Study Guide

Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard Memory and the Past

By Thomas Gray

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Memory and the Past

Okay, "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" isn't just about death. We promised some less-depressing themes, and this is one of them: the poem is about how we're remembered after we're gone. That's not so bad, is it? What's that? Still don't like thinking about the whole "after you're gone" part? Well, fine—this one's a bit depressing, too.

Questions About Memory and the Past

  1. When the speaker starts thinking about his own death, why does he imagine what a random villager will say about him (95-116)? Why doesn't he tell us about his own life in his own words?
  2. Why doesn't the speaker think that it's a good idea to put up monuments to commemorate the dead? Don't fancy statues and monuments help us remember the past? What does he want us to do instead? 
  3. The poet seems to want to be remembered as a nature lover—someone who hangs out under trees listening to babbling brooks—rather than as a great poet. Why is that, do you think? Does being a nature lover have anything to do with being a poet? Why or why not? 
  4. How would you want to be remembered after you're gone? Try imagining what a neighbor or classmate would say about you after you die (or move away or graduate, if that's too depressing). Bonus points if you write it in heroic quatrains!

Chew on This

Statues shmatues! In this poem, the speaker wants to emphasize the importance of lives that are not commemorated by monuments or remembered by official history: the lives of common people that could potentially have been Miltons or Cromwells, if only they had been recognized and remembered.

Thomas Gray suggests that death is democratizing—it strikes down rich people as well as poor people—but he goes further to suggest that we might be remembering the wrong people for the wrong things. Food for thought, gang.

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