Study Guide

Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard Man and the Natural World

By Thomas Gray

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Man and the Natural World

If you're all depressed from reading about death and mortality in Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard," not to worry. There are plenty of natural images to counteract all of that doom and gloom. For Gray, the natural world seemed to have provided a source of hope and renewal. All of the natural stuff, after all, goes through cycles of death and decay and new life. Maybe he was hoping that human life would do the same?

Questions About Man and the Natural World

  1. Are the villagers able to appreciate nature the way that the speaker does? Why or why not? Does it take a poet—someone whose "heart is pregnant with celestial fire" (46)—to appreciate nature? Why do you think so?
  2. Why might the speaker hope to be remembered as someone who cared about nature—someone who relaxed under trees and listened to the brook (101-104)—instead of as a great poet?
  3. Why do you think the speaker uses so many images of birds and trees? What's the effect on your reading?
  4. How might the poem be different if it were set in a city churchyard?

Chew on This

Yay, nature! For Gray, nature and natural images represent cycles of death and renewal that provide a source of hope in the face of the inevitability of death and decay.

The speaker evokes images of primitive, primeval nature to make the villagers seem more in touch with the cycles of life and death than typical city-dwellers. What do those guys know, anyway?

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