Context: Probably no poem in the English language is better known than Gray's "Elegy." It is composed of twenty-nine 4-line stanzas and an epitaph of three 4-line stanzas. Gray began writing the poem in 1742, shortly after the death of a close friend, but did not finish it until 1750; even afterward, until as late as 1768, he continued to polish the verses. Since the poem is primarily about death, the poet begins by creating a romantically melancholy atmosphere, which is sustained throughout the poem:
The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd wind slowly o'er the lea,
The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.
Now fades the glimm'ring landscape on the sight,
And all the air a solemn stillness holds,
Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,
And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds;
Save that from yonder ivy-mantled tow'r
The moping owl does to the moon complain
Of such as, wand'ring near her secret bow'r,
Molest her ancient solitary reign.