In his renowned poem "Elegy," "Written in a Country Churchyard," Thomas Gray elevates simple individuals to the level of men who previously possessed power and privilege. Gray observes that in death, there is no distinction between the rich and the poor. All human beings share the same fate. There is nothing noble about accepting one's own demise because you are no longer useful to society; rather, it is an act of cowardice. Thus, Gray concludes, it is better to live life to the fullest while you can.
The main idea behind this poem is that nobody is truly unique or special. We all share the same fragile bodies and short lives. It is our own thoughts that give us value, not our names or positions. This is why it is important to live each day as if it was your last because someday it probably will be.
Gray uses language that would be familiar to most people today. He mixes classical with modern words, which makes his poem more appealing than others written at the time. Also, there are many references to other famous poets such as Milton and Shakespeare, which only adds to the sense of greatness surrounding this work.
Finally, Gray's use of white space around the text is very effective at breaking up the heaviness of some of the themes within the poem. These gaps allow the reader to breathe easily and not feel overwhelmed by the seriousness of the subject matter.
Thomas Gray reflects on several aspects of death in "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard." First, he emphasizes its physical finality. The souls of those buried in the graveyard will no longer rise "from their lowest bed." They have been isolated from their normal lifestyles. That has been avoided by death. It has separated them from everything that makes life worth living. There is nothing more final than death.
Gray then considers how quickly life can be taken away. Even if someone lives a long life, they can still be killed at any time. Death can come suddenly, as it did for Sir Thomas Lucy, "In his forty-second year." Or it may be slow in coming, like for King Charles I. "After beheading," says Gray, "His body was not buried but hung up at Tyburn Tree." Death can also begin abruptly, as it did for Gray's friend George Selwyn when he was just thirty-two years old. He was riding home late one night when his horse stumbled and fell, killing him instantly.
At this point in the poem, some critics believe that Gray is actually referring to himself.
Gray proposes in his poem that country folk be recognized and valued. "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" was one of the earliest poems to depict the countryside realistically. It also reflects the poet's dissatisfaction with the political world of his time, as well as personal loss. These are some of the many themes covered by the poem.
Gray begins the poem by asserting that true poetry is timeless and can apply to any subject. Then he moves on to discuss the virtues of the humble country churchyard, where the bones of many generations lie buried. He claims that this cemetery is the only place where people come to read poetry and hear music at one time. Finally, he states that we should all try to make ourselves worthy of such honor before we die.
In conclusion, Gray believes that country living is important because it gives us freedom and opportunity. He also asserts that there is no greater pleasure than reading poetry and listening to musicians together.
Some scholars believe that "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" was written as a protest against the political world of its time. George III had just passed away and there was concern that Britain might go through another period of royalism. Thus, Gray wrote this poem as an expression of support for republican values.
Other critics think the poem is about personal loss.