Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard Critical Essays

Thomas Gray

Critical Overview

(Poetry for Students)

Over the years, Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" has received extensive critical attention. Critics have long recognized Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" for its restrained and dignified expression of simple truths. In Lives of the English Poets, Samuel Johnson praised the poem for its universal appeal and its originality: "The 'Churchyard' abounds with images which find a mirrour in every mind, and with sentiments to which every bosom returns an echo are to me original.... Had Gray written often thus, it had been vain to blame, and useless to praise him." Other writers, such as Samuel Coleridge and Matthew Arnold, also admired the work, although Arnold's criticism was somewhat cautious. Arnold noted in his Essays in Criticism that "the 'Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard' is a beautiful poem ... But it is true that the 'Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard' owe[s] much of its success to its subject, and that it has received a too unmeasured and unbounded praise."

In the twentieth century, critics have often observed two competing "voices" or attitudes in Gray's writings. Joseph Wood Krutch, in his introduction to The Selected Letters of Thomas Gray, offers a useful comparison of the classical and Romantic tendencies in the "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard." Krutch maintains that there are certainly strong romantic qualities in the poem, but that it is more clearly identifiable with the eighteenth...

(The entire section is 439 words.)