What is an elegy? Thomas Gray's "Elegy in a Country Churchyard"
An elegy is a mournful, melancholy, or plaintive poem, especially a lament for the dead. Unlike many elegies, however, Thomas Gray's "Elegy in a Country Churchyard" mourns the death of common men, rather than great or famous people. In this mourning, Gray reflects upon the classical idea of human mortality as he praises the simple lives of the countryfolk who are buried in the churchyard:
Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,/Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;/Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile/The short and simple annals of the poor.
Gray laments that many of these common people suffered untimely deaths because of disease and msifortune: "Chill penury repressed their noble rage." But, because these poorer people were never in positions of power, they never had to compromise themselves and commit the crimes of the powerful. So, while Gray's elegy is a lament, it is also a reflection upon the virtues of the simple, honest life of common folk:
Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strif,/Their sober wishes never learned to stray;/Along the cool, sequestered vale of life/They kept the noiseless tenor or their way.