There to be a time as soon as every schoolchild can quote currently from thomas Gray’s city ‘Elegy written in a nation Churchyard’, because it was a famous poem to it is in taught, learnt through rote, and analysed in colleges in Britain. Gray’s poem gave Thomas continuous the phrase ‘far from the madding crowd’ for usage as the title of his 4th published novel; the phrase ‘paths the glory’ was offered as the title for Stanley Kubrick’s 1957 anti-war film; and the phrase ‘mute inglorious Milton’ has come to be well-known. But in recent decades its popularity has actually declined. Is the still worth reading, studying, and also subjecting to close analysis? Yes, yes, and also yes. First, this is a reminder the the text of ‘Elegy composed in a nation Churchyard’, before we move on to define 1) why it isn’t an elegy, 2) why Gray didn’t want it published, and 3) exactly how an obscure poet who passed away young aided to sow the seed of this good poem.

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Elegy written in a nation Churchyard

The curfew tolls the knell that parting day,The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea,The plowman homeward plods his weary way,And pipeline the world to darkness and also to me.


Now fades the glimm’ring see on the sight,And every the waiting a solemn stillness holds,Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,And drowsy tinklings lull the far-off folds;

Save that from yonder ivy-mantled tow’rThe moping owl does to the moon complainOf such, together wand’ring close to her an enig bow’r,Molest her ancient solitary reign.


Beneath those rough elms, that yew-tree’s shade,Where heaves the turf in numerous a mould’ring heap,Each in his small cell for ever laid,The rude forefathers that the hamlet sleep.

The breezy call of incense-breathing Morn,The sloop down twitt’ring native the straw-built shed,The cock’s shrill clarion, or the echoing horn,No an ext shall rouse lock from their lowly bed.


For lock no an ext the blazing hearth chandelier burn,Or busy housewife ply she evening care:No youngsters run to lisp their sire’s return,Or climb his knee the envied kiss to share.

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


Let no Ambition mock their beneficial toil,Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;Nor Grandeur hear v a disdainful smileThe quick and simple annals of the poor.

The boast that heraldry, the pomp the pow’r,And all the beauty, all that riches e’er gave,Awaits alike th’ unavoidable hour.The routes of glory lead yet to the grave.


Nor you, ye proud, impute to this the fault,If Mem’ry o’er their dig no trophies raise,Where thro’ the long-drawn aisle and fretted vaultThe pealing anthem swells the note of praise.

Can storied urn or man bustBack to its mansion call the fleeting breath?Can Honour’s voice provoke the quiet dust,Or Flatt’ry soothing the dull cold ear that Death?


Perhaps in this neglected clues is laidSome heart once pregnant with celestial fire;Hands, that the stick of empire could have sway’d,Or wak’d to ecstasy the life lyre.

But expertise to their eyes her ample pageRich through the spoils that time go ne’er unroll;Chill Penury repress’d their noble rage,And froze the genial present of the soul.


Full plenty of a gem of purest ray serene,The dark unfathom’d caves of s bear:Full plenty of a flow’r is born to blush unseen,And garbage its sweetness on the desert air.

Some village-Hampden, that v dauntless breastThe tiny tyrant that his areas withstood;Some mute inglorious Milton below may rest,Some Cromwell guiltless that his country’s blood.


Th’ applause of list’ning senates come command,The threats of pain and also ruin come despise,To scatter plenty o’er a smiling land,And review their hist’ry in a nation’s eyes,

Their lot forbade: no one circumscrib’d aloneTheir cultivation virtues, yet their crime confin’d;Forbade come wade with slaughter come a throne,And shut the gateways of mercy on mankind,

The struggling pangs of mindful truth to hide,To quench the blushes the ingenuous shame,Or heap the shrine that Luxury and PrideWith incense kindled at the Muse’s flame.

Far native the madding crowd’s ignoble strife,Their sober wishes never ever learn’d come stray;Along the cool sequester’d vale the lifeThey maintained the noiseless tenor of your way.

Yet ev’n this bones from humiliation to protect,Some frail memorial still put up nigh,With uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture deck’d,Implores the passing tribute the a sigh.

Their name, their years, spelt through th’ unletter’d muse,The place of fame and also elegy supply:And many a divine text roughly she strews,That teach the rustic moralist to die.

For who to dumb Forgetfulness a prey,This pleasing anxious being e’er resign’d,Left the warmth precincts of the you re welcome day,Nor actors one longing, ling’ring watch behind?

On part fond chest the parting spirit relies,Some pious autumn the closing eye requires;Ev’n native the dig the voice the Nature cries,Ev’n in our ashes live your wonted fires.

For thee, that mindful that th’ unhonour’d DeadDost in these lines their artless tale relate;If chance, by lonely contemplation led,Some kindred spirit shall inquire her fate,

Haply some hoary-headed swain may say,“Oft have actually we checked out him in ~ the peep of dawnBrushing v hasty steps the dews awayTo accomplish the sunlight upon the upland lawn.

“There in ~ the foot of yonder nodding beechThat wreathes its old an excellent roots therefore high,His listless size at noontide would he stretch,And pore top top the brook that babbles by.

“Hard by yon wood, currently smiling as in scorn,Mutt’ring his wayward fancies he would rove,Now drooping, woeful wan, choose one forlorn,Or craz’d through care, or cross’d in hopeless love.

“One morn i miss’d the on the custom’d hill,Along the heath and also near his fav’rite tree;Another came; no one yet alongside the rill,Nor increase the lawn, nor at the timber was he;

“The following with dirges due in sad arraySlow thro’ the church-way path we witnessed him borne.Approach and also read (for she canst read) the lay,Grav’d on the stone beneath yon aged thorn.”

THE EPITAPHHere rests his head top top the lap that EarthA youth come Fortune and also to fame unknown.Fair scientific research frown’d no on his humble birth,And Melancholy mark’d the for she own.

Large to be his bounty, and his spirit sincere,Heav’n did a recompense as mainly send:He provided to Mis’ry every he had, a tear,He gain’d from Heav’n (’twas every he wish’d) a friend.

No farther look for his merits to disclose,Or attract his frailties from their dread abode,(There castle alike in trembling expect repose)The bosom that his Father and his God.

First, a brief an overview of the poem’s background. Gray completed ‘Elegy in a nation Churchyard’ in 1750 and also sent the poem to his friend Horace Walpole (the inventor of the Gothic novel and also coiner of the word ‘serendipity’), who circulated it among his literature friends before Gray released the poem in 1751. He released it top top 15 February 1751,

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one day prior to a pirated version was due to be published without Gray’s permission. This is the only reason Gray agreed to publish it: it was going to be published anyway, with or there is no his say-so. Yet the germ of the city actually goes ago to 1742, when the young poet Richard West – a friend of both Gray and Walpole – died, while just in his mid-twenties. Gray wrote a sonnet on the death of his friend, yet it would certainly be the ‘Elegy created in a country Churchyard’ – an elegy not simply for West yet for all promising people who toil far in obscurity and never had a possibility to fulfil their potential – that would certainly prove his lasting legacy. (In the exact same year that Gray’s girlfriend died, that coined the nonce-word ‘leucocholy’, for ‘a white Melancholy’ which ‘though it hardly ever laughs or dances, no one ever quantities to what one calls delight or Pleasure, yet is a great easy type of a state.’ (‘Melancholy’ is from the Greek for ‘black bile’.)

Technically, though, in terms of its form Gray’s ‘Elegy’ is no an elegy. It doesn’t mourn West or any type of one various other individual, but is instead more of one ode, which sees Gray meditating on death and the lives of simple rustic folk. This, in summary, is what the ‘Elegy’ is about. The ‘country churchyard’ referred to in the poem’s location belonged come St Giles’ parish church in ~ Stoke Poges in Buckinghamshire, return it’s likely that Gray had actually written lot of the poem before he moved to Stoke Poges. (Confusingly, back Gray’s ‘Elegy’ isn’t an elegy in the strictest sense but more of an ode, his various other most famed poem, ‘Ode top top the fatality of a Favourite Cat, drown in a tub of Goldfishes’, is much more of an elegy 보다 an ode.)

As us remarked in ~ the beginning, ‘Elegy created in a country Churchyard’ has actually bequeathed a variety of famous titles and phrases come the world. However Gray’s use of language in this city is masterly ideal from the start. Consider the usage of collection sounds in that opening stanza:

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,The lowing herd wind progressively o’er the lea,The plowman homeward plods his weary way,And pipeline the civilization to darkness and also to me.

Was there ever before a much better description that the weariness of the night after a tough day’s work, brilliantly capturing the time of job when an easy labouring individual would retire residence after toiling in the fields all day? Look at the means ‘lowing’ is heard again in ‘slowly’, transforming into ‘plowman’ yet with the previously o-sound return in ‘homeward’, just as the plowman self returns home. (Similarly, ‘lea’ is echoed in ‘leaves’. However really, the gentle play that assonance and alliteration in the entire stanza is majestic. The pleasing the the Oxford English Dictionary’s earliest citation for the word ‘lyricism’ is from cutting board Gray, composing in 1760.)

Yet for all that, is Gray calling for political readjust in the ‘Elegy’? he is singing the praises of the unsung heroes of England, those that pass their resides in anonymity; however does the seem to be saying the these civilization would be better off if your talents to be recognised, or if people from humble backgrounds had an ext opportunities? wilhelm Empson, in an influential reading in his 1935 book Some versions of Pastoral, believed not. For Empson, the city – whether intentionally or not on Gray’s component – shows up to be conservative in that message, arguing that the condition quo is the natural method of things (no matter how much the quo, to borrow from Laurence Peter, may have lost the status). Empson cites the following stanza:

Full many a gem of purest ray serene,The dark unfathom’d caves of ocean bear:Full plenty of a flow’r is born to blush unseen,And rubbish its sweetness on the desert air.

As Empson points the end in his evaluation of this stanza, Gray’s analogy through the natural human being – v gemstones and flowers – renders English society’s lack of society mobility it seems ~ natural, also inevitable. If this obscure farm labourers are truly choose flowers the ‘blush unseen’, i.e. They carry out their duty and role without anyone appreciating them, then the is fine: castle are, ~ all, ‘born’ to do so. Those more, together Empson also highlights, ‘a gem does not mind being in a cave and a flower prefers no to it is in picked; us feel that male is favor the flower, as short-lived, natural, and also valuable, and this tip us into feeling that he is far better off without opportunities’. Gray’s ‘Elegy’ certainly offers no propose replacement because that the means Things Are.

Yet for all that, there room moments in Gray’s ‘Elegy’ where he clearly wishes united state to reflect top top the truth that ‘nobility’ may not it is in a birth-right yet a way of living, and also that talent does not exist solely among the wealthy and also the privileged: it’s simply that the wealthy and also privileged room the persons who have the method and time to nurture their talents:

Chill Penury repress’d their noble rage,And froze the genial present of the soul.

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Note words ‘noble’: these would-be Miltons or Cromwells can have withstood ‘Penury’ or poverty, but their fury or righteousness to be truly ‘noble’, for every that. This is, in the critical analysis, the true an interpretation and heart of Gray’s ‘Elegy’: whether or no it’s a great thing the so plenty of promising talents walk unnoticed and also uncultivated, many world pass resides of quiet dignity and rustic simplicity. And which the us, when visiting a nation churchyard, has actually not spared a thought for the unknown men and also women whose straightforward lives space commemorated by mere names and also dates?

Image (top): cutting board Gray portrait by Benjamin Wilson (1721-1788), via Wikimedia Commons. Picture (bottom): St Giles’ churchyard at Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire (credit: Michael Garlick, 2016), via geograph.org.uk.