illustration of a country churchyward with a variety of gravestones

Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard

by Thomas Gray

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Name two eminent personalities mentioned in "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard." How do these allusions contribute to the poem's theme?

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Two eminent personalities mentioned in "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" include John Milton and Oliver Cromwell. These allusions contribute to the theme of fame versus obscurity.

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Two eminent personalities mentioned in Thomas Gray’s poem are John Milton and Oliver Cromwell. Milton was a religious poet and writer. Cromwell was a military and political figure. Despite their divergent occupations, the two share a connection. Cromwell fought King Charles I in the violent English Civil War. After Charles I was beheaded, Cromwell ruled England. Milton expressed support for Charles I's execution, and he served as Secretary for Foreign Tongues to the Commonwealth Council of State.

The famed lives of these men contrast with the kind of lives that were lived by the people buried in the graveyard that Gray visits. The people resting here were not illustrious, and their names aren't remembered. These people were poor and common. They couldn’t afford grand tombs or a clean gravesite. The mention of Milton and Cromwell suggests that, if their lot had been different, if “Chill Penury” had not put a cap on their ambition, they might have been an acclaimed poet like Milton or a controversial leader like Cromwell.

Gray ends up questioning if renown is something to strive for. It's possible to claim that Cromwell and Milton touch on the theme that there’s nobility in keeping away from the spotlight. “Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife, / Their sober wishes never learn'd to stray,” says Gray. Perhaps these people's quiet, obscure lives left them pure and tranquil—qualities that lauded lives had to do without.

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