, the most famous collection of memorials for
the dead in Britain. In particular take the 360 degree tour of Poet's Corner.
This poem investigates the dangers of the glamorous
world and contrasts that with the humble simplicity
of the country villagers, but unlike the representation
of rural life in Duck and Collier, for instance, this
poem is written from the perspective of the educated
outsider poet. How does this differ?
The poem is considered a pastoral elegy -- that is
an elegy or poem in honor of a dead person set in
the country, with conventions of shepherds, swains,
nymphs. To what extent does Burke's category of the
sublime apply to this meditation on death?
The style is elegiacal with the traditional ABAB
four line stanza. What is the effect of this rhyme
scheme on the sound of the poem? How does this heighten
the effect of the language?
Whose elegy is this? What is the speaker's relationship
to those he writes about? Why is he writing this elegy?
The first three stanzas describe the rural
landscape at dusk, once again invoking this liminal
state -- this in-betweenness that is not day and is
not night. What is the significance of the country
church yard, as opposed to, say, Westminster Abbey?
What does the setting suggest about the
poet's place in this context?
The poet considers the "rude Forefathers of the Hamlet"
in lines 17 and on. What virtues do these rustics possess?
What are the implications of this description?
Analyze line 36: "The Paths of Glory lead but to the Grave"
-- how does the poem develop this theme? Compare this to
the representation of mortality in other works, like
Rasselas or Gulliver's Travels or Satire
against Reason and Mankind.
Who does the speaker address in the next lines (37-40):
"Nor you, ye Proud, impute to These the fault/ If Mem'ry
o'er their Tomb no Trophies raise, / Where thro' the
long-drawn Isle and fretted Vault / The pealing Anthem
swells the Note of Praise."
Examine the beautiful lines 49-56 "Full many a flower
is born to blush unseen...." What do these lines suggest
about fame? About the laboring classes?
Examine the implications of the poet's thoughts on "Some
mute inglorious Milton here may rest, / some Cromwell
guiltless of his Country's Blood" (59-60).
The speaker makes his own unambiguous decision in favor
of a life of rural innocence in the first stage of the
poem. However, the inadequacy of the solution -- the
escape into the country -- surfaces in the conclusion.
What are some of the problems with rural country innocence?
How is the poet barred from the experience?
The poet changes his mind regarding the state of this class.
What makes him reconsider? What does this new value for
ignorance have to do with the country versus the city?
The last section centers on the role of poetry -- how
one remembers the dead. How does one remember the unlettered dead?
The speaker imagines a rustic muse, creating epitaphs
for the dearly departed. Everybody needs to be remembered:
"ev'n from the Tomb the Voice of Nature Cries,/ Ev'n in our
Ashes live their wonted Fires" What are the implications of this?
He then offers these lines -- the poem -- to those who
are "mindful of th'unhonoured dead" (93). What does
this suggest about the poet's attitude toward the
laboring people? Toward poetry?
The closing lines here return to the poet himself,
as he imagines what one of the country folk would
say of his death. The division between the country
people and the poet himself becomes evident. Examine
the final lines.
The poem celebrating the unhonored dead ends with a
fantasy of the poet's own death, where he envisions
his anonymity (and marginality) but creates his own
fame (both in the epitaph, and in the poem which
literally made Gray famous). How does this illustrate
the problems of fame and immortality that the poem tries to work out?
The Progress of Poesy: A Pindaric Ode (1768)
These notes and questions are for your information only.
This poem attempts to create a poetic lineage for
British poets by reaching back to the mythical
origins of poetry and describing the creative power
of poetry. In this way, the poem makes a far more
erudite and elaborate attempt at a literary history
than, say, Addison's "Account of the Greatest English Poets."
Pay particular attention to the last stanza of the
antistrophe (part II) and the epode (part III).
Gray constructs a lineage from Greece to Rome to
Albion (England); what are the implications of
Note in section three the dominant poetic influences
on English poetry. How does this differ from Addison's
nine? What are the dominant characteristics of Shakespeare?
What does this praise suggest about the shift in literary
values by the 1760s?
To what extent does Gray borrow ideas from Burke in
his description of Milton?
In the final stanza Gray bewails the silence of the
Pindaric lyre (111), and asks prophetically "what
daring Spirit / Wakes thee now?" (112-113). In the
lines that follow he describes his vision of lyric
poetry. How do you interpret these lines? What does
he see as the fate of lyric poetry?
Note too that this poem attempts a more precise
imitation of the Pindaric mode than earlier versions
(we have read, for instance, Ann Finch's Ode to
Spleen and William Collins' Ode to Evening, neither
of which adopts the tripartite structure of the Greek
form). What does Gray's poem suggest about the
nature of imitation? About the nature of poetic
creativity? How does this differ from earlier
statements on poetry, like Pope's Essay on
Criticism or Dryden's "Mac Flecknoe"?
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