Theme of Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard- Part 3

This is the third part of the “complete analysis of the wonderful poem elegy written in a country churchyard“! You’re almost halfway towards the completion of the analysis of the poem! I hope you’re enjoying! The poem is meant of be read in a serene environment and there are a lot of personifications which we are to deal with! Thus it may take a bit of your time, but nonetheless I appreciate that you’re giving your 100 per cent!

If you haven’t read the first two analysis, here are the quick links

Elegy Analysis: Stanza 1 to 6

Elegy Analysis: Stanza 7 to 11

Sentiments Captured in Elegy

Stanza 12

Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid
Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire;
Hands, that the rod of empire might have sway’d,
Or wak’d to ecstasy the living lyre.

There must have been in this unnoticed place, amongst the myriad villagers filled with spiritual, moral and heavenly inspiration capable of ruling and Empire or write excellent poetry , only if had been patronized fully. These people equally had the potential, but only lacked the opportunity.

  • Pregnant with celestial fire refers to divine genius, genius that in not native or earthy, that’s why the word “celestial” is used here. ”Rod of empire’ denotes the sword of state held by a king during any ceremony or victory, Neglected spot: this refers to the churchyard which remains uninhabited as usual, pregnant: full of; lyre: it is a musical instrument which is played when the lyrics are sung.
  • This is one of my all time favorite line in Elegy, because of the expressions it captured! Or wak’d to ecstasy the living lyre:
    People in the cemetery could have become a great musician if they were given proper opportunity,


Memento Mori

The sun sets by the side of the churchyard, making the narrator to ponder over the ultimate fate and nature of human morality. The narrator tries to bring out the fundamental difference between the great and common man when all lie side by side in their narrow cell. The idea is invoked from a latin phrase “memento mori” which states to all mankind, “Remember you must die

Lament in Thomas Gray Elegy

Stanza 13

But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page
Rich with the spoils of time did ne’er unroll;
Chill Penury repress’d their noble rage,
And froze the genial current of the soul.

Knowledge did not reveal itself to the eyes of the rustics of Stoke Poges. They were not gifted with the riches of books and other informational stuff. It was the poverty that prevented them from becoming noble and charismatic, finally freezing the burning ideas.
The intellectual capabilities of these dead rustics never had the chance to bloom. They died strange to all riches. Poverty was the reason that froze down all the noble inspirations and ambition.

  • But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page; Rich with the spoils of time did ne’er unroll – These lines again prompt for universal appeal! Knowledge: Knowledge is personified as a female; rich with: enriched by, unroll: unfurl, penury: poverty, noble rage: dignified self confidence.
  • A note: In the Hindu mythology, the Goddess of knowledge is female known as Goddess Saraswati, daughter of Goddess Durga. Even, the Brahma Kumaris believes that knowledge is associated with females! The poet seems to be well aware, that only female can resemble Knowledge!

 Famous Lines in Gray’s Elegy

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.

If you ask me the most touching lines in Elegy, I’d say, here they are! The most famous lines that evoke a universal feeling about the villagers of Stoke Poges.

The dead rustics of the village are compared to the bright gems and pearls that lay hidden and unseen in the depths of ocean. They are akin to the beautiful flowers that bloom in the jungles whose fragrance gets wasted and they fade away unnoticed. The elements of comparison bring the divine love that Gray had for his village and the people who lived over there. Very few poetic compositions are able to touch the soul with a caliber of this range!

  • These may be the most famous lines in the poem. Gray is comparing the humble village people to undiscovered gems in caves at the bottom of the ocean and to undiscovered flowers in the desert. Purest ray serene: this denotes the bright and pure color; unfathom’d: which cannot be measured by instruments; caves of ocean: it refers to the very bottom of the ocean; sweetness: the gentle sweet fragrance of the flowers


Stanza 15

Some village-Hampden, that with dauntless breast
The little tyrant of his fields withstood;
Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest,
Some Cromwell, guiltless of his country’s blood

The graves of this village might shelter brave heroes like Hampden, the famous parliamentarian and a martyr, who faced the tyrant King Charles I. Here may also lay, someone akin to the talent of Milton or Cromwell.

Hampden: John Hampden is considered as one of the prime figures of the English revolution, a notable parliamentarian and a statesman , dauntless: resolute; mute: silent,

  • Some Cromwell, guiltless of his country’s blood – Cromwell, a great ruler of England was responsible of bloodshed during civil war. However, the people of the Cromwell village are guiltless and cannot be associated with the named Cromwell (and bloodshed)


Stanza 16:

Th’ applause of list’ning senates to command,
The threats of pain and ruin to despise,
To scatter plenty o’er a smiling land,
And read their hist’ry in a nation’s eyes,

Some of them might have been great legislatures, greeted with the loud cheers of the morally pure senators. Some would bring prosperity to the country by eliminating poverty and thus their great deeds would be recorded in the history of their nation.


applause- praise; list’ning senates- members of Senates listening to the lectures and praising them; threats of pain- defying the challenges of pain; smiling land- a fertile land; read their hist’ry- find an appreciation

Stanza 17:

Their lot forbade: nor circumscrib’d alone
Their growing virtues, but their crimes confin’d;
Forbade to wade through slaughter to a throne,
And shut the gates of mercy on mankind,

Their bad luck not only forbade their virtue or talents to grow, but also their vises and crime. They never thought of killing their brothers for the throne and keep themselves away from works of charity.

circumscrib’d- limited; confin’d- restricted; wade- go through in mud; to a throne- become king; shut the gates of mercy- to be cruel.

Well, You’re Exceptional

I guess you’ve already understood the theme of the poem! Very few poems are as lovely as Elegy! As we are slowly moving towards the end of the poem, it is becoming more and more thought provoking! The next article explains the stanzas from 18 to 24!

Analysis continues

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