From what perspective is Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" told?
Our response to poetry is subjective and every reader has a different experience. To me, whilst Thomas Gray puts forward the case of the poor in his poem 'Elegy Written In A Country Churchyard' I think it is more from the perspective of an advocate rather than as one of them - an illiterate labourer. I say this because, although sympathetically putting forward their case of injustice, hardship, illiteracy and poverty, Thomas Gray does not use the language or the vernacular of the labourer. Rather, he speaks on their behalf as an educated advocate - one who can both understand their situation and articulate it in an eloquent educated way at the same time. Gray's writing is obviously literate, fluent and lyrical - the writing of a highly educated man who can speak for the poor.
Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" is written from the perspective of a commoner or laborer or farmer. The poem presents a sympathetic/empathetic view of the existence of the poor. The narrator is respectful of the poor, and suggests that they are the equals of the more well-known, more famous upper classes. Who knows, the narrator suggests, perhaps there is a Milton buried in this cemetery that just never had the opportunity to develop.
The narrator seemingly writes his words as he spends time in the cemetery, paying homage to those buried in it.
I think the question of perspective relates to the identity of the speaking voice in Gray's Elegy. This is a very complex issue. Cleanth Brooks has a brilliant essay on this.
To summarize the basics of his observation, with which I fully agree, the poem has as many as three personas or speaking voices. The poem begins with the voice of a common man who represents the ill-fated dead ones of the graveyard. The association of the voice with darkness drawn in the opening stanza itself implies that it is a dead soul (a wasted talent, may be Richard West, Gray's dead friend who was also a promising poet) who is narrating the sad tale of the churchyard.
His narration comes to an end with the line--"E'en in our ashes live their wonted fires" and the poet takes over--"For thee, who, mindful of th' unhonour'd dead/Dost in these lines in their artless tale relate;" He shifts the narrative baton to the pastor-"the hoary-headed swain" who then narrates the tale of the dead soul who had been narrating thus far.
The final turn comes when the pastor refers back to the poet, in an attempt to read the epitaph which is fittingly rendered by the poet, celebrating the friendship between the dead soul, the initial narrator and himself.
The perspective is simple empathy with the average .The poet in Gray levels himself to the unrecognized ,unfelt and unsung villagers who had promising possibility ,but being placed in odd circumstances they could manifest themselves .
The perspective again is to pay homage to the noble souls of the villagers .In reality they were purest gems , but their worths could not come out due to chill penury .
More over the perspective is the invitation of self-pity .Gray was a scholar , but ,the honest lab our and the bare- virtue , of the dead and gone , appeared to him above his educated-station :
Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid
Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire,
Hands, that the rod of empire might have sway’d
Or wak’d to the ecstasy the living lyre.