Study Guide

Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard Isolation

By Thomas Gray

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The speaker of Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" sure is excited to be left alone in a dark churchyard after the sun goes down. What's up with that? This guy might just like his solitude, but we're guessing that there's more to it than that.

Questions About Isolation

  1. Why is the speaker so pleased to be left by himself in the "darkness" of the churchyard in the first stanza? 
  2. How might the poem be different if the speaker had an interlocutor—in other words, if there were someone physically present in the churchyard with him to listen to and share his musings? How important is his solitude to the feel and meaning of the poem?
  3. The speaker imagines how he'll be remembered after he's gone in the final stanzas of the poem. He doesn't imagine being mourned or missed by any family or friends—he imagines what a total stranger will say about him. What's the effect of that choice on your reading? Does the speaker have no friends, or are they just not important to what he's trying to do here?

Chew on This

The speaker emphasizes the solitude of each individual villager in his "cell"-like grave (15). Since death isolates us all, it seems appropriate that the speaker should be completely alone during his musings about death and mortality. Talk about a downer!

Because the speaker is contemplating the lives and deaths of complete strangers, it makes sense that he should imagine how his own death would be remembered by strangers, as opposed to by his own friends and family. Grim, but appropriate!

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