Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard

1. “Let not ambition mock…lead but to the grave.” (ll. 29—36) Ans. In these lines from the poem, Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, the poet Thomas Gray, standing in a country churchyard, reflects upon the generalised past lives of the villagers and admonishes ambitious rich persons not to laugh at the poor persons underground and persons living in grandeur not to listen to their stories. Then he sardonically adds, as a note of caution, that whatever human beings possess or achieve in this world, their ultimate destination is the grave. As the poet watches the ordinary graves of ordinary villagers, he recalls some snapshots of their generalised lives. He finds that they led their lives, of course, in poverty, but they lived in happiness. They did their day-to-day activities and enjoyed their domestic joys in their own ways. They remained outside the great political or military fields and remained quite unknown to the world. In fact, the circle of their existence was very limited, and in comparison with the lives of the famous persons of their times, they led a very insignificant lives. But he admonishes the ambitious persons not to laugh at them—their useful labour, which fulfilled their basic needs; their domestic joys, in which they lived; and their unknown fate, of which they were not conscious. Again, he admonishes the persons who live in grandeur not to hear their simple stories with a disdainful smile. The poet says so because he has the knowledge of the ultimate fate of everything—power, wealth. Everybody—whether poor or rich, powerful or powerless—must die. 2. “Can storied urn…cold ear of death.” (ll. 45—48) Ans: In these lines from the poem, Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, the poet Thomas Gray, while reflecting upon the generalised past lives of the villagers, puts a rhetorical question, through which he wants to bring home the truth that nothing—be it bust-statue of marvellous artistic creation or the writing of great achievement on the grave—cannot withstand the power of death. As the poet watches the ordinary graves of ordinary villagers, he recalls some snapshots of their generalised lives. He finds that they led their lives, of course, in poverty, but they lived in happiness. They did their day-to-day activities and enjoyed their domestic joys in their own ways. They remained outside the great political or military fields and remained quite unknown to the world. In fact, the circle of their existence was very limited, and in comparison with the lives of the famous persons of their times, they led a very insignificant lives. But he admonishes the ambitious persons not to laugh at them—their useful labour, which fulfilled their basic needs; their domestic joys, in which they lived; and their unknown fate, of which they were not conscious. The poet emphasises his argument by pointing out that every human being shares the common destiny—death. So every attempt at resisting the power of death—whether by building a statue or memorial is destined to be futile. That is why, however great an honourable position people hold in their life-time, after death everybody becomes equal in dust. Again, people may flatter the powerful persons, but death remains outside every kind of flattery. 3. Perhaps in this neglected spot…of his country’s blood.” (ll. 45—60) Ans. In these lines from the poem, Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, the poet Thomas Gray, admonishing ambitious rich persons not to laugh at the poor persons underground and persons living in grandeur not to listen to their stories, reflects sympathetically that perhaps some of the ordinary village folk had the potential to become great men and perform great works. (Some of them might have been as courageous as Hampden, and some of them might have the poetic potential to become as great a poet as Milton. Write this line only in the case of lines 57—60) But since they were deprived of the opportunities, they remained unknown to the world. As the poet watches the ordinary graves of ordinary villagers, he sympathetically says that these people remained restricted to this small village and unknown to the world just because they did not have the opportunities, which are necessary for the making of great persons. Provided with those proper opportunities, some of them might have become ruler of the country or might have become great artists. In order to explain the context better, the poet introduces an analogy. He says that the talented villagers remained hidden from the world of great political and military activities just like the genuine jewels hidden in the caves of the ocean. He further compares their so-called wasted lives to the flowers which are blossomed in the desert unseen by any man. They just lose their sweet fragrance in the desert air. The poet fancies that perhaps among the persons lying in the graves some person had been as courageous as Hampden and perhaps had withstood tyranny of some person of his time. The poet even thinks that among these dead men some might have had the genius of Milton in the matter of writing poetry. Even some of them might have had the capacity of Oliver Cromwell minus the blood of the country which Cromwell shed. 4. “Their lot forbade…noiseless tenor of their way.” (ll. 65—75) Ans: In these lines from Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, the poet reflects upon the past ways of life of the simple peasants of the village. He glorifies the simple ways of their life in opposition to the ways of the rich who want to live with fortune and fame. As the poet watches the ordinary graves of ordinary villagers, he sympathetically says that these people remained restricted to this small village and unknown to the world just because they did not have the opportunities, which are necessary for the making of great persons. Lack of opportunity may have prevented the villagers from shaking off their obscurity and attaining fame and success, but this has its positive side as well. The same lot also saved them from becoming guilty of heinous crimes, such as wading through slaughter to a throne. While rising to power, even honest men have to make compromises, such as withholding mercy, hiding truths, stifling conscience, or extinguishing blushes caused by shame. Gray regrets that even a poet, in order to secure fame and favour, should be found worshipping a person of luxury and pride and offering flattering panegyrics. In sharp contrast to the lives of the rich powerful persons, full of sound and fury, Gray finds that the villagers had a simple way of life. It consisted of modest and virtuous desires, which never took training of how to deviate from the path of virtue; they maintained the peaceful course of their serene life in the secluded village. 5. “The breezy call…For them no more…kiss to share...sturdy stroke” (ll. 17—28) Ans: In these lines from the poem, Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, the poet Thomas Gray, standing in a country churchyard, reflects upon the generalised past lives of the villagers and regrets that they are now deprived of the opportunity of enjoying the simple pleasures of their very simple life. As the poet watches the ordinary graves of ordinary villagers, he recalls some snapshots of their generalised lives. He finds that they led their lives, of course, in poverty, but they lived in happiness. They did their day-to-day activities and enjoyed their domestic joys in their own ways. Now poet is pained to think that, as they are in their lowly beds, they cannot enjoy the simple pleasures of life. Neither the call of fragrant morning, nor the chirpings of a swallow from its nest, nor the shrill of the cock nor the loud sound of the hunter will ever awaken them from their graves. Again he finds that no housewives will wait for them and make arrangements for preparing the hearth for warmth and for preparing food. The dead villagers will never return home to be greeted by their lisping children running towards them. No more the children will climb to their father’s knees and vie with each other to share the paternal kiss. [Write this part only for lines 25—28: But the poet recalls that these dead men often reaped the harvest with their scythes and forced the hard earth to yield to them rich harvest. They very cheerfully drove to their fields a pair of horses harnessed together. They found great pleasure to fell trees at powerful blows of their axes.] As the poet looks upon the graves, he is encountered with the sense of the transience of human life. The lingering gloom in the atmosphere adds to his mental gloom. Comment: Towards the middle of the 18th century, the die-hard English love of individual freedom of thought and expression once again started striking at the neo-classical roots of compliance and conformity. Gray, along with other poets like Thomson and Young, stepped forward to express their individual estimate of the world in their own way. The above statements are representative examples of that. In his foregrounding the greatness of the poor in avoiding the excess of the rich, he countered bourgeois norm of society and anticipated Wordsworth in his privileging the poor, rustic men in the country backyards. The lines are also remarkable in respect of poetic technique. The gait of iambic pentameter measure is dignified, and Gray makes deft use of monosyllabic words and long vowels.

Comments

oliviaharis said…
"Elegy in a Country Churchyard" focuses on death and how everyone is equal and beautiful because of death. The flower that blooms for but a day and then withers is the more beautiful for it. In, "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard," Thomas Gray elegantly uses syntax, diction, and organization to express a tone of poignant beauty and equality in humanity.
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oliviaharis
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PAPO said…
Thanks !!!

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