Rich with the spoils of time, did ne'er unroll;
Chill Penury repress'd their noble rage,
And froze the genial current of the soul.

Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark unfathom'd caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

Some village-Hampden, that with dauntless breast
The little tyrant of his fields withstood,
Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest,
Some Cromwell, guiltless of his country's blood.

Th' applause of list'ning senates to command,
The threats of pain and ruin to despise,
To scatter plenty o'er a smiling land,
And read their history in a nation's eyes,

Their lot forbad: nor circumscribed alone
Their growing virtues, but their crimes confined;
Forbad to wade through slaughter to a throne,
And shut the gates of mercy on mankind,

The struggling pangs of conscious truth to hide,
To quench the blushes of ingenuous shame,
Or heap the shrine of Luxury and Pride
With incense kindled at the Muse's flame.

Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife,
Their sober wishes never learn'd to stray;
Along the cool sequester'd vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenour of their way.

Yet e'en these bones from insult to protect
Some frail memorial still erected nigh,
With uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture deck'd,
Implores the passing tribute of a sigh.

Their name, their years, spelt by th' unletter'd Muse,
The place of fame and elegy supply:
And many a holy text around she strews,
That teach the rustic moralist to die.

For who, to dumb forgetfulness a prey,
This pleasing anxious being e'er resign'd,
Let the warm precincts of the cheerful day,
Nor cast one longing lingering look behind?

On some fond breast the parting soul relies,
Some pious drops the closing eye requires;
E'en from the tomb the voice of Nature cries,
E'en in our ashes live their wonted fires.

For thee, who, mindful of th' unhonour'd dead,
Dost in these lines their artless tale relate;
If chance, by lonely contemplation led,
Some kindred spirit shall inquire thy fate,

Haply some hoary-headed swain may say,
'Oft have we seen him at the peep of dawn
Brushing with hasty steps the dews away,
To meet the sun upon the upland lawn;

'There at the foot of yonder nodding beech
That wreathes its old fantastic roots so high.
His listless length at noontide would he stretch,
And pore upon the brook that babbles by.

'Hand by yon wood, now smiling as in scorn,
Muttering his wayward fancies he would rove;
Now drooping, woeful wan, like one forlorn,
Or crazed with car, or cross'd in hopeless love.

'One morn I miss'd him on the custom'd hill,
Along the heath, and near his favourite tree;
Another came; nor yet beside the rill,
Nor up the lawn, nor at the wood was he;

'The next with dirges due in sad array
Slow through the church-way path we saw him borne,-
Approach and read (for thou canst read) the lay
Graved on the stone beneath yon aged thorn.'

Here rests his head upon the lap of Earth
A Youth, to Fortune and to Fame unknown;
Fair Science frown'd not on his humble birth,
And Melancholy mark'd him for her own.

Large was his bounty, and his soul sincere;
Heaven did a recompense as largely send:
He gave to Misery all he had, a tear,
He gain'd from Heaven, 'twas all he wish'd, a friend.

No farther seek his merits to disclose,
Or draw his frailties from their dread abode,
(There they alike in trembling hope repose,)
The bosom of his Father and his God.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Elegy Written In A Country Church-Yard: A Masterpiece in Gray's Pen

Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written In A Country Church-Yard" is a classic poem that has stood the test of time to become a masterpiece. The poem, which is elegiac in nature, is one of the most popular works of literature in the English language. It not only possesses a timeless appeal, but it also speaks to the human condition, the transience of life, and the inevitability of death. This literary criticism seeks to provide a detailed interpretation of the poem by analyzing its structure, themes, and stylistic elements.


The poem is divided into stanzas, each containing four lines, with a rhyme scheme of ABAB. It has a total of thirty-two stanzas, which makes it quite lengthy. However, the poem's structure is not just about the number of stanzas but also about its rhyme and meter. Gray's use of iambic pentameter gives the poem a musical flow, which makes it easy to read and memorize. Additionally, the poem's use of repetition, parallelism, and antithesis creates a sense of balance and order that enhances its elegance.


The poem is predominantly about death, but it also touches on other themes such as social class, the transience of life, and the vanity of ambition. Gray explores these themes through his depiction of the graveyard, the people buried there, and their epitaphs. The poem's opening lines set the tone for the themes that follow:

"The curfew tolls the knell of parting day, The lowing herd winds slowly o'er the lea, The plowman homeward plods his weary way, And leaves the world to darkness and to me."

These lines suggest the end of the day, but also symbolize the end of life. The curfew, which signals the end of the day, also signifies the end of life. The plowman's weary way represents the struggle of life, which ultimately leads to death.

The poem also explores the social class divide between the rich and poor. Gray describes the graves of the poor as being unmarked and forgotten, while the graves of the rich are adorned with elaborate monuments. This disparity suggests that in death, as in life, the poor are marginalized and forgotten, while the rich are celebrated and remembered.

Another theme that Gray explores is the vanity of ambition. He describes the lives of the people buried in the graveyard, highlighting their accomplishments and ambitions. However, he also suggests that these accomplishments are ultimately meaningless. The lines "Full many a gem of purest ray serene, / The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear: / Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, / And waste its sweetness on the desert air" suggest that many great talents and achievements are never recognized. In the end, the poem suggests that death is the great equalizer, and that ultimately, all ambitions and accomplishments are fleeting.

Stylistic Elements

Gray's use of language and stylistic elements adds to the poem's elegance and timelessness. His use of imagery, metaphors, and similes creates vivid and lasting impressions on the reader. For example, the line "The paths of glory lead but to the grave" is a metaphor that suggests that even the greatest accomplishments ultimately lead to death. The line "The breezy call of incense-breathing morn" is an example of Gray's use of imagery, which creates a peaceful and idyllic scene.

Gray also employs antithesis, which creates a sense of balance in the poem. For example, he contrasts the rich and the poor, the powerful and the humble, and the living and the dead. This contrast not only creates a sense of order in the poem but also highlights the themes of the poem.


In conclusion, "Elegy Written In A Country Church-Yard" is a masterpiece that explores themes of death, social class, the transience of life, and the vanity of ambition. Its structure, themes, and stylistic elements create a sense of elegance and timelessness that has made it a classic in English literature. Thomas Gray's use of language, imagery, and metaphors makes the poem not only easy to read but also memorable. The poem's universal themes and its exploration of the human condition make it relevant across generations. It is a work of art that speaks to the human soul and will continue to do so for generations to come.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Elegy Written In A Country Church-Yard: A Masterpiece of Thomas Gray

Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written In A Country Church-Yard" is a classic poem that has been studied and admired for centuries. It is a masterpiece of English literature that has stood the test of time and continues to captivate readers with its beauty and depth. In this article, we will explore the poem's themes, structure, language, and historical context to understand why it is considered one of the greatest elegies ever written.

The poem was written in 1750 and published in 1751. It is a meditation on death, the transience of life, and the power of memory. Gray wrote the poem while visiting the churchyard of St. Giles, a small village in the English countryside. The poem is divided into stanzas, each containing four lines, and follows a strict rhyme scheme (ABAB). The language is simple and elegant, with a melancholic tone that reflects the poem's themes.

The poem begins with a description of the churchyard at nightfall. Gray sets the scene with vivid imagery, describing the "lowing herd" and the "moping owl" that inhabit the area. He then reflects on the lives of the people buried in the churchyard, imagining their stories and the joys and sorrows they experienced in life. He notes that their lives were not celebrated or remembered, and that they were buried in anonymity.

Gray then turns his attention to the idea of fame and the transience of human achievement. He notes that even the great and powerful are subject to death and that their achievements will eventually be forgotten. He contrasts this with the power of memory, which can preserve the memory of the dead and their achievements. He notes that even the humblest of people can be remembered if they live a virtuous life and leave a positive legacy.

The poem then takes a more personal turn, as Gray reflects on his own mortality. He notes that he too will eventually die and be forgotten, but that his memory will live on through his poetry. He imagines a future where people will read his poems and remember him, even though he is long gone. He concludes the poem with a reflection on the power of death and the inevitability of its arrival.

One of the most striking aspects of the poem is its structure. The strict rhyme scheme and the use of quatrains give the poem a sense of order and symmetry. This is in contrast to the chaotic and unpredictable nature of life and death, which the poem reflects upon. The use of enjambment, where a sentence or phrase continues onto the next line, gives the poem a sense of flow and movement, reflecting the passage of time and the inevitability of change.

The language of the poem is simple and elegant, with a melancholic tone that reflects the poem's themes. Gray uses vivid imagery to create a sense of place and atmosphere, and his use of metaphor and symbolism adds depth and complexity to the poem. For example, the "lowing herd" and the "moping owl" represent the natural world, which continues on regardless of human life and death. The "ivy-mantled tower" represents the church, which provides a sense of stability and continuity in the face of change.

The historical context of the poem is also important to understanding its themes and significance. The 18th century was a time of great social and political change in England, with the rise of the middle class and the decline of the aristocracy. The poem reflects this changing social landscape, with its emphasis on the importance of virtue and the idea that even the humblest of people can be remembered if they live a good life.

In conclusion, Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written In A Country Church-Yard" is a masterpiece of English literature that continues to captivate readers with its beauty and depth. The poem reflects on the transience of life, the power of memory, and the inevitability of death. Its structure, language, and historical context all contribute to its significance and enduring appeal. It is a testament to the power of poetry to capture the essence of human experience and to provide a sense of meaning and purpose in the face of mortality.

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