Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard by Thomas Gray

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Discuss the major themes that are correlated by Thomas Gray in "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard."

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Julianne Hansen, M.A. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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One theme that emerges from "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" is the way we remember the dead.

The speaker wonders what people will remember him for and considers that perhaps he will be remembered for his ties to nature, the way he watched babbling brooks or that he was always up at dawn to meet the sun.

In the end, the speaker writes his own epitaph, pointing an imaginary visitor toward an imaginary tombstone (which is the one he envisions for himself). What does he hope will be noted there?

He wants to be remembered as being from humble origins (having neither "fortune" nor "fame" in his youth) but becoming an intellectual through "fair science," anyway.

He also wants to be remembered for being a "soul sincere" and is thankful that Heaven sent him one true friend on this earth. We see here the character qualities that the speaker most values.

Finally, the speaker wants to be known as being faithful to God. His earthly "merits" are now unimportant, and his "frailties," or character flaws, no longer matter, either.Through death, he has returned to the "bosom of his Father and his God."

The speaker finds the practice of erecting statues to the dead as "frail memorial[s]" that are ultimately insignificant, eliciting only "the passing tribute of a sigh." This earthly response pales in comparison to the speaker's eternal goals.

Ultimately, then, one of the themes is living a life of eternal significance, developing one's faith and being remembered as a faithful servant of Christ. This overarching goal hopefully helps transcribe the rest of the epitaph, guiding Godly principles throughout life that will be worth remembrance.

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An important theme of Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Courtyard" is that death is the great leveler. Gray uses this idea to exhort the wealthy and powerful not to look down upon the simple lives of the poor peasants buried in the country cemetery, because death equalizes everyone. In the end, death takes us all, no matter how powerful. The poet finds solace in the "noiseless tenor of their [the simple people's] way," which never led them into "Luxury and Pride."

Gray's elegy also expresses the theme that people have equality of gifts , if not of opportunities. As he writes, many a "mute inglorious Milton" lies buried in an obscure grave, unknown, because life never offered him the opportunity to develop his gifts. Gray depicts this lack of opportunity as a gain as well as a loss: fortunately for them, none of these people had the opportunity to exercise the kind of power that leads to bloodshed and to "shut[ting] the...

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