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Interim Readings > Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard

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message 1: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1748 comments As many of you know, we follow each major read with a short interim read selected by one of the moderators. Everyman had planned to moderate this interim read and had chosen one of his favorite poems as our next interim, Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. It is a beautiful poem, a meditation on the nature of mortality, the reality of death, and the legacy one leaves behind—all of which are particularly meaningful in light of Everyman’s passing.

To continue the tradition and honor his memory, we look forward to a rewarding discussion on this, one of Everyman’s favorite poems.

Some background on the poem:

Thomas Gray (1716-1771) wrote Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard in 1750 to honor his friend, Richard West, a young poet who died in his mid-twenties in 1742. The poem was published in 1751. Many of its phrases have been picked up in other literary works and are instantly recognizable even though their origin in this poem may not be generally known.

It has been argued that technically speaking, the poem isn’t an elegy since Gray doesn’t mourn the death of a specific individual in the poem. Instead it represents Gray’s musings on the death of farmers and rural laborers buried in their local churchyard. As such, it bears a greater resemblance to an ode than an elegy. Do you think it is an elegy? If so, whose death is Gray mourning? Is it the death of villagers? His own death?

The Elegy opens with long vowel sounds that evoke the end of a hard day of laboring in the fields—the “lowing” herd, the bell tolling, the farmer plodding “his weary way home.” The scene is beautiful, but the tone is decidedly melancholic and meditative with its impending sense of things drawing to a close. The poet moves from this poignant rural scene to a contemplation of the rural poor. He then shifts his attention to the upper classes, makes a direct address, and concludes with an epitaph.

The poem has been described as speaking to our common humanity with a message that is universal. Some questions you may wish to consider as you read the poem:

What is the poem’s theme? How successful is Gray in executing it? What is his view of the rural poor? Of the upper classes? Who does the poet address when he says in stanza 24, line 93, “For thee...”? Whose epitaph is at the end of the poem? Do you find the poem hopeful? Depressing? Something else? Do you think the poem works? Why or why not?

Below is a link to the poem:
http://www.bartleby.com/101/453.html

And because I’m a great believer that poetry should be heard as well as read, here is a link for your listening pleasure:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VbYcP...


message 2: by Susan (new)

Susan | 528 comments What a good surprise to discover this morning that we have one more of Everyman’s special poetry selections for the interim reading. Thank you, moderators, and especially Tamara for a thoughtful introduction. This beautiful poem is one of my favorites, too, for the quiet picture that it paints of the poet musing at the end of the day and the beautiful language which is so melodious that many lines have stuck in memory.


message 3: by Christopher (new)

Christopher (Donut) | 537 comments Incidentally, there is an e-book of the original, anonymous issue of this poem:

An Elegy Wrote in a Country Church Yard (1751) and The Eton College Manuscript

with a scholarly introduction recounting the poem's publication history and initial reception. Gray was 'forced' to publish the poem to obtain a copyright before a pirate edition came out (at the time, the first to publish could claim a copyright).


message 4: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1748 comments Christopher wrote: "Incidentally, there is an e-book of the original, anonymous issue of this poem:

An Elegy Wrote in a Country Church Yard (1751) and The Eton College Manuscript

with a scholarly int..."


Nice find. Thank you, Christopher.


message 5: by David (new)

David | 2738 comments I cannot decide who the epitaph at the end is for. Is it for the author's poet friend that used to see visit the churchyard everyday, or is it for the author of the poem himself who also seemed to visit the churchyard for quiet reflection?


message 6: by Theresa (new)

Theresa | 856 comments Gosh, this is a sad poem. Very appropriate choice, but almost too sad at the moment.


message 7: by Theresa (new)

Theresa | 856 comments Tamara wrote: " Who does the poet address when he says in stanza 24, line 93, “For thee...”? "

The reader?


message 8: by Tamara (last edited Jun 27, 2018 05:02PM) (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1748 comments Theresa wrote: "Tamara wrote: " Who does the poet address when he says in stanza 24, line 93, “For thee...”? "

The reader?"


"For thee, who mindful of th' unhonour'd Dead
Dost in these lines their artless tale relate . . . (lines 93-94)

The "thee" is addressing the person who is relating the story of the "unhonour'd Dead" (the humble villagers). So it sounds to me as if the poet is addressing himself because he's the one telling their story.

And in answer to David's question (#6), I think the epitaph is his.

I read stanzas 24-29 as the poet addressing himself. He imagines his own death and burial and has "some hoary-headed swain" remembering him as someone who reclined under the "nodding beech." The villager recalls how "One morn I miss'd him on the custom'd hill" and then describes the poet's burial procession in stanza 29.

I think it's interesting that the poet chooses to be remembered by a humble villager in the countryside, a villager who probably didn't understand the poet's words: "Hard by yon wood, now smiling as in scorn/ Mutt'ring his wayward fancies he would rove..." (stanza 27).

His choice of being remembered by a rustic "swain" in the countryside is probably connected to the theme of the poem in some way.


message 9: by Borum (new)

Borum | 535 comments It really saddens me to read this poem at this moment yet I can't help being thankful for another memento of Eman. I'm going through his past discussions and is constantly reminded of him.

I finished Dante's Divine Comedy last night and I read somewhere that as long as the ones who are still living pray for the deceased they can be redeemed. This reminded me of the Disney animation Coco. When we are dead there is nothing to save us but the memory and love of those left behind, and I think this was Eman's way of saying 'Remember me'.

When our life ends, no grandeur or wealth or honor that we can accumulate in our life is able to save us and we are all broken down into the finest mote, which is our common denominator.
But this poor and unknown peasant had so little in his past life that he had nothing to give but his tears and was so humble that all he wished for was a friend. Yet all the false fortune and fame known to the madding crowd is useless in heaven and he seemed to have received a great (maybe the greatest recompense possible for us) recompense - a friend. A friend who doesn't mind or remind of our trivial frailties and merits and just accepts us as who we are.


message 10: by Borum (last edited Jun 27, 2018 07:53PM) (new)

Borum | 535 comments Tamara wrote: "Theresa wrote: "Tamara wrote: " Who does the poet address when he says in stanza 24, line 93, “For thee...”? "

The reader?"

"I think it's interesting that the poet chooses to be remembered by a humble villager in the countryside, a villager who probably didn't understand the poet's words:..."


The humble villager probably didn't read as well, either. However the poet could read his epitaph and speak in place of the 'mute, inglorious Milton' The common people were separated from society not only by class but by their illiteracy.

I learned that churchyards were seved as graveyards for the poor people who couldn't be buried inside or beneath the church. Yew trees were often planted to keep the livestock away (they were poisonous to cows and sheeps, i guess).
They even had to reuse the headstones and memorials for the less afluent families. Hence this villager may be any common man, or everyman.


message 11: by David (new)

David | 2738 comments Tamara wrote: "he "thee" is addressing the person who is relating the story of the "unhonour'd Dead" (the humble villagers). So it sounds to me as if the poet is addressing himself"

I can see that, but I took "thee" as the archaic form of "you", and he was trying to convey that if you, the reader, remember the unhonored dead, then maybe someday when you, the reader, are dead that someone will remember your life and when you died.

Howver, it does make more sense if thee is the author addressing himself and the epitaph is his own. Or its a the bell tolls for you thing and "thee" is a universal each one of us, including the author.


message 12: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1748 comments David wrote: "However, it does make more sense if thee is the author addressing himself and the epitaph is his own. Or its a the bell tolls for you thing and "thee" is a universal each one of us, including the author..."

I don't think it's an either/or. I think it's both. He addresses himself but his address goes beyond himself and addresses us all. His message is universal and speaks to all of us as mortal beings who will one day die.


message 13: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1748 comments Why do you think the poet chooses to be remembered by a humble villager and not by a family member or friend? Why choose to be remembered by a stranger who, as Borum suggests in #12, was probably illiterate? Is there a point to that and, if so, how is it related to the first part of the poem?


message 14: by David (last edited Jun 28, 2018 09:46AM) (new)

David | 2738 comments Tamara wrote: "Why do you think the poet chooses to be remembered by a humble villager and not by a family member or friend? Why choose to be remembered by a stranger who, as Borum suggests in #12, was probably i..."

I will take some guesses. As a poet, for an illiterate person to remember him would show he had truly made his mark in the world and was recognizable by more than just family, friends, and even those who are well off and had better access to his works.

Or he wants to be known as a common person by other common people for more than just his poetry.


message 15: by Lily (last edited Jun 28, 2018 01:54PM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 5062 comments Here is a rather light-hearted piece, as the long-standing academic literary theory scraps on the significance of authorial intent versus reader interpretation go: http://www.thewritersscrapbin.com/int...

"Go ahead, English Literature majors, groan. I’m actually going to talk about 'The Intentional Fallacy'. I’m a nerd, what did you expect? I didn’t really like modern literary theory as an undergrad but I wouldn’t be doing literature justice if I ignored it entirely.

"For those who don’t know, 'The Intentional Fallacy' is an essay written by New Criticism literary theorists W.K. Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley circa 1946. The essay argues, in essence, that the author’s intent when writing a work is impossible to know and highly undesirable when analyzing said work. What the author meant to say and what the writing actually says may be two entirely different things, especially when considering that many readers interpret texts differently, and so the author’s intent is negligible. If you want to know more, you can start with this Wikipedia entry on authorial intent. {Google it if interested.} Beyond that, there are many resources you can explore, including the essay itself, but the Wikipedia entry provides a basic understanding.

"We try so often to argue that an author meant this or that when we’re analyzing his/her work, but there’s a reason professors won’t let us get away with phrasing essays that way. It’s virtually impossible to know what a writer meant. We can’t step back in time and ask Herman Melville what he meant to say when writing Moby-Dick or what Percy Shelley tried to express in his poem “Ozymandias”. Even contemporary documents, such as letters and journals, may be unreliable." .....

Personally, I often like playing back and forth on (guessing) authorial intent versus my interpretation when the issue sort of socks me in the face. Others may prefer other tactics. (I guess that broaches a bit towards "reader response" in the Wiki article -- but I certainly respect the view that the text itself is primary -- along with the whole history that placed it before the reader's eyes.)

I thought it was a couple of French literary theorists who led in making a big deal out of this topic. I am not familiar with Wimsatt and Beardsley.


message 16: by Tamara (last edited Jun 28, 2018 01:51PM) (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1748 comments David wrote: "I will take some guesses. As a poet, for an illiterate person to remember him would show he had truly made his mark in the world and was recognizable by more than just family, friends, and even those who are well off and had better access to his works.

Or he wants to be known as a common person by other common people for more than just his poetry. .."


I think both guesses are plausible. And a third option might be that he recognizes death as the great equalizer.

In stanzas 7-23, he admonishes the upper classes for considering themselves to be superior to the humble villagers buried in the churchyard. He says that had it not been for their poverty and lack of education, these simple villagers might have risen to great heights. In either case, no matter who we are, when we die, we are not necessarily remembered for our grandiose accomplishments but for the simple things we did and for how we interacted with others.


message 17: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1748 comments Lily wrote: "I thought it was a couple of French literary theorists who led in making a big deal out of this topic. I am not familiar with Wimsatt and Beardsley. .."

Wimsatt and Beardsley were two famous literary critics. When I was in graduate school, I was immersed in their theories of the intentional fallacy and the affective fallacy.


message 18: by Lily (last edited Jun 28, 2018 03:08PM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 5062 comments Tamara wrote: "Lily wrote: "I thought it was a couple of French literary theorists who led in making a big deal out of this topic. I am not familiar with Wimsatt and Beardsley. .."

Wimsatt and Beardsley were two..."


One of the thoughts that I find fascinating in (re?) visiting this crud is that "intentional" may well be "unintentional" -- i.e., intent may arise from time and culture as well as from conscious choice. And that can apply to the whole line of handlers of a text: writer, publisher, reader, critics, translators, ....

Rather than W&B, graduate school, before business school, for me was more the practical stuff of computer circuits and, as a minor, what was being learned about how eyes, human and non-human, work. I didn't get to literary theory until adult courses as a retiree. It is interesting to consider, after fifty plus years, what has expanded, what has largely disappeared. Unlike, yet not unlike, the threads in the elegy relating to human effort.

"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!"

Rewrite with words of today's workplace?


message 19: by David (new)

David | 2738 comments I won't speak to the fallacies mentioned, but emotions, as poems are said to work on, are another thing. I felt secure in being reminded that death is a natural and inevitable consequence of living. To avoid death one must avoid having lived and foregone any of its joys: the blazing hearths, the busy housewife plying her evening care, children run to lisp their sire's return, etc. There are two sides to death; the death of the full variety of others, both strangers and loved ones, and one's own. It seems wise to look at at them all and see, as the poem successfully points out, what one must.


message 20: by David (last edited Jun 28, 2018 04:03PM) (new)

David | 2738 comments Lily wrote: "Rewrite with words of today's workplace?"

Oft did the profits of their business yield,
Their efforts oft the stubborn market broke:
How first rate did they run their dream afield!
How bow'd the globe beneath their IT folk!


Ok, maybe not. Its missing something. . .talent I think. :)

ETA: Would that make Mark Zuckerberg one of the famous celebrities that could be buried in the churchyard?


message 21: by Adelle (last edited Jun 28, 2018 05:20PM) (new)

Adelle | 3130 comments I thought the poem very effective.

Opening as it does, it evokes John Dunne: Ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. So for me, "thee" covers anyone reading or hearing the poem.

Very melancholy. All those little details.... Such a building sense of loss... Loss of this day.... Loss of energy... Of light... The trees I'll never see again. Amongst those living in the village, the loss of unfulfilled potential.... What might have been under other circumstances.

Yet admonitions, too, to the "successful" who might look down on the poorer people. There were perhaps compensatory joys in a simpler life: In the village, neighbors and routines were familiars... Such intimate knowledge known as even "his fav'rite tree"... and friends might last a lifetime... and long remembered be.

Very melancholy.


message 22: by Borum (new)

Borum | 535 comments David wrote: "Lily wrote: "Rewrite with words of today's workplace?"

Oft did the profits of their business yield,
Their efforts oft the stubborn market broke:
How first rate did they run their dream afield!
How..."


Probably not. Since he's a jewish that became an atheist with some interest in his wife's buddhist beliefs, but then again, I wonder... :-)


message 23: by Borum (last edited Jun 28, 2018 06:16PM) (new)

Borum | 535 comments Adelle wrote: "I thought the poem very effective.

Opening as it does, it evokes John Dunne: Ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. So for me, "thee" covers anyone reading or hearing the poem.

Very ..."


Is there a word for a feeling that encompasses both melancholy and hope? I felt sad but I couldn't find myself losing all hope for the one described on the epitaph. I think hope is a feeling that shines out more when the circumstances are depressing.


message 24: by Adelle (new)

Adelle | 3130 comments So I wondered, "IS there a word for such a feeling? One that encompasses both melancholy and hope?"

I googled. Didn't find one. But did find some interesting views of the two entwined: "melancholy, in its deepest truth, is not bereft of hope, but rather relies upon it." That melancholy is something different than sadness.


message 25: by David (last edited Jun 28, 2018 08:32PM) (new)

David | 2738 comments Adelle wrote: "So I wondered, "IS there a word for such a feeling? One that encompasses both melancholy and hope?"

I submit the word, submission for your consideration.


message 26: by John (new)

John Seymour | 53 comments David wrote: "Lily wrote: "Rewrite with words of today's workplace?"

Oft did the profits of their business yield,
Their efforts oft the stubborn market broke:
How first rate did they run their dream afield!
How..."


I think to capture the same feel it needs to refer not to people running businesses, but to anonymous toilers in cube farms, shuffling papers, crunching numbers, or perhaps factory work. But I think there is an alienation I modern work that is missing from the honest manual labor that the poem refers to. They may be poor, but is their labor in someway more enriching?


message 27: by John (new)

John Seymour | 53 comments On the question of whether this is an ode or an elegy, and on a first reading, I would say it has elements of both, an odegy? But more a sense of loss and grieving than praising, honoring or glorifying, so elegy seems the right call to me.

As to who it is an elegy for, again on a fist reading, I would say it is for a poor herdsman or farmer, as representative of each of us.

I will be interested to see if my understanding holds up as I re-read and contemplate.

Thank you for a lovely poem. I did not know Everyman, but this seems to me a fitting parting gift and memorial for a man whose life was well lived.


message 28: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1748 comments I think there is a melancholic tone in the beginning of the poem, but I think it transcends that by presenting death as a natural process—not something necessarily to be mourned or celebrated.

The poem begins with the dying of the day and the weary plowman heading home. Everything is coming to a close. The speaker is isolated: “And leaves the world to darkness and to me.” The tone is solemn and meditative.

With stanza 2, we have the emptying of nature of its sights and sounds with the coming nightfall. The poet then focuses on the graveyards of the dead and describes the activities in which they can no longer participate. He then admonishes the upper classes for their attitude of superiority and speculates on the wasted potential of the villagers deprived of education and income. He describes his death and burial, and it is significant that he is remembered in natural surroundings—wondering in the woods or lying under a tree. I think all this ties in with death as part of a natural process. We are, after all, a part of nature.

Just as the day dies into night, just as the landscape quietens down at the end of the day, just as the lowly plowman heads home, just as the speaker feels isolated, just as the wealthy and the poor are all going to end up the same way, we, too, will die one day. And we will face death alone just as the speaker faces darkness alone. It is all part of a natural process. It is not melancholy in that sense. It serves as a reminder that we are all mortal and we will die. Death is a natural part of life. It just is.

On the one hand, it is sad to be reminded of that. On the other hand, it is also realistic and serves as a poignant reminder that the end of all life is death.


message 29: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1748 comments John wrote: "On the question of whether this is an ode or an elegy, and on a first reading, I would say it has elements of both, an odegy? But more a sense of loss and grieving than praising, honoring or glorif..."

I agree. and I love the new word you've coined, "odegy."

I think it's an elegy for the humble village or farmer as representatives of all of us. And it is an ode since it consists of a meditation on death.


message 30: by Lily (last edited Jun 29, 2018 06:30AM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 5062 comments John wrote: "But I think there is an alienation I modern work that is missing from the honest manual labor that the poem refers to..."

I like David's pass at a rewrite. I think it helps us look at the text we are given in deeper ways. As I read it, I sort of asked the question you do, John. The original has:

"How jocund did they drive their team afield!
How bow'd the woods beneath their sturdy stroke!"

I remember the relish with which men in my family drove the horses they cherished to the fields to harvest the grain. Or my uncle supervising the threshing machine as the grain poured forth into the waiting wagon. Or my uncle who preferred the horse drawn cultivator in the corn fields. Such bonds between human and animal in the world in which I now live I see more approximated with dogs and cats. Literature tends to remind me of the shift in transportation and relationship of human to horse that happened so rapidly with the arrival of the 1900's.

Perhaps harder to conceptualize are the satisfactions of the clerical and professional work that run today's world -- delivers food, titrates solutions in search of new health cures, shuffles the paperwork needed to transport tankers and cargo ships around the globe, or, as David reminds us, creates and attempts to manage the digital networks underlying our modern world. We leave our cubicles for what ... soccer games, television news, a political rally or charity effort, to succor an ailing friend or family member. I'm rambling, and not seeing with a poet's eye and ear.

Gray softly reminds that death links us to the earth on which we move and live. He knows the plow, but not the Hubble.


message 31: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1748 comments John wrote: "But I think there is an alienation I modern work that is missing from the honest manual labor that the poem refers to. They may be poor, but is their labor in someway more enriching? ."

I think it is. And to tie it in with what Lily said @23, working with the land is fulfilling and puts us in tune with the cycles of nature. We are aware of seasonal changes, of death and rebirth. We have to live in harmony with nature's cycles. We cannot isolate or shelter ourselves from it.

I think this gives us a much healthier perspective on what is meaningful in life--something we tend to lose when we are disengaged from the natural environment.


message 32: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4617 comments Theresa wrote: "Tamara wrote: " Who does the poet address when he says in stanza 24, line 93, “For thee...”? "

The reader?"


I take "thee" to be the writer of the gravestone epitaph, the rustic moralist who relates his "artless tale", inspired by the "unlettered muse," death itself. He too dies at the end of the poem, and the final epitaph is his. I expect that Thomas Gray identifies with this writer very much.


message 33: by Greg (new)

Greg | 105 comments This is one of my favorite poems - gorgeously written; it seems simple, but every line bears so much with time and thought. There is a great deal of wisdom in it too I think.

For instance: People in positions of great power and influence are there because of talent yes, but also luck and circumstance. Sometimes the way certain family members and co-workers talk is so discouraging, such as when as aunt talks about the stupid "unemployables," whatever that means. But I feel sure Gray is right, that there is raw talent everywhere that has just not been planted in the right circumstances to be fed.

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 wak'd 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.


They might have had the workings of a great political mind or of a great musician, a great artist, but in their life, the opportunities to grow those gifts weren't there ... they lacked the knowledge or the money they needed to grow those gifts.

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


So like a gem at the bottom of the ocean, they passed unnoticed. And this is sad but in some ways also a good thing.

"Their lot forbade: nor circumscrib'd alone
Their growing virtues, but their crimes confin'd;
Forbade to wade through slaughter to a throne,
And shut the gates of mercy on mankind,"


Yes, their achievements were limited by their circumstances but their crimes were limited also! Maybe some who had the makings of a tyrant died innocent. Some who would have gone astray in one way or another instead lived a good (if simple) life. Could it be that some horrible people in power would have actually been good men if they never had never had the opportunity to rule? If no one had ever fed their egos with power and money, would they instead have contentedly stroked their horse and looked across the field with peaceful hearts?

I love the ambivalence of this poem. Gray doesn't forget the "chill penury" of these lives of the poor. He doesn't merely ignore the lost opportunities ... there is a deep sense of loss.

But there is also respect for these men and women as well, even a love. He sees them as worthy of honor.

"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 tenor of their way."


These simple people didn't have the pettiness and "ignoble strife" of the crowds. They didn't destroy each other over ideas or scrabble for power. There is some idealizing here of course ... surely there were some nasty shepherds. But there is some truth in what Gray says. How many would lead better lives without the opportunities for pride and arrogance? It makes me think of the old man from the Old Man and the Sea, the profound decency between the man and the boy. And it also makes me think of the heartbreaking poem by Sir Thomas Wyatt from the Tower of London, "Innocentia Veritas Viat Fides Circumdederunt me inimici mei." Is the Courts of power really a wise place to be?

"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 pow'r,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave,
Awaits alike th' inevitable hour.
The paths of glory lead but to the grave."


And isn't that the truth! How ridiculous to be proud ... we will all face a churchyard somewhere, whether we work at McDonalds or we're President of the United States.

"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."

Those lines to me feel so wonderfully intimate.

I love the sentiment and tone of this poem overall - the gentleness of heart, the quiet intelligence with what feels to me like a deep tenderness.


message 34: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1748 comments Greg wrote: "This is one of my favorite poems - gorgeously written; it seems simple, but every line bears so much with time and thought. There is a great deal of wisdom in it too I think.

For instance: People ..."


A lovely post, Greg. Thank you--and welcome back!


message 35: by Greg (new)

Greg | 105 comments Thanks Tamara!

I have just been going back through everyone's comments .. so many insightful ideas already!

Thomas, I definitely agree that Gray identifies with the writer. And Lily and Tamara, I like what you say about nature and the natural cycle. And Borum, I love those historical details about the yew trees and reused gravestones.


message 36: by Adelle (last edited Jun 29, 2018 04:32PM) (new)

Adelle | 3130 comments David wrote: "Adelle wrote: "So I wondered, "IS there a word for such a feeling? One that encompasses both melancholy and hope?"

I submit the word, submission for your consideration."


David, I gave time to think about submission, but I can't see it. From your perspective, how do you link the two? I'm interested.


message 37: by Adelle (new)

Adelle | 3130 comments Tamara wrote: "I think there is a melancholic tone in the beginning of the poem, but I think it transcends that by presenting death as a natural process—not something necessarily to be mourned or celebrated.

The..."


When I was younger and death was only a vaguely-sometime-in-the-future, I would probably have agreed with you. Now, a poem such as this brings no comfort. It makes me feel darkly melancholic and angry. I'm more aligned with Dylan Thomas.

https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/d...


message 38: by Adelle (new)

Adelle | 3130 comments Greg wrote: "This is one of my favorite poems - gorgeously written; it seems simple, but every line bears so much with time and thought. There is a great deal of wisdom in it too I think.

For instance: People ..."


Great post. Thank you.


message 39: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 5062 comments Adelle wrote: "...I'm more aligned with Dylan Thomas...."

Thank you, Adelle. However, I am not certain the poems are necessarily inconsistent with each other.

I was looking for a (poet's) counterpoint to Gray. For me, you have offered one.

I, too, thank Greg for his post and agree with your assessment, Adelle.

It is probably this board and its members who have most taken me on the literary journey along the Iliad's rivers of blood to the ether-worlds of Dante to the catacombs of Paris to the macabre dances of death of the Middle Ages to these (gentle?) words of Gray. I can't even link all of them to specific works of literature, at least without more effort than I am willing to expend, but am grateful for the richness and depth they have afforded my life.


message 40: by David (new)

David | 2738 comments Adelle wrote: "David, I gave time to think about submission, but I can't see it. From your perspective, how do you link the two? I'm interested."

Sometimes a certain level of melancholia comes with or causes a desire to resign, i.e., we give up and submit to the powers of some authority in hope of some respite. For example, giving a bully your lunch money in the hope that they do not beat you up, or do it again the next day.

Which lines invoke the feeling of hope?


message 41: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1748 comments Adelle wrote: "Now, a poem such as this brings no comfort. It makes me feel darkly melancholic and angry..."

I am sorry the poem brings you no comfort, Adelle. And I'm sorry that it makes you feel melancholy and angry. It has the opposite effect on me because my trajectory seems to be the exact opposite of yours.

I love the Dylan Thomas poem. Always have. Always will. But it resonated with me more in my wild and woolly youth when I was ready to fight battles armed with fire and rage.

But I'm old now. I feel old. I'm experiencing the effects of aging on my body and on my mind. I have lost many people I care about deeply. I witnessed my mother suffer for several years before she passed away. She died 17 years ago, and yet her loss still brings me to tears.

My attitude has changed. I know now I can rage against the dying of the light until I am hoarse, until I am blue in the face, but when it is my time to go, I will have no choice but to go. And no amount of raging will change that one bit.

I find the Gray poem comforting because it reminds me that death is a part of life. All that lives must die. And no amount of struggle will change that. To use the word David suggested in @27, I submit to that reality.

And for me, there is comfort and peace in that submission.


message 42: by Lily (last edited Jun 29, 2018 09:20PM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 5062 comments @24 Borum wrote: "Probably not. Since he's [Zuckerberg] jewish that became an atheist with some interest in his wife's buddhist beliefs, but then again, I wonder... :-) "

[g] Borum, you remind me of reading somewhere that cemeteries remain some of the most segregated places in the world! (An image of Hardy's Tess d'Ubervilles finding a corner in which to bury her unbaptized child comes to mind.)


message 43: by John (last edited Jun 30, 2018 05:05AM) (new)

John Seymour | 53 comments Tamara wrote: "I think there is a melancholic tone in the beginning of the poem, but I think it transcends that by presenting death as a natural process—not something necessarily to be mourned or celebrated."

I see the melancholy running throughout the poem, nearly to the very end.

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


And the first stanza of the epitaph:

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.


To the extent the poem transcends melancholy, it seems to me it is in the last two stanzas where we are reminded that the natural process leads to the supernatural hope.

Large was his bounty, and his soul sincere,
Heav'n did a recompense as largely send:
He gave to Mis'ry all he had, a tear,
He gain'd from Heav'n ('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.



message 44: by John (new)

John Seymour | 53 comments Thomas wrote: "Theresa wrote: "Tamara wrote: " Who does the poet address when he says in stanza 24, line 93, “For thee...”? "

The reader?"

I take "thee" to be the writer of the gravestone epitaph, the rustic mo..."


I take "thee" to be Gray.

For thee, who, mindful of th' unhonour'd dead,
Dost in these lines their artless tale relate;
If chance, by lonely contemplation led, 95
Some kindred spirit shall inquire thy fate,

Haply some hoary-headed Swain may say,
'Oft have we seen him at the peep of dawn


I see "thee" as the writer of "these lines," Gray, and the remainder of the poem to be Gray's own elegy, imagined as it might be contemplated by "some kindred spirit . . . some hoary-headed Swain."


message 45: by Greg (new)

Greg | 105 comments Thanks Adelle and Lily!

I can certainly understand where you're coming from Adelle - reading books about long illnesses is different now that I lived through my dad's decline and passing. There are certain topics I find hard to take.

All the same, I think my reaction is more like Tamara's.

There's melancholy throughout, but I think the tenderness of the treatment, the way the speaker clearly feels about these people ... it touches me with feelings other than sadness. Maybe I feel tenderness for the speaker in return because he sees these forgotten people as something to honor? He respects them and sees them as fully human. I find the poem in some ways endearing.

I think that although these people might have missed out on pagentry and great worldly achievements, they can meet death or their maker with peace. On the levels that are really the most important, they lived their lives well. And certainly, as John says, for many of Gray's readers there was the hope of faith.

I too find some comfort and peace in the submission, though of course I am in no hurry to get there!


message 46: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1748 comments I’m struck by the poet’s use of personification in the early stanzas and if/how it is connected to the theme. Some examples of personification: the curfew tolls; the air holds a solemn stillness; the beetle wheels; the owl mopes and complains to the moon about someone wandering near her secret bower to molest her reign; the turf heaves; the morn breathes incense and calls; the harvest yields to the sickle, etc. etc.

I’ve suggested the poem draws a connection between human mortality and the natural world, i.e. that our life and death is part of a natural cycle just as the end of the day is part of a natural cycle. But now I’m thinking the connection goes both ways.

Not only are we part of nature and have to conform to its cycles, nature is a part of us since it assumes human functions. The connection/link between the natural world and humans is thereby fortified. It becomes a two-way street. The line separating us from the natural world blurs because of our shared characteristics. We are “naturalized;” nature is “humanized.” We are nature; nature is us.

Am I making any sense or am I reading too much into the poet’s use of personification?


message 47: by David (last edited Jul 02, 2018 09:57AM) (new)

David | 2738 comments Tamara wrote: "Am I making any sense or am I reading too much into the poet’s use of personification? "

From my perspective, I can take the personification as an indication that man, the other animals and nature are all coeval with the universe. From another perspective one could see it as a sign of man's dominion over the other animals in nature, despite having a mortal life and death in common with them. I am sure Gray's perspective is closer to the later, especially given the last line.


message 48: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1748 comments David wrote: "From another perspective one could see it as a sign of man's dominion over the other animals in nature, despite having a mortal life and death in common with them..."

That would work, too, especially in light of stanza 7 where the poet describes the harvest yielding to man's sickle; men driving their team; and the woods bowing beneath men's sturdy stroke.

You get a definite sense of man subduing nature here.


message 49: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4617 comments Tamara wrote: "You get a definite sense of man subduing nature here. "

And of nature subduing the man. There's a self-reflexive or two-way relationship between nature and man, in the poem and in real life. We subdue the earth and have dominion over every living thing, and then it has dominion over us.


message 50: by Adelle (new)

Adelle | 3130 comments The personification had been one of my favorite aspects of the poem. Still is actually.

I've thought now for a day on your Message #49... I don't know what Gray's religious beliefs were... but from my perspective the "trembling hope" of line 127 now seems more tenuous.

In re-thinking the poem, the personification made me think about how man can project unto animals and inanimate objects feelings and thoughts and actions. "the Curfew tolls" though we know some human performs the act... "the moping owl does to the moon complain" though we know it's not truly complaining... "the rude Forefathers sleep" though we know they don't.

David commented on it being a "sign of man's dominion over the other animals in nature" and I can agree with that. I think I would go further though. Our human mind is such that we can ascribe thoughts and feelings to animals... To align them more with ourselves? Just because we like how it makes us feel? To bring us comfort? It is pretty astounding, I started thinking, how we can take the reality we're dealt and alter our perception of it...perhaps to make our lives more bearable.

I thought about that in re-reading the Epitaph. The stark this-world reality of the deceased was that he hadn't known much Fortune or Fame, and Melancholy, why, she'd "mark'd him for her own"... He could have viewed his life as one of hardship... Seemingly all this man had had in his life was a friend. And his mindset/his belief was such that he could view that as enough for him.

I was left wondering about Gray's belief about an afterlife. I was left wondering whether he is wondering.


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