Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard–Notes

Thomas Gray

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Elegy Written in A Country Churchyard–Notes

“Curfew”– During the time that this poem was written, English towns had a “curfew,” the time when a bell was rung in the evening that signaled for people put out their fires and go to bed (Cummings).

“Knell”- The use of the word knell is symbolic because it is used when describing the type of bell rung at funerals. This use of the word gives the poem a very solemn and reflective tone. This reflective tone continues through the second and third stanza. Gray’s writing style gives a tone of grief and the poem is filled with sorrow(answers.com).

“Parting day”– refers to the day’s end such as dusk, twilight, or the dying day (Cummings).

“Now fades…”– reveals that the landscape is becoming increasingly harder to see, it’s fadeing from sight (Cummings).

“Save”– throughout the poem it means ‘except’ (Cummings).

“Drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds”– This line refers to the serene sounds coming from a bell that hangs around the neck of a male sheep that leads the flock (Cummings).

“Fold” refers to a flock of sheep (Cummings).

“Ivy-mantled“- means covered, dressed, or fashioned with ivy (Cummings).

The moping owl does to the moon complain”- When Gray writes the the owl complains, he is reminding his readers of the sorrow and grief the poem is revealing (answers.com).

“Molest“- refers to bothering the owl as it keeps a watchful eye over the country churchyard (Cummings).

“Anient soitary rein”– is a metaphore that compares the owl to a queen (Cummings).

“Mouldering”- means decaying or crumbling (Cummings).

“Rude“- means robust, sturdy, hearty and stalwart (Cummings).

“Hamlet”– refers to village (Cummings).

Breezy call…”– refers to the morn, or morning, as a living thing. There is personification in this line; as the wind carries the pleasant smells of morning, it calls and breathes (Cummings).

Narrow Cell”- The narrow cell refers to the buried coffins in the ground. The poem continues on saying in the fifth and sixth stanza how no longer will these people be able to live the life they used too (answers.com).

“The envied kiss to share”– is an anastrophe, a figure of speech that inverts the normal order or words, it should read as “to share the envied kiss” (Cummings).

“Glebe”– refers to earth (Cummgins).

“Jocundly”– means cheerfully (Cummings).

“For them no more…” (Stanza 6)– This stanza reminds the reader of all the things one leaves behind when they die, including their wife, children and house (answers.com).

“Destiny obscure”- refers to the common peoples’ humble fate and everything that they accomplish that is not glorified or announced (Cumminngs).

“Simple annals of the poor”- Gray also brings up the issue of social classes in his poem. Gray shows how the poor take pride in what they create and even though they may not have much money, they are proud of their hard work and the nature that surrounds them. The ‘annals’ refers to their history and stories (answers.com).

Boast of heraldry…”– refers to the boastfulness of the upper class in regards to their aristocratic/royal family tree and well as their snobby attitude about having power (Cummings).

Pomp”– refers to the elite ceremonies, rituals, and luxurious surroundings that royalty and nobles enjoy (Cummings).

“The paths of glory lead but to the grave” – Gray wants us to be reminded that it does not matter if we are rich or poor, we all will die. No one is able to escape death (answers.com).

“If memory o’er their tomb no trophies raise”- Gray wants his readers to be reminded that the rich should not look down on the poor for their simple and humble tombstones (answers.com).

Long-drawn aisle and fretted vault“- This refers to a carved arched ceiling inside of a church where important people are buried (Cummings).

“Can Honour’s voice provoke the silent dust…”- Gray explains that nothing can bring the dead back to life. Honors and flattery are no competition for death. The wealthy’s riches will not save them or benefit them in any way once death approaches (answers.com).

“Some hearts once pregnant with celestial fire”- Gray wonders what types of people are buried in the graves. He ponders the idea that maybe if a farmer was given the means of oppurtunities, what the farmer may have become. He wonders if a great poet may be buried beneath the ground and never was given the means to accomplish what he was meant to do (answers.com).

Living Lyre”- Refers to a stringed instrument. More importantly the people in the cemetery could have been great musicians (Cummings).

Knowledge to their eyes her ample page “- They did not gain knowledge through (ample page) books (Cummings).

Froze the genial current of the soul” – Refers to the lack of ideas (Cummings).

“Gem”- Once again Gray wonders what hidden “gems” are buried in the graves that were unable to shine and wasted away because of their poor status in life(answers.com). Gray is comparing the village people to undiscovered gems in caves in the the ocean and to undiscovered flowers in the desert (Cummings).

“Some village Hampden”- For a third time, Gray hints that someone buried in the graveyard could have had the ability to be a Hampden. Hampden referring to a parlimentary leader. He also compares the buried poor to other prominent figures as well (answers.com).

Milton”- (1608-1674) A famous English poet and scholar (Cummings).

Their lot forbad“- This refers to the villagers and even though they alleviate suffering and provide plenty across the land they will receive no praise from politicians because of their way of life. This is continuing the same thought from stanza 17 (Cummings).

Their crimes confined”- Gray in this stanza is saying the their “lot” not only prevents them from good deeds, but bad ones as well; such as killing and showing mercy (Cummings).

“Muse’s flame”- Refers to Greek and Roman mythology and the allusion of Goddesses that inspire writers, musicians, historians, dancers, and astronomers (Cummings).

The struggling pangs of conscious truth to hide”- Refers to the villagers and their unwavering dedication to staying common (Cummings).

Noiseless tenour”– Refers to their quiet life (Cummings).

“Frail memorials”- Even though the poor peoples graves may be simple and not embelished, they still are remembered and receive the same amount of sorrow and “sighs” as others who have died (Cummings).

Their name, their years”– Refers to their name and age that appear but there were no extravagant tributes (Cummings).

Unletter’d Muse“- uneducated engraver (Cummings).

She“- Refers to a Muse (Cummings).

“Rustic moralists”- “pious villager” (Cummings).

“Warm precincts of a cheerful day”- These poor people died having the same regrets and longings as everyone else. They also longed to live longer and enjoy the days that would come in the future (Cummings).

Parting soul Relies”- Gray states how when people are dying they depend on their friends to write a statement on their tombstone. Gray states how even people’s spirit after they die want to be remembered (Cummings).

“For thee”- Gray begins referring to himself in the poem (Cummings).

“Art-less tale”- Gray is telling his readers the stories of the forgotten lives in the grave-yard. Gray is saying that the lines of his elegy is their story (Cummings).

“Hoary-headed swain”- Gray is refereing to a “gray haired country fellow who lives in the region” and is asking about Gray’s life after Gray dies (Cummings).

“Listless length”- tired body (Cummings).

“Rill”- Stream (Cummings).

“One morn I miss’d him on the custom’d hill“- Gray continues the story by having the old man in the poem not remember seeing the speaker and wonder what happened to him and why he was not in his usual spot (answers.com).

“Dirgres”- “funeral songs” (Cummings).

“Lay”- Gray is referring a short poem. In other words, the epitah written (Cummings).

“Slow through the church-way path we saw him borne”- The old man now sees the speakers body being carried to the grave yard. The speaker asks his friend to read the epitaph on the tombstone (answers.com).

“Parting soul relies”- Gray explains that it is extremely important that the living honor the dead and remember their lives (answers.com).

“Large was his bounty and his soul sincere”- Gray/the speaker hopes that people remember him for being a generous and sincere man. He is thankful that this old man is taking the time to remember his soul (answers.com).

“There they alike in trembling hope repose”- The poem ends by saying that the speaker hopes not to be judged on earth for any of his flaws but to be remembered and instead be judged by God who he now lives with. Once again Gray reminds us that no matter what type of honors we receive on earth, we are all buried and on the same level when we die (answers.com).

Men looking at Gray's Epitaph
Men looking at Gray’s Epitaph

Work Cited

1) Cummings, Micheal J. “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.” Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. 2003. Web. 18 May 2010. <http://www.cummingsstudyguides.net/ThoGray.html>

2) Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard- Poem Summary. <http://www.answers.com/topic/elegy-written-in-a-country-churchyard-poem-3>

3) Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard Summary and Study Guide.<http://www.enotes.com/elegy-written>

4) Men looking at Gray’s Epitaph <https://sites.udel.edu/britlitwiki/files//2018/06/16.jpg>

5) Thomas Gray <https://sites.udel.edu/britlitwiki/files//2018/06/thomas-gray.jpg>

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