Thomas Gray’s “Elegy written in a Country Churchyard”

I love these two stanzas, known for the beauty of their metaphors and the exquisite music of their rhyme and alliteration

Stanza 8

Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,
Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;
Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile
The short and simple annals of the poor.

Thomas Gray is talking about the unknown villagers buried in the village graveyard, with no flourishing verses engraved on their tombstones.Let them not ,the rich and powerful people of ambition, mock their useful toil, their simple joys and obscure and unsung lives.

The contrast of the rich and the powerful with the lowly and poor is so effectively presented here:

Ambition vs. Useful Toil
(ambition for self vs. toil for others)
Grandeur vs.Homely Joys
(wealth and power vs.simple joys)
Grandeur vs.Destiny Obscure
(Flourishing verse in epitaph vs.Simple unlettered muse)

The music of the verse follows the bare simplicity of clipped sounds when it comes to dealing with the poor :

“The short and the simple annals of the poor”

Written in the Heroic Quatrain , (Four lines in iambic pentameter, with an “abab” rhyme scheme), the music of the verse is in keeping with the somber tone of a poem written in the graveyard.


Stanza 14

Full many a gem of purest ray serene,
The dark unfathom’d caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flow’r is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

These are the most famous lines from the poem. Don’t they read , in their music of the verse, like Shakespeare’s Tempest lines ?

Full fathom five thy father lies
Of his bones are coral made..

The music in Gray’s lines is as exquisite. The poor villages sleeping here may have lived and died in obscurity and no glorious verses are found on their tombstones. But who knows they may in reality have been pure gems of the rarest hue found in mountain caves submerged in the depths of the ocean .They may have been flowers blooming in the desert,their fragrance unknown to the world.

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