Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard Summary The speaker is hanging out in a churchyard just after the sun goes

down. It's dark and a bit spooky. He looks at the dimly lit gravestones, but none of the grave markers are all that impressive—most of the people buried here are poor folks from the village, so their tombstones are just simple, roughly carved stones. The speaker starts to imagine the kinds of lives these dead guys probably led. Then he shakes his finger at the reader, and tells us not to get all snobby about the rough monuments these dead guys have on their tombs, since, really, it doesn't matter what kind of a tomb you have when you're dead, anyway. And guys, the speaker reminds us, we're all going to die someday. But that gets the speaker thinking about his own inevitable death, and he gets a little freaked out. He imagines that someday in the future, some random guy (a "kindred spirit") might pass through this same graveyard, just as he was doing today. And that guy might see the speaker's tombstone, and ask a local villager about it. And then he imagines what the villager might say about him. At the end, he imagines that the villager points out the epitaph engraved on the tombstone, and invites the passerby to read it for himself. So basically, Thomas Gray writes his own epitaph at the end of this poem. Lines 1-4 The curfew tolls the knell of parting day, The lowing herd wind slowly o'er the lea, The plowman homeward plods his weary way, And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

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So, right off the bat we have some vocab to sort out in this poem. The "curfew" is a bell that rings at the end of the day, but a "knell" is a bell that rings when someone dies. So it's like the "parting day" is actually dying. Sounds like a metaphor! The mooing herd of cows makes its winding way over the meadow ("lea" = "meadows") And the tired farmer clomps on home. Now that the cows and the farmer are out of the picture, the speaker gets everything in the world to himself (he has to share it with the growing darkness, but that's not so bad). Notice that the speaker refers to himself in the first person right away in that first stanza: the parting farmer and cows leave "the world […] to me." This would be a good time to note that the poet often removes vowels and replaces them with an apostrophe, like "o'er" instead of "over" in the second line. If you ever notice an odd-looking word with an apostrophe in it, try replacing the apostrophe with a letter to make a familiar word. Gray makes these contractions to make the number of syllables fit the iambic pentameter. While we're talking about form, we'll also point out the rhyme scheme here—it's ABAB. For more on the poem's meter and rhyme scheme, check out the "Form and Meter" section.

Lines 5-8 Now fades the glimm'ring landscape on the sight, And all the air a solemn stillness holds,

a. Someone who wasn't sophisticated. and the sentence structure is a bit wacky. that yew-tree's shade. Must be sunset. as wand'ring near her secret bow'r. but we knew that from the first stanza. And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds. . • • Here are some more exceptions to the overall peace and quiet: the bent-out-of-shape owl is hooting. Cool!) Because the title of the poem says that it was "written in a country churchyard. and the speaker personifies the "tinkling" of the bells when he says that they're "drowsy. The air is quiet." Hold up—the speaker isn't saying that the ancestors of the town (a "hamlet" is a tiny town. "Rude" is used to describe someone who was from the country. impolite jerks. • • • • So what's happening. The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep. The subject and the verb of the sentence are way down there in the last line of the stanza: "The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep. too: "solemn stillness" is a great example of alliteration. More figurative language here! The speaker uses metaphor to describe the tower where the owl lives as "ivy-mantled.k. Molest her ancient solitary reign. too. he's complaining that there's an outsider nearby—someone who is wandering near her private digs (a "bower" is a lady's private room) and bothering her solitude. so the speaker is saying that the tower is dressed up in ivy. There are some interesting literary devices in these lines. And what's the mopey owl complaining about? Apparently. Each in his narrow cell for ever laid. not discourteous.") • • • • Lines 13-16 Beneath those rugged elms." we can guess that the "tower" mentioned here is probably the church tower. Who is that outsider? Sounds like the owl is probably complaining about the presence of the speaker himself! (And we're just assuming the speaker is a "he. so let's try to sort it out. not an omelet with ham in it!) are impolite. But the speaker doesn't just say that there's an owl hooting—he uses some more figurative language. like everything is winding down." (A "mantle" is a kind of cloak or coat. not an owl. exactly? The "glimm'ring landscape" is fading from the poet's sight." Go to the "Symbols" section for more on these literary tools! Lines 9-12 Save that from yonder ivy-mantled tow'r The moping owl does to the moon complain Of such. • • • This stanza is all one long sentence. except for the buzz of the occasional beetle and the tinkling bells hanging around the necks of livestock in their "folds" (a. Where heaves the turf in many a mould'ring heap." since those are things a person would do.Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight. and who was maybe a bit of a bumpkin. So the forefathers being described here are probably just simple country folks. Sounds peaceful and sleepy. barns). He personifies the owl when he says that it's "moping" and "complaining.

look at the third line of the stanza—they're not sleeping at home in their beds. Sounds peaceful. or the echoes of a horn blown by a hunter or a shepherd. We're actually hanging out in the graveyard. poets used to describe children's speech as "lisping. These graves are under elm and yew trees. Or busy housewife ply her evening care: No children run to lisp their sire's return. (2) Birds twittering and singing in their straw nests. or the echoing horn. The cock's shrill clarion. and there are piles of turf on each one. the speaker is really piling up the reasons it's a total bummer to be dead. • • Now the speaker is listing the kinds of day-to-day pleasures that these dead guys in the graveyard aren't going to get to enjoy anymore.• • • • • So what are these country forefathers of the hamlet doing? They're sleeping. (2) No housewife is trying to take care of him after he gets home from work in the evenings. speaker! We get it! They're dead. The swallow twitt'ring from the straw-built shed. (3) The rooster's cock-a-doodle-doo ("clarion" = "alarm"). (3) No little kids are yelling. (A few vocab clarifications on this one: since little kids don't enunciate clearly. They're sleeping in narrow cells. the speaker tells us that none of those things are going to wake up the dead guys anymore. Having listed all those things in the first three lines. So we're not just hanging out outside of a church as the sun goes down. Sounds like they're sleeping in only a metaphorical sense. So many lists! (1) No one is burning the hearth fire for them anymore. (1) The delicious smells of the breeze first thing in the morning ("incense" is a substance that you burn to make a room smell good). Wow. and they're laid in there forever. "Daddy's home!" when he gets back from work. Here's how he explains it: The first three lines of this stanza list different things that normally would wake a person up (at least. No more shall rouse them from their lowly bed. Okay.") (4) No little kids climb up onto his lap for kisses that would make their siblings envy them. • • If you hadn't figured it out from the previous stanza. Or climb his knees the envied kiss to share. not just sleeping! • • Lines 21-24 For them no more the blazing hearth shall burn. Those poor dead guys in the graveyard! They're really missing out! . These guys are dead and lying in their graves in the churchyard! The first two lines of the poem set the scene. right? Except. Spooky! Lines 17-20 The breezy call of incense-breathing Morn. the speaker wants to clarify that the sleeping guys are not going to wake up." and "sire" means "father. in the days before alarm clocks and cell phones).

So. simple pleasures. Again. How jocund did they drive their team afield! How bow'd the woods beneath their sturdy stroke! • • • • Now the speaker imagines the kinds of things these guys did back when they were still alive. what's the deal with that personification? The speaker is telling the readers that they shouldn't mock the hard work.Lines 25-28 Oft did the harvest to their sickle yield. you might describe it as "stubborn. • • • Lines 29-32 Let not Ambition mock their useful toil. and destiny obscure. The woods bowed to the stroke of their axes as they cleared forests to make their farms. They often harvested their crops with their sickles (a sickle is a curved knife. The speaker imagines that the farmers were cheerful. Regular people wouldn't mock these honest guys —only Ambition would be that cruel. even though he kind of is. Same deal with the second two lines of the stanza: the speaker says that we shouldn't allow "Grandeur.) • • • . you probably shouldn't attack the audience or make them feel bad about themselves. These are country folks. y'all! The speaker personifies Ambition and Grandeur in these lines." or high social status. like this)." Here's a pic of a plough cutting a furrow. the trees aren't going to bow down to you out of respect. remember (since they were described as "rude. Their homely joys. They're just going to fall over. He's sort of displacing the blame. "obscure" destinies of the poor farmers in the graveyard. (Rule Number 1 of Writing: If you want to earn money from your writing. it seems like the speaker is personifying "Grandeur" to take the edge off of this stanza so that it won't sound like he's scolding the readers." and since we know from the title that this is a "countrychurchyard"). to smile disdainfully or scornfully at the day-to-day accounts ("annals") of poor people. but if the ground is really hard to break into. "Glebe" is an archaic word for farmland. narrow. Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile The short and simple annals of the poor. • • More figurative language. Farmers would cut the furrow into the glebe using a plough. shallow hole that you drop seeds into. so they were farmers. and also because he says that they're doing stuff ("mocking" and "hearing") that only people do. Their furrow oft the stubborn glebe has broke. You can tell because (a) he capitalizes them. But he doesn't come out and tell the readers to lay off the mockery—instead. More personification! Even if you're really handy with an axe. Maybe he doesn't want the readers to feel as though he's shaking a finger at them. or the homely. as they drove their teams of oxen or mules into the field to plough. or jocund. More farmer lingo in this line: the "furrow" is a long. or the unsung. as though they were proper nouns or names. though. he says that they shouldn't allow "Ambition" to mock them.

If Mem'ry o'er their tomb no trophies raise." The last two lines of the stanza describe the church itself—the place where the monuments might be displayed. aristocratic families. you ask? Yep. So. too! Here are a few nitty-gritty vocab notes before we start unraveling the sentence structure of these lines: "Heraldry" is the coat of arms associated with old. meaningless ceremony—basically. The paths of glory lead but to the grave. 2) The empty ceremony of being in a position of power." and tells them not to blame ("impute […] the fault") these dead poor dead people if they don't have fancy monuments ("trophies") over their graves. but really. arched ("vaulted"). the dead guys in the churchyard are mostly poor farmers. Now let's get back to the summary! The speaker starts with a list (this guy seems to be fond of lists).Lines 33-36 The boast of heraldry. wouldn't that be the responsibility of the families of the dead people? But of course. • • Lines 41-44 Can storied urn or animated bust Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath? . Awaits alike th' inevitable hour. • • • • Lines 37-40 you. it's like the speaker is displacing blame. • • Aha. any ceremony designed to make people feel important but that doesn't really convey any meaning. Okay. so obviously their families wouldn't be able to afford a fancy marble monument in the church itself. Here we go: 1) Bragging about your family's heraldry. rich. Families with a coat of arms would embroider it on everything from their servants' coats to the outside of their carriage to the screen in front of the fireplace. Last one: "inevitable" means unavoidable. ornamentally carved ("fretted") ceiling. • • The speaker has more advice to proud. ambitious. ye proud. More personification! Again. What time. hoity-toity people: He addresses them as "ye proud. Check out this example. "Pomp" means proud. all that wealth e'er gave. you guessed it: all of those paths lead only to the GRAVE. the speaker shifts the blame onto the personified "Memory. Phew. the pomp of pow'r. The bell that marks the passing of a member of the church "peals" in praise of his or her life all through the aisles of the church and up to its high. And all that beauty. Here's the real reason why the speaker doesn't want proud. impute to these the fault. Where thro' the long-drawn aisle and fretted vault The pealing anthem swells the note of praise. He says that "Memory" failed to put up fancy trophies or monuments. inevitable time. grand people to make fun of the poor people in the churchyard: it's because we're all heading there someday. and 3) The beauty that can be obtained from wealth—all of those things are waiting for the unavoidable.

"Celestial fire" must be a metaphor for passion. is "No. there lies a person whose hands could have ruled an empire. • • • Yep. [which is] rich with the spoils of time. in the churchyard.Can Honour's voice provoke the silent dust. Let's see…if we rearrange the sentence so that it's in a more usual structure. celestial or otherwise. to their eyes. (The answer to both of those rhetorical questions. That's playing a mean lyre! Lines 49-52 But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page Rich with the spoils of time did ne'er unroll. but where's the verb? The sentence structure is wacky." . Or someone whose hands could have played a lyre (a kind of old-school harp) so well that the lyre would have become conscious. since no one's heart is literally full of fire. that the rod of empire might have sway'd. here's what it would look like: "Knowledge ne'er (never) did unroll her ample page. Or Flatt'ry soothe the dull cold ear of Death? • • • This stanza is a pair of rhetorical questions. What could that mean? Sounds like a metaphor to us. "Knowledge" is the subject of this sentence. Hands. And froze the genial current of the soul. of course not!") • • • Lines 45-48 Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire. in the churchyard. The speaker is still addressing the proud. Chill Penury repress'd their noble rage." and the speakerpersonifies the urn and the bust. dusty remains of a dead person to speak again. Let's try to untangle it. Maybe. that's another personification in the first line—the capitalized noun probably tipped you off. in this case to commemorate a dead person) could call the breath back to a dead person and make him breathe again. Or wak'd to ecstasy the living lyre. he imagines." Huh. 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. obviously. here) of what the speaker calls "celestial fire. that's a mouthful! Second rhetorical question: the speaker asks if the voice of "Honour" (another personification!) can provoke the silent. The dead person's body is a "mansion. Except he doesn't say so quite that directly—he uses a metaphor. Phew. • • • • Now the speaker is reflecting on what type of person might be lying in the unmarked graves in the churchyard Maybe. there lies a person whose heart was once full ("pregnant" means full. or whether Flattery (another personification!) can make the cold ear of Death (yet another personification!) feel better about being dead. might have mocked the lowly farmers in the churchyard back in stanza 7. hoity-toity readers—the ones that. asking if they can call the dead person's breath back to the mansion of their body.

like Wordsworth. • • • • Wait. thought that Gray's poetry was too formal and stilted. And lots of flowers come into blushing bloom without a human to see and appreciate their beauty or their sweet scent. This is a bummer. Of course. by the irritatingly self-important Mrs. This stanza is about unsung heroes. Elton is not exactly known for her good taste in literature." and both the gems and the flowers are metaphors for people who do awesome stuff that doesn't get recognized. poverty can freeze up the current of your soul-river. Let's take a closer look: "Full many" is just an eighteenth-century phrase that means "lots of.") But these poor guys in the graveyard never had access to all the knowledge history had to offer—those pages were never "unrolled" "to their eyes. Could be a sign that Austen. Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest. pure gems are hidden away in dark caves under the ocean. Let's check it out." So. It's as though Knowledge is a big collection of pages. we love Thomas Gray.• • Okay. Fun fact! These lines get quoted in Emma by Jane Austen. The dark unfathom'd caves of ocean bear: Full many a flow'r is born to blush unseen. Elton. More personification! "Penury" is being treated like a person—it's the thing that repressed and froze the dead people's potential. Maybe there was some village-version of John Hampden who stood up to tyranny on the village green! . too: imagine that a person's soul is a river. like the guys buried in the churchyard without monuments or "trophies. since a character like Mrs. Let's read on… • • • • • Lines 53-56 Full many a gem of purest ray serene. those pages get filled with more and more information—that's what the speaker calls the "spoils of time. • • The speaker muses that there might be dead people buried here that could have been famous revolutionaries or poets. why are we talking about gems and flowers now? Must be more metaphor. And another metaphor. but they died unknown and undiscovered." And why? Because poverty ("penury"= poverty) held back the noble parts of their characters—their passion. now that's starting to make more sense. as time goes on. Well. And waste its sweetness on the desert air. but there's ametaphor there that needs more unraveling." ("Spoils" means "plunder" or "loot. lots of beautiful. Some Cromwell guiltless of his country's blood. and. even their rage. that with dauntless breast The little tyrant of his fields withstood. so this is one instance when we disagree with both Wordsworth and Austen! • lines 57-60 Some village-Hampden. but the speaker might have a point.

but who remained unknown. and here's why: notice how Stanza 16 ends with a comma. He refused to pay a tax he thought was unfair." as the speaker calls it in Stanza 13." or the king. Another historical note! Oliver Cromwell was the leader of the anti-royalists during the English Civil War. the villagers were poor and died unknown because of their poverty. The threats of pain and ruin to despise. we can figure out what's going on here. even though that would win them a place in the history books in the eyes of their countrymen. or "penury. but their crimes confin'd. too. The struggling pangs of conscious truth to hide. • • • • Lines 65-72 […] nor circumscrib'd alone Their growing virtues. and not a period? Yeah. but who didn't have a chance. Their lot forbade: […] • • We've been going through the poem one stanza at a time. Another fun fact! Both Hampden and Milton were from the same area of England where Gray was writing his "Elegy. • • • • Lines 61-65 Th' applause of list'ning senates to command. helped bring about the execution of King Charles I." kept them from receiving ("commanding") the applause and approval of politicians. Nope. The sentence actually carries over between stanzas! This is called enjambment. Their situation also made it impossible for them to blow off threats of pain and ruin. To quench the blushes of ingenuous shame. but he died mute. And read their hist'ry in a nation's eyes. or "lot. Forbade to wade through slaughter to a throne. Or heap the shrine of Luxury and Pride With incense kindled at the Muse's flame. So Gray calls him "dauntless. so if we unravel the weird sentence structure. and it can trip you up if you're not careful. . Okay. the guy who wrote Paradise Lost). but things get a bit too wacky here. and became head of the short-lived English Commonwealth in 1649-1660." So maybe Gray liked to imagine that the same area could have produced other guys who were just as brilliant. And shut the gates of mercy on mankind. without being able to express his brilliance. He wasn't a popular guy in the history books at the time Gray was writing." or "fearless. You actually have to start at the end: The dead villagers in the graveyard are replaced with the pronoun "Their" in line 65.) Or maybe there was someone as brilliant as John Milton (you know. To scatter plenty o'er a smiling land.• (Historical side note: the real John Hampden was a Puritan politician who opposed the policies of King Charles I. The dead villagers' situation." for standing up to the "little tyrant. Nor could they spread good stuff ("plenty") all over the country. Or maybe there was someone who would have wreaked as much havoc as Cromwell. we did.

it also keeps them from committing crimes. and poets. • • • Since the poor villagers who are buried in the churchyard live far away from the noise and strife of crowded cities. "Ingenuous" means innocent. lit up. they never learned to stray away from more sober. Implores the passing tribute of a sigh. Along the cool sequester'd vale of life They kept the noiseless tenor of their way. The Muses were the goddesses in Greek and Roman mythology who were responsible for inspiring artists. gives a shout-out to Thomas Gray by titling one of his novels Far from the Madding Crowd. Another metaphor there! Slamming the "gates of mercy" is a metaphor for being merciless. (Try to work that one into everyday conversation. . After all. So the "incense" that was lit at the Muse's flame must be a pen that is metaphorically kindled. you're hiding your true feelings. Because they live in a secluded ("sequester'd") area. Fun fact! Thomas Hardy. serious wishes and desires. or to act all merciless to people. we have to combine two stanzas because the sentence continues across the stanza break—more enjambment! Not only does the poverty of the villagers prevent ("circumscribe" = prevent) them from developing the virtues that would get them remembered in the history books. • • • • • • • • • Lines 73-76 Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife." The poor villagers also don't have the chance to use fancy and flattering words to build a metaphorical shrine to the personifiedLuxury and Pride. Their situation likewise keeps them from trying to hide their blushes. And there's more metaphor here. the English novelist. especially when the truth is struggling and conscious of BEING the truth.• • Again. Some frail memorial still erected nigh. You can tell your athlete friends to "shut the gates of mercy" on the other team!) The villager's lot in life keeps them from trying to hide the truth. since they're busy working to put food on the table: They don't have time to wade through blood and gore to kill a king on his throne. Lines 77-80 Yet ev'n these bones from insult to protect. the blush is the metaphorical flame that's getting "quenched. You know how when you blush. musicians. your face feels hot? We talk about "quenching" flame. right? So if you hide your blushes. or inspired by the Muses. Here are some examples of the crimes these poor villagers just don't have time to commit. With uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture deck'd. So this one goes along with the previous line. Their sober wishes never learn'd to stray. a blush indicates that you're ashamed of something. they were able to live their lives without making a lot of hubbub or noise. so here.

• • • Even though these poor villagers don't have big fancy monuments or "trophies" over their graves. ling'ring look. The place of fame and elegy supply: And many a holy text around she strews. which is both pleasing and anxious. That teach the rustic moralist to die. and some morepersonification. is going to be forgotten when he or she is dead? We get another metaphor here in line 85." • Lines 89-92 On some fond breast the parting soul relies. and even this simple inscription was clearly made by someone who was largely illiterate. Left the warm precincts of the cheerful day." Since the muses were goddesses of poetry. But even though the memorials aren't all fancy. The "unlettered muse" also adds ("strews") the occasional Bible verse ("holy text") that inspires country folks to think about death so that they'll be prepared when their time comes. Ev'n in our ashes live their wonted fires. who is going to give up ("resign") their life ("being"). with the repeated beginning L sound in "longing. and are decorated with crude. the speaker asks. or "unlettered. Nor cast one longing. we get more alliteration here. So there! Lines 81-84 Their name. they at least still have frail." The speaker uses irony when he says that inscription was made by a "muse. . This pleasing anxious being e'er resign'd. • • • • • The "frail" monuments (78) are engraved only with the dead people's name and the years of their birth and death. how could they be unlettered or illiterate? These simple inscriptions take the place of fame and fancy elegies (poems written in memory of dead people). shapeless sculptures to ornament ("deck") them. like the villagers. without looking behind them at what they leave behind—especially someone who. flimsy memorials nearby. or to leave the warm environment of the earth. they still inspire passersby to pause long enough to sigh. spelt by th' unletter'd muse. ling'ring look behind? • • After all. These flimsy memorials aren't made out of fancy marble—they just have rough. Ev'n from the tomb the voice of Nature cries. Some pious drops the closing eye requires. uncouth poetry. their years. "She" is the muse referred to in the previous line. too! Being forgotten when you're dead is like being hunted down as the "prey" of a predator called "Forgetfulness. Lines 85-88 For who to dumb Forgetfulness a prey." Sounds scary! Finally. if only to protect their remains from the insult of having people picnic or play cricket on their graves.

That voice of Nature calls out from the grave. The speaker refers to himself in these lines—he's calling himself "thee. Some kindred spirit shall inquire thy fate. "Nature" is—you guessed it— being personified!).e. death). might ask about the speaker's fate.. so what's our speaker actually saying to himself? He's saying that he is aware ("mindful") of the dead people who haven't been honored with lots of monuments. after all—it's the "voice of Nature" (yep. or their remains. who mindful of th' unhonour'd Dead Dost in these lines their artless tale relate. Spanish." Like French. It's only natural. He answers this question in the next stanza. They need some pious. so he's memorializing them in these very lines of poetry. "Oft have we seen him at the peep of dawn Brushing with hasty steps the dews away To meet the sun upon the upland lawn. and with somealliteration thrown in while he's at it ("Haply some hoary-headed" and "swain […] say")! Probably some gray-haired ("hoary-headed") farmer guy ("swain") would say that they had often seen the speaker hurrying through the dew-covered grass to watch the sun come up on the meadow lawn. Then the speaker wonders what would happen if some random kindred spirit. Lines 93-100 For thee. religious friend or neighbor to close their eyes for them as they die. he'd use the more informal way of doing so. If chance. And pore upon the brook that babbles by. country folks like the villagers in the churchyard depend on their loved ones as they die (or as their souls "part" from the world). poor. by lonely contemplation led. His listless length at noontide would he stretch." And it makes sense that if the poet is addressing himself." But no! It's not fancy-pants at all! "Thee" and "thou" were actually informal or more intimate versions of "you." (Fun grammar fact: most modern readers think of "thee" and "thou" as an old-fashioned. Haply some hoary-headed swain may say." English used to have a formal and an informal way of saying "you. gang. . fancy-pants version of "you. so we'll look at both stanzas at once. who happened to be musing on similar things (i. • • • • Lines 101-104 "There at the foot of yonder nodding beech That wreathes its old fantastic roots so high. and many other languages that have two versions of "you. more enjambment! The same sentence continues across a stanza break. • The speaker continues to imagine what the "hoary-headed swain" would say about him. and the villagers' accustomed passions (their "wonted fires") live on in their ashes. if a random passerby happened to ask. • • • • Look.• • • • Even simple.) Okay.

Grav'd on the stone beneath yon aged thorn. Another came. Approach and read (for thou canst read) the lay. • • • This stanza continues with what the speaker imagines an old villager would say about him after he was dead and gone. like one forlorn. Mutt'ring his wayward fancies he would rove. in the nearby woods. (This is probably the beech tree mentioned in Stanza 26. Nor up the lawn. Now drooping. and that they saw the speaker carried slowly along the path to the church in a funeral procession. like he was anxious or else hopelessly in love with someone who didn't love him back.) The villager goes on to say that another day passed. The villager invites the random passerby who asked (the "kindred spirit" of line 96) to read the epitaph that is engraved on the speaker's tombstone. pale ("wan") with sorrow. Sometimes. Sounds like something's up… • Lines 113-116 "The next with dirges due in sad array Slow thro' the church-way path we saw him borne. "Listless length" in line 103 is another great example ofalliteration. or cross'd in hopeless love. Good times! Lines 109-112 "One morn I miss'd him on the custom'd hill. • Lines 105-108 Hard by yon wood. • • The speaker continues to imagine what the old villager might say about him after he's dead and gone: He imagines the villager saying that he missed seeing the speaker one morning in the usual place on a local hillside. He imagines the old guy saying that the speaker used to rove. the speaker would smile almost scornfully. and yet he still didn't see the speaker by the brook ("rill") or on the grass. nor at the wood was he. Or craz'd with care. • . now smiling as in scorn." • • The speaker continues to imagine what an old villager would say about him after his death: And on the third day after the speaker didn't show up. or by the woods. or wander. underneath the gnarly old thornbush. woeful wan. Along the heath and near his fav'rite tree. nor yet beside the rill. the speaker used to stretch out at the foot of the old beech tree—the one that has fantastically weird roots—and that he would stare at the babbling brook. and sometimes he would look all droopy and mopey. the old villager says that dirges (funeral songs) were played. while muttering to himself.• He imagines the old guy saying that at noon. along the fields ("heath") by the speaker's favorite tree.

Science. after all. And don't try to dig up any dirt on his bad points. we have to admit. Let's see what it says… This is where the speaker is resting his head on the ground. But Heaven gave him something pretty awesome: a friend. and his soul sincere. In other words. • • • • Lines 121-124 Large was his bounty. Lines 125-128 No farther seek his merits to disclose..Lines 117-120 THE EPITAPH Here rests his head upon the lap of Earth A youth to Fortune and to Fame unknown. that's a metaphor! Dead people don't really "rest their heads" anywhere—they're dead. The speaker gave everything he had to his depression. too—you can tell because all those nouns (Fame. he was sometimes kinda depressed. Fortune. Fun fact: The speaker's probably referring to his BFF. he was of humble birth. in spite of his humble origins. Heav'n did a recompense as largely send: He gave to Mis'ry all he had. his tears. alas. But kind of cool. or (aspersonified here) Misery—in other words. And Melancholy mark'd him for her own. a tear. He was a scholar and a poet! But." The speaker calls himself a young person who is unknown both to Fortune (i. and Heaven paid him back (sent a "recompense") for those good qualities. Fair Science frown'd not on his humble birth. He gain'd from Heav'n ('twas all he wish'd) a friend. Morbid? Yes. either. but he did pretty well for himself—he was generous and sincere. are reading Thomas Gray's imagined epitaph. or frailties. • • Don't try to find out anything more about the dead speaker's good points. good luck or wealth—it could mean either) and to Fame. And "Earth" is beingpersonified when the speaker imagines that it could have a "lap. Or draw his frailties from their dread abode. Melancholy) are capitalized.e. But at least he was no stranger to knowledge. • • • • He might have had humble beginnings. or science. • • • • Now we're supposed to imagine that we. like the "kindred spirit" who asked about the dead speaker. Richard West (see the "In a Nutshell" section for more on that). We get more personification here. Yes. . (There they alike in trembling hope repose) The bosom of his Father and his God.

published in 1986. .K. an instance of the use of irony because she is very angry at the idea of having the tree cut down. especially his mother who is self sacrificing. hoping for eternal life. ‘Ecology is a poem which could be read as one single sentence. often causing a person to vomit. His memories of the past would inevitably bring pictures of his family. The actual meaning of the word ‘Ecology’ is not followed here but the poet seems to convey the thought that a particular kind of tree may have both negative and positive factors and therefore it need not be pulled down.• Why not. The fragrance is heavy and suffocating as the yellow pollen spreads everywhere. the human voices. saying that it is as old as herself. The loving son therefore decides to cut down the tree. The positive side of it is that the tree provides many basketful of flowers to be offered to her gods and to ‘her daughters and daughter’s daughters’ every year. But they cannot stop the fog of pollen dust from the Champak trees.Ramanujan This poem. The walls of the house are able to absorb almost everything-the sounds. ‘Ecology’ is taken from Ramanujan’s third volume of poems. which is caused by the fragrance of the pollen of the flower of the Red Champak every time it is in bloom. although the tree would give a terrible migraine to one line of cousins as a legacy. the harsh sounds produced when new shoes are worn. ‘Flash her temper’. Even the doors of the speaker’s house cannot prevent the strong smell from entering the house. in heaven with God. This poem portrays Ramanujan’s strong interest in the family as a very important theme of his poetic craft. She says that the tree is as old as her and had been fertilized by the droppings of a passing bird by chance which is considered to be a very good omen. The speaker seems to be the poet himself or some imaginary person who is loyally devoted to his mother. you ask? Both his good and his bad points are in "repose. He is very angry because his mother has a severe attack of migraine.A. each stanza has one particular idea. There is also a reference to his Hindu heritage as he mentions the gods and the ancient beliefs in the poem. She has a kind of emotional attachment to the tree. The sense of irony is indicated when the mother very angrily protests the idea of cutting down the tree even though she is suffering very badly from the migraine caused by it. ‘Second Sight’. However." or resting. sights. a very bad kind of headache. The yellow pollen fog is the yellow dust of pollen carried in the air which is thick and heavy like fog which covers the earth. That's why not. There is a casual connection between the ideas and they flow from one stanza to the next. Ecology. but he is prevented from doing so by his mother who sees the positive side of the tree in her garden.

Match'd with an aged wife. and feed. both with those That loved me. "Unequal" doesn't mean that the rewards and punishments are unjust or unfair. . The poem is a monologue spoken by him. to find. among these barren crags. and when Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades Vexed the dim sea: • After his moralistic opening. so he wants to get busy living rather than busy dying. and alone. but rather variable. have suffered greatly. and not to yield. The speaker at first seems at to be some kind of observer or impersonal figure who knows a lot about how to be a king." Lines 1-5 It little profits that an idle king. The phrase "it little profits" is another way of saying. He's getting older and doesn't have a lot of time left. I mete and dole Unequal laws unto a savage race. on shore. • • • • • • • The poem begins by telling us that a king gains nothing from just sitting around by the fire with his wife and making laws for people who don't even know him." "Mete" means "to allot" or "measure out. That hoard."Ulysses" details Ulysses' intense dissatisfaction and boredom on his island home of Ithaca. Ulysses tells us more about why sitting around doling out rewards and punishments bores him. Ulysses. The poem concludes with his resolution to "strive." Ulysses' subjects are presented to us as a large group of drones who do nothing but eat and sleep. to seek. but also describes his desire to keep sailing." Here it refers to the king's allotment of rewards and punishments to his subjects. is speaking. but in line 3 we learn that the king himself. "it is useless" or "it isn't beneficial. where he not only expresses his discontent. "Match'd" doesn't refer to a tennis match or other sporting event. and sleep. it means something like "paired" or "partnered with. By this still hearth. and know not me. Lines 6-11 I cannot rest from travel: I will drink Life to the lees: all times I have enjoyed Greatly.

try as many foods as he can. He will not let life pass him by. both on dry land and while sailing through potentially destructive storms. Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy. The word "lees" originally referred to the sediment accumulated at the bottom of a bottle of wine. He portrays himself as a Renaissance traveler of sorts with an insatiable desire ("hungry heart") to see as many places as he can. mostly the good times – he's enjoyed during his travels. but honoured of them all" is a little tricky." the famous city where the Trojan War took place: you know. The phrase "myself not least. this sounds like another way of saying "I don't belong here in Ithaca. • • • Ulysses elaborates on the good times and bad times – well. It means something like "I wasn't treated like the least little thing but was honored by everybody I met. One way to read "Untravelled world" is as a reference to death. How dull it is to pause. The "Hyades" are a group of stars in the constellation Taurus often associated with rain. but somehow seems to recede ("margin fades") as he keeps moving. Ulysses tells us that he's visited a variety of different places. To rust unburnished. it is always looking at him through the "arch" of his experiences. not to shine in use! As though to breathe were life! • • • Ulysses further justifies his desire to keep traveling and living a life of adventure. • • • Lines 11-18 …I am become a name." Ulysses tells us that he has had a lot of good times and a lot of bad times. Usually we say something like "all the places I have seen are now a part of me. "I am a part of all that I have met" is a strange phrase. but honoured of them all – And drunk delight of battle with my peers. weather. that famous war dramatized in the Brad Pitt movie Troy? The "plains" are "ringing" because of the armor clashing together in battle. whose margin fades For ever and for ever when I move." Ulysses also describes the time he spent "on the ringing plains of windy Troy. The phrase "I am become a name" means something like "become a household name. governments. For always roaming with a hungry heart Much have I seen and known – cities of men And manners. climates. etc. to "drink life to the lees" means to drink to the very last drop. . "Scudding drifts" are pounding showers of rain that one might encounter at sea during a storm or while crab fishing off the coast of Alaska. etc. and sometimes alone. Myself not least. All he has to do is walk through the arch… The first two lines of the passage are very tricky. He compares his life or experiences to an arch and describes the "untravelled world" as a place that "gleams" at him through that arch." • • • Lines 19-24 Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough Gleams that untravelled world. governments. sometimes with his best friends. and we're not entirely sure what they mean. I am a part of all that I have met. Nowadays we might say something like "live life to the fullest. Here they are presented as agitators of the ocean.• • We learn that he is a restless spirit who doesn't want to take a break from roaming the ocean in search of adventure. councils. their rising in the sky generally coincides with the rainy season. with different manners." Ulysses has become famous because he's traveled to so many places. to make an end." The phrase suggests that Ulysses left parts of himself everywhere he went.

• You could also think of the "Untravelled world" as an arch. At this point. he's also kind of a rock star). For Ulysses. and through soft degrees Subdue them to the useful and the good. On the other hand. The phrase "follow knowledge like a sinking star" is ambiguous. As Ulysses moves. and of one to me Little remains: but every hour is saved From that eternal silence." meaning he's patient and willing to make the best decision for the people of Ithaca without being too hasty. Ulysses means something like "I leave him in charge. The people of Ithaca are "rugged. And this grey spirit yearning in desire To follow knowledge like a sinking star. brings me new experiences. by slow prudence to make mild A rugged people. and vile it were For some three suns to store and hoard myself. The phrase "but every hour is saved / From that eternal silence. but rather three years." The more he travels. and he knows how to make his people do things without being too harsh about it. Telemachus seems a lot less restless. and he wants to make the most of what's left. Telemachus. or each hour that I am saved from death. • • • • Ulysses introduces us to his son and heir. • • • Lines 24-32 …Life piled on life Were all too little. life is about more than just "breathing" and going through the motions. something more." When compared with Ulysses. A "Sceptre" is a ceremonial staff that symbolizes authority. That's why they need to be reigned in ("subdued. On the one hand. in our opinion. It's a lot like that feeling you get when you're just getting into the rhythm of things and have to stop. They're like country-bumpkins with a little bit of an attitude. Ulysses reiterates how boring it is just sitting around when he could be out exploring the world. To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle – Well-loved of me. It means something like "each additional hour that I live. Ulysses has apparently been wasting his time for quite a while. If Ulysses weren't a soldier. ." "Three suns" doesn't mean three days. it's about adventure." That makes sense too. Ulysses wants to chase after knowledge and try to catch it as it sinks like a star. though. • • Ulysses continues to a radiate a desire for adventure. A bringer of new things. he is a great personality who is moving closer to death (though. / A bringer of new things" is strange." which means that they're a little uncivilized and uncultured. the more the margins or edges of that world recede or are covered up. It's a waste of time for him to hang out in Ithaca for three years when his desire for adventure is still so alive. He has "slow prudence. mine own Telemachus. discerning to fulfil This labour." made "mild") and put to good use. like that ancient bicycle in your garage. He's smart. Ulysses himself could be the "sinking star. he might say he's just collecting dust. Beyond the utmost bound of human thought. • • • Lines 33-38 This is my son. something more. his experiences make an arch covering the arch of the "Untravelled world. He likens himself to some kind of metallic instrument that is still perfectly useful and shiny but just rusts if nobody uses it. claiming that even multiple lifetimes wouldn't be enough for him to do all the things he wants. who seems like the right guy to take over the job of King of Ithaca. he's an old man – a "grey spirit" – near the end of his life.

free foreheads" is a little tricky. He works his work. The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks: The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep Moans round with many voices. The phrase "opposed / Free hearts. and opposed Free hearts." They have gladly ("with a frolic welcome") gone through thick and thin for Ulysses. and pay Meet adoration to my household gods. Ulysses means that his sailors "opposed" whatever came in their way – "thunder. and with his old friends as well. "Gloom" is usually a noun but here it's a verb that means "appearing dark" or "scowling. Ulysses suggests that even though old people are respected. the vessel puffs her sail: There gloom the dark broad seas. they also have responsibilities. where he tells us a ship is preparing to set sail. • • Ulysses knows that death will end everything. We don't know whom he's talking to. Some work of noble note. free foreheads – you and I are old. it turns out he's speaking to someone. • • Lines 51-56 Death closes all: but something ere the end. it's kingship as constructive criticism." "Thunder and sunshine" is used here to mean something like "good times and bad times. "Meet" means "appropriate" or "suitable. he's a straight shooter all the way. My mariners. but he still believes he can do great things. a nice guy. may yet be done. Souls that have toil'd. decent not to fail In offices of tenderness. Speaking of old age. centred in the sphere Of common duties. ." for example – and they did it as free men and with a lot of confidence ("free foreheads"). but the other person is an old man. things worthy of men who fought against the will of the gods during the Trojan War." We're not sure whether "when I am gone" means that Ulysses is planning on going back to sea for some more adventures. Old age hath yet his honour and his toil. The Trojan War wasn't a war between men and gods. While at first it seems as though Ulysses has just been musing to himself.• "Soft degrees" implies that Telemachus will civilize the citizens of Ithaca in stages and in a nice way. • • • • Ulysses tells us more about Telemachus' qualifications. "Decent not to fail" means that Telemachus is smart enough not to fail at doing nice things for people and paying the proper respects to the gods. Lines 44-50 There lies the port. or if he's thinking about his own death. I mine. Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods. Lines 39-43 Most blameless is he. Looks like he's planning on skipping town after all. and thought with me – That ever with a frolic welcome took The thunder and the sunshine. and wrought. but occasionally the gods would come down and fight with either the Greeks or the Trojans. • • • • Ulysses shifts our attention from his son to the port of Ithaca. When I am gone.

" Ulysses observes the sunset and the arrival of night. and not to yield. He tells them what he's been telling us all along: it's never too late to go in search of new lands. Lines 56-64 …Come." or it can mean "intention. Here a "furrow" refers to the track or mark made in the water by the ship. for my purpose holds To sail beyond the sunset. there's enough left to go a little farther. Ulysses realizes that he and his companions might die. They can't bench-press 200 pounds anymore. The phrase "strong in will / To strive. And see the great Achilles. really far away – beyond the horizon of the known universe – until he dies." These guys are a team with one heartbeat. Push off. but strong in will To strive. but that won't stop them from trying anyway. It may be that the gulfs will wash us down: It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles. most likely with oars. "Purpose" can mean two different things. and sitting well in order smite The sounding furrows. a place where big-time Greek heroes like Achilles enjoyed perpetual summer after they died. and not yield" means something like "we're strong because of our will to strive" or "our will to strive is strong. Made weak by time and fate. it can mean either "destiny. much abides. The "happy isles" refers to the Islands of the Blessed. and the baths Of all the western stars. What's with the moaning? It reminds us of ghosts or people mourning a death. but they still have the will to seek out and face challenges without giving up. they might even get to go to the "Happy Isles" and visit their old pal Achilles. but he's OK with that. They're old and broken.• • • "Ere" is an old poetic word that means "before. "Lights begin to twinkle from the rocks" is an elegant way of saying the stars are coming out." as in "I will come ere nightfall. • • • Lines 65-70 Tho' much is taken." as in "sailing is my purpose in life. to find. to seek. and though We are not now that strength which in old days Moved earth and heaven. One equal temper of heroic hearts. "Abides" is a word that means "remains. • • • • It turns out that Ulysses is addressing his friends. they thought the stars descended into it. It refers to the outer ocean or river that the Greeks believed surrounded the (flat) earth." • . but it seems like he's thinking about his own death as well. To sail beyond the "baths" means Ulysses wants to sail really. my friends. We might say Heaven. whom we knew. we are. to find. to seek. • • • Ulysses yet again tells us that even though he and his sailors are old and don't have a lot of gas left in the tank. until I die. at least during this part of the poem. He tells his sailors to "smite" or strike it." as in "I intend to sail as far as I can." The "baths / Of all the western stars" isn't a place where the stars go to bathe themselves. that which we are. 'Tis not too late to seek a newer world. If they die.

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