What and where is the Shift in "Elegy written in the country churchyard" by Thomas Gray?

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Doug Stuva | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" shifts, or turns, after line 88.

Up until that point, the speaker focuses on the dead in the churchyard, or cemetery.  The dead in the churchyard were poor and uneducated, and, therefore, their potential was unfulfilled.  The speaker is remembering them and contemplating them. 

But in line 89 the speaker shifts the focus to himself.  His line of thought at this point is that maybe someone will remember him once he is gone.  Perhaps, "some hoary-headed swain [white-haired country laborer]" may notice that he doesn't come around the churchyard anymore; will notice that he is gone. 

The stanza that marks the turn follows:

For thee [himself], who, mindful of the unhonored dead,

Dost in these lines their artless tale relate;

If chance, by lonely contemplation led,

Some kindred spirit shall enquire thy fate [ask why he doesn't come around anymore],... (lines89-92)

Being remembered after death has been a central focus and theme of literature at least since the ancient Greeks sought to perform heroic deeds so they would not be forgotten.  Here, the speaker hopes that someone will remember him, as he has remembered the "unhonored dead."