Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard

by Thomas Gray

Imagine yourself seated on a large stone in a quiet pasture at dusk, near an ancient church and a country cemetery full of cold tombstones. 

1. What thoughts come to mind about those buried there?

This poem was written after the death of one of Gray's friends, Richard West.  It is one of the best-known poems in the English language and certainly one of the most often quoted.  Its greatness has been universally recognized.  Samuel Johnson, who thought Gray otherwise dull, said of this poem: 

     The Churchyard abounds with images which find a mirror in every mind, and with sentiments to which every bosom returns an echo.  The four stanzas beginning "Yet even these bones" are to me original: I have never seen the notion in any other place;  yet he that reads them here persuades himself that he has always felt them.  Had Gray written often thus, it had been vain to blame, and useless to praise him. 

     Gray, with Burns and Blake, started the move away from the classical toward Romantic literature in England.    The simple, the rustic, the commonplace things of life tend to be the vehicles for this intensely personal and individual form of expression.  It is perhaps the poetry of retreat, in the sense that it is the product of the meditation of seclusion and the introspection of solitude.

1. Find an example of each of the following literary elements in the poem.

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     b. apostrophe: _______________________________________________________________________

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     c. symbolism: _______________________________________________________________________

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     d. alliteration: _______________________________________________________________________

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     e. personification: ____________________________________________________________________

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2. What pleasant incidents does Gray imagine in the lives of the poor in lines 17-28?

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3. What does Gray imagine mocking the dead in lines 29-32?

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4. What moral does Gray state in lines 33-36?

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5. What moral does he state in lines 41-44?

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6. In lines 45-60, how does Gray imagine the lot of the dead might have been different if they had not been poor?

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7. What did these people lose by their poverty, according to lines 61-76?

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8. What tribute does Gray say the memorials and the dead ask in lines 77-92?

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9. At what line does the poem switch to a consideration of a particular person's death?

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10. What situation does Gray imagine in lines 93-96?

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