What is the "Graveyard School of Poetry"?

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The Graveyard School of poetry, also known as the Churchyard School, is a collection of poems of the early to mid-eighteenth century written by British poets who are united by their subject matter: humanity's mortality. Many of the poems are elegies, a type of formal poem that is a lament for the dead. Poetry of this movement explores various aspects of death including its physical horror, the bereavement of those left behind, questions about the afterlife, and the impermanence of the human experience.

Among the best known poets of this genre are Thomas Gray, Thomas Parnell, Robert Blair, and Edward Young.

Thomas Gray's "An Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" is famously representative of the movement. Published in 1751, it employs iambic pentameter and a succession of quatrains to reflect on the quiet, simple, rural lives of those who lie buried in what scholars believe to be Stoke Poges in Buckinghamshire.

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The term "Graveyard Poets" (or sometimes the equivalent "Churchyard Poets") refers to a group of eighteenth-century British poets who were forerunners of the Romantic movement. Many of the writers of this school were members of the clergy, and their meditations on mortality were informed by their religious beliefs. Their poetry tends to be set in the countryside, villages, or small towns and to have a melancholy tone. Four poems are often considered to exemplify this style of writing:

  • Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard"
  • Thomas Parnell's "Night-Piece On Death"
  • Robert Blair's "The Grave"
  • Edward Young's "Night-Thoughts"

Other poets sometimes associated with this movement include:

  • Thomas Percy
  • Oliver Goldsmith
  • William Cowper
  • Christopher Smart
  • James Macpherson
  • William Collins
  • Mark Akenside

Many of these poets wrote melancholy or sentimental works set in pastoral landscapes, although several of these writers, such as Goldsmith and Smart, also wrote other types of poetry in other genres.

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