Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard Introduction
by Thomas Gray

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Introduction

So you’re going to teach “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.” Thomas Gray’s poem has been a mainstay in English classes for generations. Whether it’s the first time or the hundredth time you’ve taken students through this classic English poem, these teaching tips will help ensure that the experience is rewarding for everyone, including you. Teaching Gray’s elegy, especially from a new perspective, will give students insight into the literary traditions of eighteenth-century neoclassicism and the early influence of romanticism, which became the dominant literary philosophy in the nineteenth century. This guide highlights the text's most salient aspects to keep in mind before you begin teaching.

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Facts at a Glance

  • Publication Date: 1751
  • Approximate Word Count: 985
  • Author: Thomas Gray
  • Country of Origin: England
  • Genre: Lyric Poetry, Pastoral Poetry, Graveyard School of Poetry
  • Literary Period: 18th-Century Pre-Romanticism
  • Conflict: Person vs. Society, Person vs. Mortality
  • Narration: First-Person
  • Setting: Country Churchyard Near a 19th-Century English Village, Twilight as Darkness Falls
  • Structure: Iambic Pentameter, ABAB Rhyme Scheme (Elegiac Stanzas)
  • Mood: Melancholy, Philosophical, Contemplative


Texts That Go Well With “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”

“A Country Life” by Katherine Philips extols the virtues of living a simple, happy country life, removed from the corruptions of materialism and worldly ambition. In this work of 17th-century English pastoral poetry, the poet’s description of life in a rustic setting is similar in some ways to Gray’s depiction of it. 

“A Nocturnal Reverie” by Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea, features a first-person narrator who describes the natural word as day becomes night. A work of pre-Romanticism, the poem celebrates the beauty and serenity to be found in nature and describes it in a reflective tone similar to Gray’s in his description of the setting in the first few stanzas of his elegy. 

“Because I could not stop for Death” is a lyrical poem by Emily Dickinson. Dickinson’s first-person narrator meets a personification of death: a man who takes her away in a carriage. Although the poem differs from Gray’s elegy in setting and atmosphere and does not focus on social classes, readers will...

(The entire section is 564 words.)