Elegy Written In A Country Churchyard- Poem Summary

Thomas Gray as a Pre- Romantic poet with special reference to Elegy

           Thomas Gray is one of the most eminent pre- romantic poets who dominated the literary reign during the period of trasition from Neo- classicism to Romantic Revival. Their verses exhibited strong hints of the approaching Romanticism as well as resemblances to the Neo- Classical poetry of the 18 th
century. Thomas Gray is the greatest poet of the transition era and his Elegy has been hailed as  " England' s Song of Songs". This poem written in the Iambic pentameter sways the Romantic spirit from the beginning to the end. Its melancholy strain and  esoteric reflections on human life has made it eternal and universal in its appeal. "The Elegy", according to Dr. Johnson " abounds with images which find a mirror in every mind and with sentiments to which every bosom returns an echo".

        The great Elegy opens with a meticulous portraiture of the rustic landscape at Stockpoges as the sun dissappears into the horizon, leaving the earth in complete darkness. The curfew  is heard as if it was a death bell for the dying day. The ploughman returns home weary of the days labour and so does the cattle. Their tinklings slowly creeps the dark landscapes and finally fills the whole environment. The air around holds a solemn stillness which is shattered by the hum of beetles and the tinklings of bells in the distant folds. The owl expresses her complaints about someone who has tresspassed her ancient solitary reign.
After giving the picture of the beautiful village , Gray takes us to the churchyard where the poor forefathers of the village sleep for ever. Gray indulges in melancholy reflections on the forefathers of the villlage who died unsung and unhonoured who now sleep forever in the many graves all over the churchyard. Neither the "the breezy call of the incense- breathing morn", nor the twittering of the swallow from her straw- built nests can wake them up from their eternal beds. The cock's shrill clarion shall no more rouse them from their perpetual sleep. Hearths shall never again blaze for them. Their children shall no longer climb their knees to share the " envied kiss".
 Gray then goes on to describe the virtues of these simple, rustic people. Their homely joys should not be a subject for ridicule by the ambitious people. They led a humble and contented life.people who pursue grandeur should not look down upon the " simple annals of the poor". These humble villagers dont have a long pedigree to boast of, nor did they wield power over others. Death has no discrimination for the rich and the poor. All shall face the inevitable hour oneday. The poet says:
                     " can storied urns or animated busts
                 Back to the mansion call the fleeting breath?".
  The poet opines that some among these humble villagers would have become stars of fame if they had been given opportunities to develop their talents. Some of them would have even become great poets like Milton or they would have enjoyed the  glory of power or some of them would have tasted the dew of music. But abject poverty hampered their growth towards the paths of glory. The poet says:
                    "Chill penury repressed their noble range
                     And froze the genial current of the soul".
If they were affluent, they would have created history. But the dearth of opportunity and extreme penury forced them down into obscurity:
                      "Full many a gem of purest ray serene,
                      The dark unfathomed caves ocean bear.
                     Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
                     And waste its sweetness on the desert air".
         Gray beholds the brighter side of their lives. Though destined to live and die unknown and unhonoured, they enjoyed a peaceful and contented life. They lived far away from the madding crowd. Their wishes were always sober and ambition never ensnared them. Even though they were not admired with luxurious sepulcheres, they were buried in graves with " uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture decked". The inscriptions on the grave stones were done by some " unlettered muse". There are quotations from the Bible catechizing men to surrender to death. 
               The elegy by Thomas Gray is universal in its appeal, for the sentiments expressed in the poem are timeless and temporal. The poem goes beyond the stature of a lamentation on the death of the forefathers of Stock Poges. The poem emerges as one of the greatest elegies on the fate of humankind in general