We have changed our privacy policy. In addition, we use cookies on our website for various purposes. By continuing on our website, you consent to our use of cookies. You can learn about our practices by reading our privacy policy.
© 2016 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.
Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard

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.

Lines 41-44

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!")

People who Shmooped this also Shmooped...