What is the significance of the epitaph in the poem "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard?"

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amarang9 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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The speaker in "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" is contemplating death. He looks upon the graves in the churchyard and he ruminates on those buried there. It is quite gloomy, a "memento mori" poem, which means to contemplate one's own mortality. As he considers mortality, the speaker considers what is important to him and therefore this gloomy poem about death does have its glass-is-half-full interpretation. There is an obvious homage to the "low" classes as they lived honest, simple lives and a criticism of the extravagance of the lives and memorials of the rich. Therefore, the poem is also the speaker's quest to find himself or a quest to understand what is important in life. And this is where the epitaph comes in. Most scholars agree that the epitaph is Gray's or the persona of the speaker's. Given the implied modesty in the epitaph, we might assume that it was written by someone else; not the speaker himself. This means that another person is looking at the speaker's death in philosophical contemplation of mortality just as the speaker himself did throughout the context of the poem. 

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