Study Guide

Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard What's Up With the Title?

By Thomas Gray

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What's Up With the Title?

The title of this poem seems pretty straightforward: it announces the genre of the poem and the place where it was written. But let's think a little more about that—an elegy is a mournful, sad poem, especially one that was written to mourn for the dead. And it was, in fact, written (or at least takes place) in a country churchyard. But if this is an elegy, whom is it mourning?

At the start of the poem, the speaker is mourning for the deaths of all the simple country folks who are buried in the churchyard. And by the end of the poem, he is imagining his own death. Some critics think that the poem was inspired by the death of Gray's best friend, Richard West, although West is never mentioned in this poem. So…what do you think? Is the speaker mourning death, in general? Is he mourning for his friend? Or is he really just mourning for his own mortality?

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