Thomas Gray- Elegy written in a Country Churchyard
Lecture 12 Thomas GrayElegy Written in a Country-yard
• I. Sentimentalism in English Poetry.• In the first half of the l8th century, Pope was the leader of English poetry and the heroic couplet the fashion of poetry. By the middle of the century, however, sentimentalism gradually made its appearance.• Sentimentalism came into being as the result of a bitter discontent among the enlightened people with social reality.
Differences between sentimentalism and classicism• 1.Dissatisfied with reason, which classicists appealed to, sentimentalists appealed to sentiment to the human heart.• 2. "Sentimentalism turned to the countryside and its material and so is in striking contrast to classicism, which had confined itself to the clubs and drawing-rooms, and to the social and political life of London.• 3. Meanwhile, the poetry of the sentimentalism is marked by a sincere sympathy for the poverty--stricken expropriated peasants. They wrote the "simple annals of the poor, though still in a classical style.
II. Pre-romanticism:• In the latter half of the 18th century, a new literary move merit arose in Europe, called the Romantic Revival.• It was marked by• a strong protest against the bondage of Classicism• a recognition of passion and emotion• a renewed interest in medieval literature.• In England, this movement showed itself in the trend of pre-Romanticism in poetry, which was ushered in by poetry, represented by Blake and Burns. Thomas Chatterton (1752-1770) is the saddest and most interesting figure of the Pre- Romantic movement.
III. Thomas Gray (December 26, 1716 – July 30, 1771) an English poet, classical scholar and professor at Cambridge University.• He was born in Cornhill, London, educated at Eton College. He recalled his schooldays as a time of great happiness, as is evident in his Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College.• He made three close friends at Eton: Horace Walpole, son of Prime Minister Robert Walpole, Thomas Ashton, and Richard West. The four of them prided themselves on their sense of style, their sense of humour, and their appreciation of beauty.
• In 1734, Gray went to Cambridge. At first he stayed in Pembroke College.• He began seriously writing poems in 1742, mainly after his close friend Richard West died.• He moved to Cambridge and began a self- imposed programme of literary study, becoming one of the most learned men of his time.
IV. Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard 1. It is believed that Gray wrote his masterpiece, the Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, in the graveyard of the church in Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire in 1750.2. The poem was a literary sensation when published by Robert Dodsley in February 1751 and has made a lasting contribution to English literature. 3. Its reflective, calm and stoic tone was greatly admired, and it was pirated, imitated, quoted and translated into Latin and Greek.
V. ELEGY WRITTEN IN A COUNTRY CHURCH- YARD The curfew tolls the knell of parting day, The lowing herd winds slowly oer 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-trees 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 cocks 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 sires 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 bowd 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 eer 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 oer 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 Honours 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 swayd, Or waked to ecstasy the living lyre:
• But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page, Rich with the spoils of time, did neer unroll; Chill Penury repressd their noble rage, And froze the genial current of the soul. Full many a gem of purest ray serene The dark unfathomd 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 countrys blood.
• Th applause of listning senates to command, The threats of pain and ruin to despise, To scatter plenty oer a smiling land, And read their history in a nations 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 Muses flame.
• Far from the madding crowds ignoble strife, Their sober wishes never learnd to stray; Along the cool sequesterd vale of life They kept the noiseless tenour of their way. Yet een these bones from insult to protect Some frail memorial still erected nigh, With uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture deckd, Implores the passing tribute of a sigh. Their name, their years, spelt by th unletterd 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 eer resignd, Left 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; Een from the tomb the voice of Nature cries, Een in our ashes live their wonted fires. For thee, who, mindful of th unhonourd 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. "Hard 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 care, or crossd in hopeless love.
• One morn I missd him on the customd 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." The Epitaph Here rests his head upon the lap of Earth A youth to Fortune and to Fame unknown. Fair Science frowned not on his humble birth, And Melacholy marked 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 gained from Heaven (twas all he wishd) 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.
VI. Appreciation6.1. About the title Its title describes its function: lamenting someones death, and affirming the life that preceded it so that we can be comforted.
6.2. Analysis• The poem opens with a death-bell sounding, a knell. The lowing of cattle, the droning of a beetle in flight, the tinkling of sheep-bells, and the owls hooting (stanzas 1-3) mourn the passing of a day, described metaphorically as if it were a person, and then suitably the narrators eye shifts to a human graveyard.• From creatures that wind, plod, wheel, and wander, he looks on still, silent "mouldring" heaps, and on turf under a moonlit tower where "The rude forefathers" "sleep" in a "lowly bed." Gray makes his sunset a truly human death- knell. No morning bird-song, evening family life, or farming duties (stanzas 5-7) will wake, welcome, or occupy them. They have fallen literally under the sickle, the ploughshare, and the axe that they once wielded. They once tilled glebe land, fields owned by the church, but now lie under another church property, the parish graveyard.
• This scene remains in memory as the narrator contrasts it with allegorical figures who represent general traits of eighteenth-century humanity: Ambition (29), Grandeur (31), Memory (38), Honour (43), Flattery and Death (44), Knowledge (49), Penury (51), Luxury and Pride (71), Forgetfulness (85), and Nature (91). In shifting from individuals to universal types that characterize the world at large, the poem exchanges country "darkness" for civic and national life. Yet, against expectations, the narrator defends the dead in his remote churchyard cemetery from the contempt of abstractions like Ambition and Grandeur. He makes four arguments.
• First, the goals of the great, which include aristocratic lineage, beauty, power, wealth, and glory, share the same end as the "rude forefathers," the grave. Human achievements diminish from the viewpoint of the eternal. The monuments that Memory erects for them ("storied urn or animated bust"), the church anthems sung at their funeral, and the praise of Honour or Flattery before or after death also cannot ameliorate that fate. The narrator reduces the important, living and deceased, to the level of the village dead.• Secondly, he asks pointedly why, were circumstances different, were they to have been educated with Knowledges "roll" and released from "Chill Penury," would they not have achieved as much in poetry and politics as did figures like Hampden, Milton, and Cromwell?
• Thirdly, the narrator suggests that his unimportant, out-of-power country dead lived morally better lives by being untempted to commit murder or act cruelly.• Last, "uncouth rhymes," "shapeless sculpture," and "many a holy text" that characterize their "frail" cemetery memorials, and even those markers with only a simple name and age at death, "spelt by th unlettered muse" (81), serve the important universal human needs: to prompt "the passing tribute of a sigh" (80) and to "teach the rustic moralist to die" (84)
• In the next three stanzas, the narrator -- the "me" who with darkness takes over the world at sunset (4) -- finally reveals why he is in the cemetery, telling the "artless tale" of the "unhonourd Dead" (93). He is one of them.• Like the "rude Forefathers" among whom he is found, the narrator ghost is "to Fortune and to Fame unknown" (118). Like anyone who "This pleasing anxious being eer resigned," he -- in this narrative itself -- casts "one longing, lingring look behind" to life (86-88).• As he says, "Evn from the tomb the voice of Nature cries" (91). He tells us the literal truth in saying, "Evn in our ashes live their wonted fires" (92). These fires appear in his ashes, which speak this elegy.
• As Natures voice from the dead, the "living lyre," he addresses himself in the past tense as having passed on, as of course he did. Should some "kindred spirit" ask about his "fate," that of the one who describes the dead "in these lines," an old "swain" (shepherd) might describe his last days. If so, he would have seen, with "another" person, the narrators bier carried towards the church and his epitaph "Gravd on the stone" (116). Only a ghost would know, with certainty, that "The paths of glory lead but to the grave" (36). Little wonder that the poem ends with the swains invitation to the "kindred spirit" to read the text of the narrators own epitaph. The narrator ghost gave "all he had, a tear," and did get the only good he wished for, "a friend." He affirms the value of friendship above all other goods in life. His wish is granted by the kindred spirit who seeks out his lost companion.
6.3. The Form• Gray adopts and refines a regular poetics typical of his period. His iambic pentameter quatrains are self-contained and end-stopped. They do not enjamb with the next stanza but close with terminal punctuation, except for two passionate sequences. Stanzas 16-18 express the narrators crescendo of anger at the empowered proud whose virtues go hand-in-hand with crimes: slaughter, mercilessness, and lying. Stanzas 24- 25 introduce the dead youth who, narrates the poem. Quatrains also regularly consist of end- stopped lines, equally self-contained and even interchangeable.
• For example, in the first stanza, lines 1-3 could be in any order, and lines 2 and 4 could change places. Gray builds his lines, internally, of units just as regular. Often lines are miniature clauses with balanced subject and predicate, such as "The curfew" (subject) and "tolls the knell of parting day" (predicate; 1), or "No children" (subject) and "run to lisp their sires return" (predicate; 23). Within both subject and predicate units, Gray inserts adjective-noun pairs like "parting day," "lowing herd," "weary way," "glimmring landscape," "solemn stillness," "droning flight," "drowsy tinklings," and "distant fold" (1-8). By assembling larger blocks from these smaller ones, Gray builds symmetry at all levels.
• He also links sequences of these regular blocks. Alliteration, unobtrusively, ties successive lines together: for example, "herd wind" and "homeward" (2-3), "droning flight" and "distant folds" (7-8), and "mantld towr" and "moping owl" (9-10). Gray rhymes internally in "slowly oer the lea" (2) or "And all the air ... / Save where" (6-7), or he exploits an inconspicuous initial assonance or consonance in "Beneath ... / Where heaves" (12-14), and "The cocks shrill ... / No more shall" (19-20). Parallel syntactic construction across line and stanza boundaries links sequences of such larger units. For example, twinned clauses appear with "Save" (7, 9), "How" (27- 28), "Can" (41, 43), "Full many a" (53, 55), "forbade" (65, 67), and "For who" and "For thee" (85, 93), among others.
• Semantically, Grays "Elegy" reads like a collage of remembered experiences. Some are realized in both image and sound. "The swallow twittring from the straw-built shed" (18) vividly and sharply conveys one instant in the awakening process on a farm. At other times, the five senses blur, as in "the madding crowds ignoble strife" (73), or "This pleasing anxious being" (86), but these remain snapshots, though of feelings, not images. They flow from a lived life remembering its keenest moments in tranquillity.
• These formal elements in Grays poetics beautifully strengthen the poems content.• "Elegy" gives us a ghosts perspective on his life, and ours. The old swain describes him as a melancholic loner who loved walking by hill, heath, trees, and stream.• The epitaph also reveals that he was well-educated, a youth who died unknown. These are the very qualities we might predict in the writer, from the style of his verse.• "Elegy" streams with memories of the countryside where the youth walked.• The firm, mirrored linguistic structures with which he conveys those recalled moments belong to someone well- educated in Latin, "Fair Science," and well-read in English poetry. Gray did not just give his readers succinct aphorisms about what Isaac Watt would term, "Man Frail, God Eternal," but recreated a lost human being.• In reading "Elegy," we recreate a person, only to find out that he died, too young, too kind, and too true to a melancholy so many share.
6.5. Exercise• 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 Muses flame.• Far from the madding crowds ignoble strife,• Their sober wishes never learned to stray;• Along the cool sequestered vale of life• They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.• Yet even these bones from insult to protect• Some frail memorial still erected nigh,• With uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture decked,• Implores the passing tribute of a sigh.
QUESTIONS:1.These three stanzas are taken from a rather long poem entitled ____________.2. What is the name of the poet?3. Judging from this selection, the poet belongs to the school of _________. A. sentimentalism B. realism C. modernism4. "Far from the madding crowd" is used as the name of a novel by ______. A. Hardy B. Fitzgerald C. Thackeray5. The poem contains altogether 32 quatrains of iambic pentameter, with a rime scheme of __________ for each stanza.
Answers1. "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard"2. Thomas Gray3. A4. A5. abab