Compare and contrast the tone of these two poems.
Please compare and contrast the tone in two poems: Lucille Clifton’s “at the cemetery, walnut grove plantation, South Carolina, 1989” and Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.”
The two poems deal with the topic of death. This is the commonality that they share. However, because the circumstances of the dead in each poem are so different, the author's tone for each is also different in comparison.
Gray's poem "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" purports that death is the equalizer of all people, rich or poor, regardless of whether their graves are adorned with elegance or [humble] markers.
The theme in "At the cemetery, walnut grove plantation, South Carolina, 1989" is very different in nature. This poem also deals with death; however, the tone reflects the author's deep concerns over dead slaves at the plantation who were as anonymous in death as they were in life, in the eyes of those who owned, and buried, them...placing them in unmarked graves.
Clinton cannot fathom that these people who lived, worked and died—who left their mark through their labors—were not even credited with living, let alone with touching the world in which they lived. At least in Gray's poem, the poor were afforded that much.
Gray is hopeful that when he is dead, he will be remembered as being kind, yet introspective. He suggests, however, that we are remembered in death only by those who remain alive to miss us and recall that we lived.
Clifton's concern is that for slaves on the walnut grove plantation, no markers were ever erected. Their passing was as anonymous as they were, in the eyes of those who "owned" them. Those who knew them are long gone, and no sign remains to mark their time on earth or their contributions to build and maintain the beautiful walnut grove plantation.
Whereas both poems deal with death, Gray speaks to the kindred spirits we all are on the journey we share, regardless of whether we are great or "common." His tone reflects the inevitability of death, and what is most important in death is based upon how we are remembered.
Clifton's tone is totally different as she declares the ignominy of the slave owners and their behavior in refusing to acknowledge the lives lived and lost on this land. (The slaves, though they travel the path to death like everyone else, are never afforded—during their lives—a sense that they, too, are kindred spirits with others on the same path.) Clifton, too, is concerned about how these people will be remembered, especially if there is no visible tribute left to them.
Perhaps, however, Clifton's poem serves as a marker on our hearts.
(As a footnote, it seems that the plantation will finally do something to put markers on the places where these unnamed slaves rest.)