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Thomas Gray and His Elegy
Thomas Gray (1716 – 1771) was born in London. His father was a money scrivener. He was over protected by his mother and his aunts. His child hood solitary brought in him two qualities. His first quality was his devotion to books and timidity towards the more practical affairs of life. Two of his uncles were master at Eton, and they rescued him from his loneliness at home by getting him admission to that great public school. He left Eton for Cambridge in 1734 and studied for four years along his own lines. In 1739, he accepted Horace Walpole’s invitation to accompany him on the grand tour. After two years of his tour, he quarreled with Walpole and returned home alone.
In 1742, he returned to Cambridge where he took degree of bachelor of civil laws. He lived the entire life at Cambridge. In 1768, he obtained the university chair of modern history. It was sinecure, and he never delivered any lectures. He got reputation of being the best read man in Europe. He was one of the first scholars who explored the early literature of Old Norse, Old English and welsh. In poetry, his work is so little but he earned a great respect. His odes are very striking written in an ornate but powerful style with poetical craftsmanship.
In poetry, his fame rests on the great Elegy. He wrote most it during the summer of 1742 but worked on it at irregular intervals for the next eight years and slowly brought it to its final state of perfection. His work got a great success on account of the cultivated readers of eighteenth century. A strong element of taste was called “classical.” The elegy’s appeal to this element in contemporary taste is well expressed by Dr. Johnson. Dr. Johnson is a literary figure who thoroughly disliked the rest of Gray’s poetry. Although this age is often called as classical; a certain kind of romanticism was beginning to new strongly through English taste.
An Elegy written in a country church yard is an eminent work of Thomas Gray. Undoubtedly, he earned an exemplary respect and reputation from this work. In this poem, the poet tells general truth about the life and death, sitting in village church yard. In the graveyard, the poet thinks of those poor and humble people who were living silently. He depicts the scene of evening, because the evening bell heralds the end of the day and the fall of night or gloom. The poet hears bleating and lowing of the herds of the village cattle, returning to their folds across the fields. Apart from it, he watches a tired farmer walking homewards. Now the poet is alone in the village graveyard. The darkness increases and the landscapes disappear. The sight of the graveyard is tranquil except the sound of beetles flying over there and the sound of bells from constant folds. The sounds were dim and could pull one to sleep. That’s why the poet was drowsy and sleepy.
The poet hears the other sound of owl. The poet interprets that the owl was complaining to the moon against man. The owl was sitting on an ivy covered tower. The poet thinks that somebody may be interfering into his kingdom because the owl loves to live in solitary and deserted places such as church yard or any old deserted place. The poet sees the graves grown over them and yew trees with big heaps or quantity of clay and sand, and the grass grown over them. The fore fathers of the villagers are resting in their graves peacefully. They are different to the world and its merriments. They are in the hug of sweet sleep and sweet breathing of the breeze in the morning. They are in deep sleep and they can not be awakened by twitting of the swallows, shrilling of cocks or echoing of horns. All are useless and unable to rouse them from their graves.
The poet knows that the buried in the grave yard will never return home. Even their relatives have stopped caring them. When they were alive, their children used to come out to welcome them with stammering sound. They used to wait for their fathers’ kiss and affection. These villagers used to reap the crops with sickle and plough land. They cut big trees with their axes. They lived a life of labour and worked honestly in their fields of life. These simple villagers were very great.
Now, the poet turns to pride and vanity. He condemns the pride and calls it foolishness because high rank, beauty or wealth, all are temporary. Those who are beautiful and rich, they should not be haughty because they have to be prey of death and all become equal after death. Here the poet gives lesson to the proud persons that they should not find fault with simple villagers. If they don’t find tombs on their graves to describe their achievements, it is no matter. If these peoples were not honoured by church or by ringing church bells and chanting songs, it is not their fault. They must be praised and remembered at the time of prayer in the church. The poet further says that a dead man can’t be brought to life by words of praise, because death is unending. Even flattery fails to charm the death from unavoidable course.
The poet is in the grave yard and he thinks that the graveyard is old and it holds a great number of dead persons. Among the dead persons, there must be pious persons, kings, poets and artists. He talks about the simple villagers that they can not shine because they have got no chance to have knowledge. Their properties can not give them any chance to show their hidden qualities. Many intelligent persons are born in this pleasant world but they pass away without leaving behind their marks in this mortal world. Now Thomas Gray reminds about Hampden, a valour, who opposed the King Charles1quite openly. May be in these graves, there lies buried Milton, who passed a poor life and passed away. He also talks about Cromwell, quite innocent and could not be blamed for the massacre that happened in his time.
The poet is very strange. He talks about the buried persons that they can not get a chance to be members of the senate. Besides, they can not work for welfare and prosperity of their country men. These villagers are great and are saved from doing such crimes as bloodshed for approaching chair or throne. Their cruelty and evil side of nature is suppressed, and they are satiated from that silent life. Now he talks about the political figures. They are saved from hiding the truth and suffering from their conscience. Indeed they are saved from all evil deeds.
In result, all the buried in the country grave yard were simple by their wishes. They were different from mad, uneasy and foolish hopes of the common people. They passed their life in a very silent and graceful manner, and at last reached their destination. The poet ends his poem by saying that all were simple and honest.
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