Why are the poor and the rich equal according to "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard"?I was thinking it was because both must die someday.. or it could be both of them experience highs and...

Why are the poor and the rich equal according to "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard"?

I was thinking it was because both must die someday.. or it could be both of them experience highs and lows.or b/c they both have the potential to achieve...

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robertwilliam eNotes educator| Certified Educator

All of the things you say are correct, and in Gray's poem. Mainly, first and foremost, it's because they are equal in death:

Nor you, ye proud, impute to these the fault,     
 If Memory o'er their tomb no trophies raise,
Where through the long-drawn aisle and fretted vault
 The pealing anthem swells the note of praise.
           
Can storied urn or animated bust     
Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath?     
 Can Honour's voice provoke the silent dust,     
Or Flattery soothe the dull cold ear of Death

It's not their fault, the speaker says, if people don't build trophies and monuments over their tombs, in cathedrals. Storied urns (painted vases) and statues and busts are all well and good, but they don't make you breathe again. They don't bring you back to life. Honour doesn't make dust move. Flattery doesn't make cold Death warm. No matter how you're remembered, dead is dead.

Moreover, Gray's speaker says, life is about opportunities:

Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid...
Hands that the rod of empire might have swayed...
           
But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page
Rich with the spoils of time did ne'er unroll;     
Chill Penury repressed their noble rage, 
And froze the genial current of the soul.

Perhaps among the poor lie a potential emperor. But life didn't give them opportunity to read books and gain knowledge. It is chance that they were born different.

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