Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard
by Thomas Gray
Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard Memory and the Past Quotes
How we cite our quotes: (Line)
For them no more the blazing hearth shall burn,
Or busy housewife ply her evening care:
No children run to lisp their sire's return,
Or climb his knees the envied kiss to share. (21-24)
These are the lines where the speaker starts to imagine what the lives of the dead villagers were really like. They don't have fancy monuments over their graves, and no one wrote the story of their lives, so it's up to him to imagine what their past was really like. And it's a pretty cozy, homely image: nice fire in the fireplace, a wife there to fix supper, kids climbing into his lap when he gets home from work to get cuddled. But of course, this is all the speaker's imagination. Is this memory legit, do you think? Is it fair to project this kind of memory onto total strangers? Or is it a way of honoring them in spite of the fact that there is no record of their lives?
Nor you, ye proud, impute to these the fault,
If Mem'ry o'er their tomb no trophies raise, (37-38)
The speaker wants to make sure that proud, snotty people don't turn up their noses at the poor folks from the village who couldn't afford to put up fancy monuments over their loved ones' graves. In fact, he personifies "Memory" here, saying that it was "Memory" that didn't put up the monuments, or "trophies." It's like he's trying to displace the blame.
Can Honour's voice provoke the silent dust,
Or Flatt'ry soothe the dull cold ear of Death? (43-44)
The speaker reminds us that no amount of honor or monuments in tribute to the dead are going to bring people back from the grave. So what's the point of memorials, then, according to the speaker? Is there a point? What kind of memorial would work?