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What is the view on nature in Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard?"

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user7357532 | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted January 29, 2013 at 12:54 AM via web

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What is the view on nature in Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard?"

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted January 29, 2013 at 2:03 AM (Answer #1)

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With elements of Romanticism in his poem, Thomas Gray's first four stanzas express a communion of nature with the souls of the dead country people.  For instance, the words descriptive of nature, "the world  to darkness," "the solemn stillness of the air," "the "moping owl," and the "moldering heap" of turf in the first four stanzas connote death, its darkness, and its immobility.

In a further comparison, the lives of the poor, country people who are buried in this obscure churchyard have been unfulfilled just as parts of nature are ignored.  For instance, in stanza 14, Gray writes,

Full many a gem of purest ray serene

  The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear:

Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,

  And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

Similarly, the "moping owl" and the flower whose blush is unseen serve to reflect the melancholy meditation of the speaker, who bemoans that not only man, but nature, too, is ignored. Further, in stanza 26, nature is, indeed, in sympathy with the speaker's inner mood:

There at the foot of yonder nodding beech

  That wreathes its old fantastic roots so high,

His listless length at noontide would he stretch,

   And pore upon the brook that babbles by.

And, yet, earlier, in stanza 7, when alive, man has been nature's superior:  "How bowed the woods beneath their [the farmers] sturdy stroke." But, in the end, the speaker reflects that he may be  remembered after death as one who lay close to nature whom he loved,

...at the foot of yonder nodding beech

   That wreathes its old fantastic roots so high,

His listless length at noontide would he stretch,

   And pour upon the brook that babbles by.

Imagining his epitaph, the speaker perceives himself resting his head "upon the lap of Earth, reposing in the "bosom of his Father and his God."

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