Thomas Gray lived and wrote during the neoclassical era of English literature, the period preceding the Romantic era, but scholars and readers have found certain Romantic elements in Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard."
One common characteristic of Romantic literature is its placement in a pastoral setting. As the poem opens, there is a "lowing herd" of cattle wandering through the "lea." The final plowman finishes his day's work and heads home, and the speaker is left alone with his thoughts in this rustic farmland setting. Another characteristic of Romantic literature is a celebration of individualism, so the speaker's solitude further demonstrates the Romantic mode.
The poem focuses on the simple and ordinary life. Indeed, rather than describe the tombs of famous figures, the speaker commemorates deceased commoners, finding a nobility in "the short and simple annals of the poor." This attention to ordinary life and common scenes is another quality often associated with Romantic literature, particularly the work of William Wordsworth.
Finally, Romantic literature is often an examination of the speaker's emotions, and this poem overflows with a sense of melancholy that pervades the speaker's soul. As he considers his own eventual death and the placement of his own tombstone, the speaker considers the brevity of life and the cyclical nature of this pastoral setting—one day, a passerby will stop to examine his tombstone.