illustration of a country churchyward with a variety of gravestones

Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard

by Thomas Gray

Start Free Trial

What does "Full many a flower is born to blush unseen" mean?

In "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard," the line "Full many a flower is born to blush unseen" means that many people's talents will never be appreciated because those people live and die in obscurity, just as beautiful desert flowers may bloom without being observed.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

"Full many a flower is born to blush unseen" is one of the most famous and frequently quoted lines in Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard." It expresses one of the poem's major themes. Gray is writing about the poor people who are buried in the eponymous churchyard, who lived and died in obscurity. The speaker emphasizes that they had no opportunities, never received an education, and were prevented by poverty from making use of their talents.

The speaker makes two slightly different points about these people, which are often conflated. First he says that many of them had great spirits and talents, but these talents were unrecognized. Then he observes that some might have achieved greatness in fields such as politics or poetry if they had only been given the opportunity. The metaphor of the flower makes the first point rather than the second. The flower that blushed unseen was clearly beautiful. It did not require any opportunity to enhance its beauty. The only chance it required was the chance to be seen and appreciated by those who never had any idea of its existence. The points Gray makes are related, as obscurity and lack of opportunity are clearly connected, but it is the obscurity that he emphasizes in this image of the flower.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team