Thomas Gray

(1716-1771 / London / England)

Elegy Written In A Country Churchyard - Poem by Thomas Gray

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.

Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight,
And all the air a solemn stillness holds,
Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,
And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds;

Save that from yonder ivy-mantled tow'r
The moping owl does to the moon complain
Of such as, wand'ring near her secret bow'r,
Molest her ancient solitary reign.

Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree's shade,
Where heaves the turf in many a mould'ring heap,
Each in his narrow cell for ever laid,
The rude Forefathers of the hamlet sleep.

The breezy call of incense-breathing Morn,
The swallow twitt'ring from the straw-built shed,
The cock's shrill clarion, or the echoing horn,
No more shall rouse them from their lowly bed.

For them no more the blazing hearth shall burn,
Or busy housewife ply her evening care:
No children run to lisp their sire's return,
Or climb his knees the envied kiss to share.

Oft did the harvest to their sickle yield,
Their furrow oft the stubborn glebe has broke:
How jocund did they drive their team afield!
How bow'd the woods beneath their sturdy stroke!

Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,
Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;
Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile
The short and simple annals of the poor.

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow'r,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave,
Awaits alike th' inevitable hour:
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.

Nor you, ye Proud, impute to These the fault,
If Memory o'er their Tomb no Trophies raise,
Where through the long-drawn aisle and fretted vault
The pealing anthem swells the note of praise.

Can storied urn or animated bust
Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath?
Can Honour's voice provoke the silent dust,
Or Flatt'ry soothe the dull cold ear of death?

Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid
Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire;
Hands, that the rod of empire might have sway'd,
Or waked to ecstasy the living lyre.

But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page
Rich with the spoils of time did ne'er unroll;
Chill Penury repress'd their noble rage,
And froze the genial current of the soul.

Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark unfathom'd caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

Some village Hampden that with dauntless breast
The little tyrant of his fields withstood,
Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest,
Some Cromwell guiltless of his country's blood.

Th' applause of list'ning senates to command,
The threats of pain and ruin to despise,
To scatter plenty o'er a smiling land,
And read their history in a nation's eyes,

Their lot forbade: nor circumscribed alone
Their glowing virtues, but their crimes confined;
Forbade to wade through slaughter to a throne,
And shut the gates of mercy on mankind,

The struggling pangs of conscious truth to hide,
To quench the blushes of ingenuous shame,
Or heap the shrine of Luxury and Pride
With incense kindled at the Muse's flame.

Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife,
Their sober wishes never learn'd to stray;
Along the cool sequester'd vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.

Yet ev'n these bones from insult to protect
Some frail memorial still erected nigh,
With uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture deck'd,
Implores the passing tribute of a sigh.

Their name, their years, spelt by th' unletter'd muse,
The place of fame and elegy supply:
And many a holy text around she strews,
That teach the rustic moralist to die.

For who, to dumb Forgetfulness a prey,
This pleasing anxious being e'er resign'd,
Left the warm precincts of the cheerful day,
Nor cast one longing ling'ring look behind?

On some fond breast the parting soul relies,
Some pious drops the closing eye requires;
Ev'n from the tomb the voice of Nature cries,
Ev'n in our Ashes live their wonted Fires.

For thee, who, mindful of th' unhonour'd dead,
Dost in these lines their artless tale relate;
If chance, by lonely contemplation led,
Some kindred spirit shall inquire thy fate,

Haply some hoary-headed Swain may say,
'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.

'There at the foot of yonder nodding beech
That wreathes its old fantastic roots so high,
His listless length at noontide would he stretch,
And pore upon the brook that babbles by.

'Hard by yon wood, now smiling as in scorn,
Mutt'ring his wayward fancies he would rove,
Now drooping, woeful wan, like one forlorn,
Or crazed with care, or cross'd in hopeless love.

'One morn I miss'd him on the custom'd hill,
Along the heath and near his fav'rite tree;
Another came; nor yet beside the rill,
Nor up the lawn, nor at the wood was he;

'The next with dirges due in sad array
Slow through the church-way path we saw him borne.
Approach and read (for thou canst read) the lay
Graved on the stone beneath yon aged thorn:'


Here rests his head upon the lap of Earth
A Youth to Fortune and to Fame unknown.
Fair Science frown'd not on his humble birth,
And Melancholy mark'd him for her own.

Large was his bounty, and his soul sincere,
Heav'n did a recompense as largely send:
He gave to Mis'ry all he had, a tear,
He gain'd from Heav'n ('twas all he wish'd) a friend.

No farther seek his merits to disclose,
Or draw his frailties from their dread abode,
(There they alike in trembling hope repose,)
The bosom of his Father and his God.

Form: Elegy

Comments about Elegy Written In A Country Churchyard by Thomas Gray

  • Amar Agarwala (4/27/2016 7:56:00 PM)

    This is Thomas Gray's finest creation. The finest Elegy ever written in the history of English Literature. I wonder, if ever, anything close to this would ever be written again. This is a rare, classic, masterpiece about death, dying and after-death - it must be hung upon museum walls to be admired like one admires rare masterpieces of art - for this is one... this is one... this is one! (Report) Reply

    2 person liked.
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  • (12/7/2015 3:28:00 PM)

    I enjoyed reading it...very nice (Report) Reply

  • Arya Goswami (12/4/2015 4:51:00 AM)

    Better has been in history those hearts born with incense of true poetries with poems just like the one written by this man. The verses so much does to one's heart soothes the nerves. Even the finest of some prose ever read! (Report) Reply

  • (6/9/2015 8:12:00 AM)

    Death is supreme truth. (Report) Reply

  • Aftab Alam Khursheed (12/5/2014 2:00:00 AM)

    Lo immortality hid in this poem thanks (Report) Reply

  • (12/5/2013 3:47:00 PM)

    these are beautiful verses.....

    ~Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid
    Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire;
    Hands, that the rod of empire might have sway'd,
    Or waked to ecstasy the living lyre.

    Full many a gem of purest ray serene
    The dark unfathom'd caves of ocean bear:
    Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
    And waste its sweetness on the desert air.~
    (Report) Reply

  • Ramesh T A (12/5/2013 5:06:00 AM)

    With this single immortal poem Thomas Gray has established his name as best English poet and his special mark in world literature forever! Many best and talented personalities in various fields are there unknown to the world like the humble village people who have toiled, died and resting in peace in the grave yards of the place he has depicted wonderfully in this excellent poem! (Report) Reply

  • (12/18/2012 12:12:00 AM)

    Full many a gem of purest ray serene
    The dark unfathom'd caves of ocean bear:
    Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
    And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

    Truth..I've never read anything so beautiful..The language is so sublime! ...and the philosophy is ethereal! !
    (Report) Reply

  • (3/9/2011 12:03:00 PM)

    This poem about death and eternity defies comment. Permanent truths abound in many of its couplets. (Report) Reply

  • (12/6/2009 2:05:00 PM)

    Some of the finest use of English in poetry I have read.
    There is indeed opportunity and hope for greatness, evident from this Elegy.
    Finally, somebody puts People on comparable footing.
    (Report) Reply

  • Kevin Straw (12/5/2009 7:27:00 AM)

    A revolutionary poem in social terms - the idea that great men can be bred in the lowliest circumstances cuts across notions that there is some qualitative divide between the rich and poor, or the low and the high classes - and implies that a society where opportunity is given to the many will thrive better than one in which it is monopolised by a small section of it. (Report) Reply

  • (7/21/2009 6:24:00 AM)

    Death is immortal - rich or poor, famous or infamous.We all are equal before death.
    Let us live our lives respecting each other - big or small. That's all Gray wants to say.
    (Report) Reply

  • (1/5/2009 9:44:00 AM)

    i have always felt that this is one of the finest ever written, it is one of or perhaps my favorite (Report) Reply

  • Is It Poetry (12/5/2008 11:07:00 AM)

    Everything from colors to gray the language of this era would leave any but a scholar grasping at so many meanings they could change them for each day of the year...Personally I like the english...hello again.... (Report) Reply

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Read poems about / on: elegy, tree, history, destiny, birth, flower, lonely, memory, ocean, pride, fate, father, kiss, nature, sad, truth, children, friend, smile, moon

Poem Submitted: Friday, January 3, 2003

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