What is the universality of "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" by Thomas Gray?

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While some elements of "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" by Thomas Gray could be considered universal, others are prototypically English. 

The landscape, farming methods, and church bells tolling at sunset create an atmosphere specific to Northern Europe and the British isles. The romanticization of the pastoral life is part of a western tradition of pastoral elegy dating back to the Hellenistic poets, and thus common to much of western literature, but it is still not universal. The references in the poem to heroic figures such as Milton, Hampden, and Cromwell are also grounded in a specific place and time. The Christian background to the poem is also not universal, as Christianity is one of many world religions.

The main aspect of the poem that is universal is its treatment of death, as all living beings eventually die. The next element that is universal is its reflection on the relationship of the death of average people to the death of famous people. Both are mourned equally by their families and friends, and sub specie aeternitatis, all deaths are equally significant. Finally, the notion that circumstances make the difference between the famous and influential and the humble -- that many people in the village may have had the same innate abilities as important historical figures -- is also universal. 

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