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What are some neo-classical features in Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country...

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mumtaz | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted June 4, 2009 at 8:41 PM via web

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What are some neo-classical features in Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard"?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted June 5, 2009 at 1:40 AM (Answer #1)

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In his "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard," Thomas Gray employs the neo-classical use of personification in his poem of strict iambic pentameter with eloquent classical diction.  There is a compliance and conformity to the classical form of an elegy as Gray gives his individual estimate of the world, which is, however, a Romantic expression.

The pace of iambic pentameter [an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable 5 times--ta dum, ta dum, ta dum, ta dum, ta dum] is dignified, and Gray makes skillful use of monosyllabic words and long vowels in his elegy.  The following stanza is an example:

Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife,/Their sober wishes never learned to stray;/Along the cool, sequestered vale of life/They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.

Personification is also a neo-classical trait which Gray utilizes:

The boast of hearldry, the pomp of power,/And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave,/Awaits alike the inevitable hour:/The paths of glory lead but to the grave.

Of course, this elegy which laments the dead, evokes the classical idea of momento mori, a Latin phrase meaning "Remember that you must die."  Death comes to all, the exalted and the humble; Gray reflects upon the lives of the common people buried in the churchyard, lives spent doing labor with simple enjoyments at the end of the day.

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