Compare and contrast these two poems by Clifton and Gray.
The two poems are Lucille Clifton’s “At the cemetery, walnut grove plantation, South Carolina, 1989” and Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.” Consider style, tone, theme, form, and voice as you consider these two poems.
I am only able to answer one question, so I will compare and contrast the themes of these two poems.
The two poems deal with the topic of death. This is the commonality that they share.
However, the theme of Gray's poem "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" is that death is the equalizer of all people, rich or poor, regardless of whether their graves are adorned with elegance or poor markers. He asks about what separates those who are great in life and those who die in humble circumstances: is it for want of opportunity that the poor were never able to achieve the same greatness as others?
The theme in "At the cemetery, walnut grove plantation, South Carolina, 1989" has a completely different focus. This poem deals also with death; it draws attention to the dead at the plantation who were never recognized as ever existing, as opposed to being relegated to being rich or poor.
This poem speaks about a plantation of enormous size, and that its history retold never mentioned the slaves' hands that brought about its grandeur and success. Clifton asks about the slaves on a tour, but no one seems to know anything...until they look at "inventories." Inventories note their existence because slaves were considered property, and female slaves were not counted, as they were not considered of any significance at all. Clinton cannot fathom that these people who lived, worked and died—who left their mark through their labors—were not even credited with existing, let alone with touching the world in which they lived. At least in Gray's poem, the poor were afforded that much.
In the first poem, Gray speaks to recognition in death despite being poor or rich, but Clifton speaks to being recognized at all, rather than ignored as if lives never mattered enough to be recalled at all.