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This poem was Gray’s poetic response to the death of his good friend, Richard West, in 1742. It has been especially notable because Wordsworth used it as the basis for criticizing the poetic diction of the previous age, while defending his own concept that poets should choose ordinary, everyday language in their poems. The revolution in language that Wordsworth sought to carry out required that poetry should contain words that were to be middle, not high, and that they should be appropriate for prose as well as for poetry. He repeatedly stresses the importance of using the language that people really use. By this standard, many of Gray’s lines fall short. The lines Wordsworth noted contain none of the elaborate phrases, such as “smiling mornings,” to which he objected. Readers may want to debate the issues Wordsworth raised; likely they will agree with Wordsworth.
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