Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard
by Thomas Gray
Stanza 11 Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Can storied urn or animated bust
Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath?
Can Honour's voice provoke the silent dust,
Or Flatt'ry soothe the dull cold ear of Death?
- This stanza is a pair of rhetorical questions.
- The speaker is still addressing the proud, hoity-toity readers—the ones that, he imagines, might have mocked the lowly farmers in the churchyard back in stanza 7.
- He asks them whether a fancy-schmancy urn (a container to hold a dead person's remains) or a really life-like bust (a statue of a person's head and shoulders, in this case to commemorate a dead person) could call the breath back to a dead person and make him breathe again.
- Except he doesn't say so quite that directly—he uses a metaphor. The dead person's body is a "mansion," and the speaker personifies the urn and the bust, asking if they can call the dead person's breath back to the mansion of their body. Phew, that's a mouthful!
- Second rhetorical question: the speaker asks if the voice of "Honour" (another personification!) can provoke the silent, dusty remains of a dead person to speak again, or whether Flattery (another personification!) can make the cold ear of Death (yet another personification!) feel better about being dead.
- (The answer to both of those rhetorical questions, obviously, is "No, of course not!")