‘Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard’, one of the five most famous elegies in English literature, is written by Thomas Gray who was the poet of the transitional period between Neo-classic and Romantic. For this reason, he was influenced by both the literary ideals of these periods. In this poem, we see that he follows some of the characteristics from each of romanticism and neo-classicism. At the side of use and presentation of language, he, we can consider, maintains the neo-classic ideals, and at the side of theme and setting, it is romantic. So, this elegy is very important in both theme and style, out of the most famous elegies. Now, we will see how Gray has mingled both the characteristics.
At first we will discuss the neo-classic characteristics of the poem:
The language and the poets emotion in the period are restrained in various literary rules. The neo-classic writers are attentive to make their work perfect- perfection of style is their belief to write poetry. In ‘Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard’, the whole poem of 128 lines falls into 32 stanzas. Each stanza contains the same style – each of the line is iambic pentameter. Again, his emotion is also restrained in each stanza.
In neo-classical literature, personification is frequently seen. In the same way, we, in this poem, see that Gray uses many abstract words like the living persons, and often places them as the subjects of the verbs. There is a capital letter at first of each of them. For instances- Ambition, Grandeur, Memory, Honour, Flattery, Knowledge, Penury, Luxury Pride, Muse, Forgetfulness, Nature, Ashes, Youth, Fortune, Fame, Science, Melancholy and Misery. We can mention the first stanza of the poem 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 Melancholy marked him for her own.