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What is the significance of Thomas Gray's epitaph in An Elegy Written in a Country...

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flotac | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted May 11, 2012 at 11:14 AM via web

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What is the significance of Thomas Gray's epitaph in An Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard ?

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wordprof | College Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted May 11, 2012 at 3:42 PM (Answer #1)

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This long poem, a series of stanzas treating various natural phenomena at their ends, and set in a tranquil twilight setting (itself the ending of the day), memorializes the unheralded, unmemorialized lives of everyday beautiful things, unsung beauty that “Awaits alike the inevitable hour.” Much of the beauty of natural things, desert flowers or ocean gems, display their beauty to no audience, no receiver of their beauty.  The same is true of the persons lying in a country graveyard, not famous or celebrated, but nonetheless beautiful in their simple rural setting; “Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife,/Their sober wishes never learned to stray”.  The epitaph that ends the poem, putatively written on a simple gravestone and addressed to some unknown country person who lived his life, “A youth to Fortune and to Fame unknown” is really the Romantic poet’s oath: to be the audience, the receiver of nature’s beauty, and to give an epitaph to all the otherwise unacknowledged beauty, in the poems themselves.   

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