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Compare and contrast the voice and form of Clifton and Gray's poems.Compare and...

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japi | (Level 3) Honors

Posted November 22, 2010 at 7:35 AM via web

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Compare and contrast the voice and form of Clifton and Gray's poems.

Compare and contrast the author's voice in Lucille Clifton’s “at the cemetery, walnut grove plantation, South Carolina, 1989,” and Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.”

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted November 22, 2010 at 12:29 PM (Answer #1)

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It is important to identify the definition of "voice" in order to address how it differs in these poems.

[Voice is..] the dominating...tone of a literary work. The voice existing in a literary work is not always identifiable with the actual views of the author

Both "At the cemetery, walnut grove plantation, South Carolina, 1989" (by Lucille Clifton) and "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" (by Thomas Gray) deal with the topic of death. The voice used in each is very different.

Clifton is saddened and disbelieving that the lives of slaves who were greatly responsible for the majesty of the plantation on which they worked and lived were never recognized in life for what they did, and never recognized in death as having ever lived at all. Clifton's curiosity is aroused by the absence of any reference to slaves kept on the plantation. Being the only black woman on the tour, she at first believes that perhaps the details were purposely excluded for fear of insulting her: it would not have insulter her, she writes, but acting as if these men and women never existed was hard for her to take.

The voice she uses here is that of announcing to the world that something important has been overlooked, and she wishes to bring it to light so that this "oversight" will not continue.

The voice Gray uses is completely different based upon its intent. Gray hopes to be remembered in death as a kind, yet introspective man. He points out that we are remembered only by those who live on and miss us, recalling that we lived, and how we lived. His purpose in this poem is to remind everyone, especially perhaps those who feel they are better than others, that death is life's great equalizer: we are all equal in death.

Clifton is almost bereft that the slaves on the plantation never had markers placed where they were buried. In passing, the slaves were as anonymous in death as they were in life because they were viewed as property, not people. Compared to the dead in Gray's poem, those in the cemetery are recognized for having lived, regardless of their prominence in life.

With these things in mind, we may hear the voice of Clifton's poem as a call to arms to right a terrible wrong in terms of the most basic right of a human being: recognition for having lived.

Grey's is a voice of warning: first, when one dies, the peasant in one grave and the king resting elsewhere, are equals. Perhaps he is calling the reader to live a life where he or she will be remembered for who he was and not what he owned or how important other people believed him to be.

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