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Everyman
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Re: Gray's Elegy Discussion continued

Your own Commonplace book, Errol? Ambitious. I have sort of started one many times, but never stuck with it. If I were just starting out collecting books, I think I might well focus on old commonplace books. I'm a bit surprised that there aren't more of the older commonplace books, such as those of Milton and Jefferson, in print.
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ecollen
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Re: Gray's Elegy Discussion continued

Hi Everyman
 
Commonplace book, hey? You teach me something new every day! I don't think I even knew that's the correct name for it. But, mine won't really be anything special. It will actually be ... well, there you have it ... quite commonplace. As I said, I'm just collecting copies of my favourite poems. My top of the pops, as you may have guessed, is Gray's Elegy. Then when I've got enough of them to fill one volume, I'll have them printed at a nearby printing place, put a bit of a binding in it, and then bob's your uncle. All my favourites, nicely set out, in nice 12 point Times New Roman, nice wide margins. That will make them even more of a pleasure to read. I may even have one or two printed at Lulu.com for a more professional looking job.
 
That's a long way in the future though. I'm only up to poem No. 14!
 
Regards,
 
Errol
 
 
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Re: Gray's Elegy Discussion continued

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.


In this stanza, Grey adopts much calmer, quieter language to sum up the preceding stanzas. His language in recent lines has been strong and almost violent: little tyrants of fields, mute inglorious, wading through slaughter to a throne, guiltless of country’s blood, heaping the shrine of Luxury and Pride.

This stanza seems to me to transition back to the quieter, calmer language of the first stanzas. Sober wishes, cool sequestered vale, noiseless tenor. We are back to the drowsy tinklings, the moping owl, the busy housewife, the useful toil.

And I admit that I love that phrase “Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife.” It is just the way I feel when I get to return to my island after having to face the hustle and bustle of a day spent in the big city. (The Thomas Hardy book which took this text for its title is wonderful, too.)

It is a brilliant transition not only in the idea but in the change of the tone of the language Gray uses, I think, to bring us from the clanging outside world back to the peaceful countryside.

And the next stanzas bring us back to the churchyard. In all the great clamor of Hampden, Milton, Cromwell, kings and princes, we may have momentarily forgotten that we are still sitting there in the lonely, country churchyard in the cool of a darkening evening.

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.


We are looking now not around the churchyard generally, not at the ivy-mantled tower, the rugged ems, but at the actual grave markers. We draw a contrast with the earlier language. No “long-drawn aisle and fretted vault,” no “pealing anthem [swelling] the note of praise” accompanies these rustics to their eternal rest, but frail memorials with uncouth rhymes. No great tomb in Winchester Abbey with carved plaques extolling their accomplishments, no odes to Lycidas; for these, the simplicity of name and years and a few texts from their beloved Bible must take the place of fame and elegy.

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?


And as the paths of glory lead but to the grave, death is death for the high and mighty just as much as for the simple rustic. The storied urn or animated bust can’t restore the great to life any more than the unlettered stone with its shapeless sculpture (note the parallelism he offers us here: storied urn vs. unlettered stone, animated bust vs. shapeless sculpture) can bring back our country laborer.

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.


As he brought us back to the quietness of the graveyard a few stanzas ago, he gives us a brief reprise of his theme of the middle of the poem: here under these mould'ring heaps of turf might lie this heart once pregnant with celestial fire (a Milton, a Donne) or hands that the rod of empire might have swayed (a Cromwell, an Elizabeth or Henry). And he adds a new element here, echoing back to the pealing anthem; there might have been a great musician here, a Mozart or Bach, who given the chance would have brought ecstasy to the musical world.

Are you noting the way he returns to his themes and points, so that the poem is more a spiral of thought than a straight, linear narrative? To me, this is one of the things that makes this poem so great.
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Re: Gray's Elegy Discussion continued : Gothic Gray

[ Edited ]
Gray's Elegy is a very good example of 18C 'graveyard poetry' of the kind quoted at funeral gatherings, either by the graveside or in church/chapel at memorial services.  Metaphors and abstract symbols were used freely and the listener was expected to understand the author's meaning (people then were very well versed in the classics) . Although such poems lauded the accomplishments of the deceased, a touch of sarcasm and criticism was often present too. They formed part of the gothic genre and Gray was one of a number of poets who tried their hand at this popular medium, William Cowper and Wilkie Collins being two others who are well known (Jane Austen was fond of Cowper).  Here is a short piece on the genre.
 
The last funeral I went to where such poetry was quoted in a Eulogy was, strangely enough, in the West Indies.  Is it still happening in the US?    
 
Here is a painting by John Constable of St Giles' Church and graveyard at Stoke Poges which reputedly inspired Gray and is where he is buried and commemorated

 





Message Edited by Choisya on 06-07-2008 01:20 PM
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Laurel
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Re: Gray's Elegy Discussion continued : Gothic Gray

The only funerals I have been to, as far as I can remember, have been Christian funerals, and they have all been rather joyful and upbeat--celebrations of life on Earth and in Heaven.

Choisya wrote:
Gray's Elegy is a very good example of 18C 'graveyard poetry' of the kind quoted at funeral gatherings, either by the graveside or in church/chapel at memorial services. Metaphors and abstract symbols were used freely and the listener was expected to understand the author's meaning (people then were very well versed in the classics) . Although such poems lauded the accomplishments of the deceased, a touch of sarcasm and criticism was often present too. They formed part of the gothic genre and Gray was one of a number of poets who tried their hand at this popular medium, William Cowper and Wilkie Collins being two others who are well known (Jane Austen was fond of Cowper). Here is a short piece on the genre.
The last funeral I went to where such poetry was quoted in a Eulogy was, strangely enough, in the West Indies. Is it still happening in the US?



Message Edited by Choisya on 06-07-2008 12:58 PM


"Truth must of necessity be stranger than fiction, for fiction is the creation of the human mind, and therefore is congenial to it." ~~G.K. Chesterton
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Re: Gray's Elegy Discussion continued : Gothic Gray

[ Edited ]
West Indian funerals are very Christian Laurel but they still give a Eulogy to the deceased and that usually 'celebrates' their life, achievements etc., with the assumption that they wll go to heaven (no matter how reprobate they were:smileyhappy:).  I believe the Irish also commonly give Eulogies, at least in Catholic Eire. 
 

Laurel wrote:
The only funerals I have been to, as far as I can remember, have been Christian funerals, and they have all been rather joyful and upbeat--celebrations of life on Earth and in Heaven.

Choisya wrote:
Gray's Elegy is a very good example of 18C 'graveyard poetry' of the kind quoted at funeral gatherings, either by the graveside or in church/chapel at memorial services. Metaphors and abstract symbols were used freely and the listener was expected to understand the author's meaning (people then were very well versed in the classics) . Although such poems lauded the accomplishments of the deceased, a touch of sarcasm and criticism was often present too. They formed part of the gothic genre and Gray was one of a number of poets who tried their hand at this popular medium, William Cowper and Wilkie Collins being two others who are well known (Jane Austen was fond of Cowper). Here is a short piece on the genre.
The last funeral I went to where such poetry was quoted in a Eulogy was, strangely enough, in the West Indies. Is it still happening in the US?








Message Edited by Choisya on 06-07-2008 01:32 PM
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Laurel
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Re: Gray's Elegy Discussion continued : Gothic Gray

[ Edited ]
oh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to imply anything about West Indians. I've been in the islands a couple of times and have been very much impressed by all the churches and the fact that they are filled with sincere worshipers.

In the past few years I've noticed in the US, or a at least in my little corner of it, a tendency toward very informal sort of "testimonies" by people who have known the deceased. Some break into a warm and friendly kind of humor. There are also little prepared eulogies, often by family members, and usually, but not always, read.

Funny thing, I've not been to many weddings in the past ten years, but funerals are coming apace.



Choisya wrote:
West Indian funerals are very Christian Laurel but they still give a Eulogy to the deceased and that usually 'celebrates' their life, achievements etc., with the assumption that they wll go to heaven (no matter how reprobate they were:smileyhappy:). I believe the Irish also commonly give Eulogies, at least in Catholic Eire.

Laurel wrote:
The only funerals I have been to, as far as I can remember, have been Christian funerals, and they have all been rather joyful and upbeat--celebrations of life on Earth and in Heaven.

Choisya wrote:
Gray's Elegy is a very good example of 18C 'graveyard poetry' of the kind quoted at funeral gatherings, either by the graveside or in church/chapel at memorial services. Metaphors and abstract symbols were used freely and the listener was expected to understand the author's meaning (people then were very well versed in the classics) . Although such poems lauded the accomplishments of the deceased, a touch of sarcasm and criticism was often present too. They formed part of the gothic genre and Gray was one of a number of poets who tried their hand at this popular medium, William Cowper and Wilkie Collins being two others who are well known (Jane Austen was fond of Cowper). Here is a short piece on the genre.
The last funeral I went to where such poetry was quoted in a Eulogy was, strangely enough, in the West Indies. Is it still happening in the US?








Message Edited by Choisya on 06-07-2008 01:32 PM



Message Edited by Laurel on 06-07-2008 11:45 AM
"Truth must of necessity be stranger than fiction, for fiction is the creation of the human mind, and therefore is congenial to it." ~~G.K. Chesterton
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Re: Gray's Elegy Discussion continued

Hi Everyman

Interesting observation about the structure of the Elegy, Everyman. I’ve been working at Gray’s meaning and the picture he paints of the scene, but I must admit I never noticed how he handles the mood, how the calm mood of the opening returns here at this point in the poem. This circular type of composition is much more reminiscent of a careful musical composition, isn’t it? Very controlled, organised and deliberate, not just a heaping of images one on top of the other until the composer, or poet in this case, decides he’s had enough and then stops. A real craftsman.

To carry on with your idea, one also notices how “th’ unletter’d muse” of these stanzas refers back to and contrasts with the idea of the earlier stanza starting “But Knowledge to their eyes …” Very enlightening. Many thanks.

It was interesting to see the other comments too. I must say Constable made the churchyard a lot more eery than the peaceful image that Gray’s description conjures up, to my mind anyway.

Regards,

Errol

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Choisya
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Re: Gray's Elegy Discussion continued

What has happened to this discussion?  It seemed to be going great guns and then abruptly ceased??:smileysurprised:
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Jansten75
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Re: Gray's Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard

Everyman, your descriptions of this poem are inspirational. I want to sit at a country church-yard and see the fade of day; drink in the quiet air. The opening stanzas came alive for me as I reflected on my experiences of quiet contemplation at the end of a day. The circular reference clicked  with me immediately. Have we not found ourselves decompressing from the day with similar flights of contemplation brought round to reality? 
It is coincidental that I just bought a book of Cowper's works (another source for insights into Jane Austen and the real reason for my interest) and questioned my resolve to chew through the poetry. Never a fan of poetry, I looked at this thread because I just read a section on the "romantics" in an English Literature History book. All the usual suspects were there who have received a cursory glance from me in the past. Your insights into this piece positively have me scrambling to find it in one of my books and read it with your notes as a guide. I hope to read and reflect on the poem and your thoughts this weekend. I think this will help me enjoy Cowper as one of "the Boneyard Boys".-Thank you, Choisya, for that link.
"For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?" Pride and Prejudice
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Choisya
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Re: Gray's Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard

 I think this will help me enjoy Cowper as one of "the Boneyard Boys".-Thank you, Choisya, for that link.
 
 
You may also enjoy these references to Cowper and Jane Austen with regard to the use of furniture, particularly the use of sofas in Persuasion and Cowper's Song of the Sofa.
 


Jansten75 wrote:
Everyman, your descriptions of this poem are inspirational. I want to sit at a country church-yard and see the fade of day; drink in the quiet air. The opening stanzas came alive for me as I reflected on my experiences of quiet contemplation at the end of a day. The circular reference clicked  with me immediately. Have we not found ourselves decompressing from the day with similar flights of contemplation brought round to reality? 
It is coincidental that I just bought a book of Cowper's works (another source for insights into Jane Austen and the real reason for my interest) and questioned my resolve to chew through the poetry. Never a fan of poetry, I looked at this thread because I just read a section on the "romantics" in an English Literature History book. All the usual suspects were there who have received a cursory glance from me in the past. Your insights into this piece positively have me scrambling to find it in one of my books and read it with your notes as a guide. I hope to read and reflect on the poem and your thoughts this weekend. I think this will help me enjoy Cowper as one of "the Boneyard Boys".-Thank you, Choisya, for that link.



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Re: Gray's Elegy Discussion continued

I must say Constable made the churchyard a lot more eery than the peaceful image that Gray’s description conjures up, to my mind anyway.
 
 
I, too, looked at the link to the painting by Constable and did not feel it connected with the spirit of the Elegy.
 
Poetry is difficult for me. Glimpses of meanings are found in this line or that, but my overall understanding is elusive. The explanation by Everyman has positively transpired this piece for me. I loved the way Everyman set the scene before starting the elegy,  reminding us of the context in which it was written.  The clarifications on the terms used and how their meanings related to the time opened up my understanding of several lines. The picture painted in my mind through the poetry and explanation was far greater than Constables.
 
I have mixed feelings about the lack of discussion for this piece. In general, I like to read the various views presented. Everyman's explanation was so complete that I wanted to concentrate on what he said and re-read the lines armed with this new understanding and not be distracted from other input. Can it be a fault to explain something so perfectly as to silence its audience?  I am not comfortable enough with this piece to debate any of the intents laid before me, but, I do not think I could anyway. I find myself in full agreement with what has been stated and, struggle as I might, find any comment I might make to be superfluous.
 
I must apologize to Everyman as I know this does not plead his case for discussion.  I hope he can be comforted in knowing that his presentation has had a profound effect on a listener.
"For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?" Pride and Prejudice
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Re: Gray's Elegy Discussion continued

I am humbled by your comments. Thank you.

Jansten75 wrote:
I must say Constable made the churchyard a lot more eery than the peaceful image that Gray’s description conjures up, to my mind anyway.
 
 
I, too, looked at the link to the painting by Constable and did not feel it connected with the spirit of the Elegy.
 
Poetry is difficult for me. Glimpses of meanings are found in this line or that, but my overall understanding is elusive. The explanation by Everyman has positively transpired this piece for me. I loved the way Everyman set the scene before starting the elegy,  reminding us of the context in which it was written.  The clarifications on the terms used and how their meanings related to the time opened up my understanding of several lines. The picture painted in my mind through the poetry and explanation was far greater than Constables.
 
I have mixed feelings about the lack of discussion for this piece. In general, I like to read the various views presented. Everyman's explanation was so complete that I wanted to concentrate on what he said and re-read the lines armed with this new understanding and not be distracted from other input. Can it be a fault to explain something so perfectly as to silence its audience?  I am not comfortable enough with this piece to debate any of the intents laid before me, but, I do not think I could anyway. I find myself in full agreement with what has been stated and, struggle as I might, find any comment I might make to be superfluous.
 
I must apologize to Everyman as I know this does not plead his case for discussion.  I hope he can be comforted in knowing that his presentation has had a profound effect on a listener.



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Jansten75
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Re: Gray's Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard

For the first time in my pleasure reading, I understand an excerpt from a poem cited. I am currentlly enjoying the writings of Barbara Pym. I just started my fourth book, "Some Tame Gazelle". There are many poetical references in Pym's works, one of which I just read this morning:
 
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.
 
It is gratifying to have recognized it immediately and to know the context of the entire poem.

The last line of this stanza is particularly provocative.  It evokes quiet, simple lives moving knowingly, resignedly? through their part of the lyrics in a given song of life.
 
It was surprising for me to learn that it took Gray about eight years to complete this Elegy.
 
I have been wondering, why are the poor attributed with such noble virtues?  Is this a middle-class attribution? Is it because the middle-classes feel steps away from such a fate and would like to be considered kindly if they find themselves in such a state? Do you think the wealthy are as benevolent in their thoughts of the poor?  Does fear provoke the wealthy to demean the poor?
 
Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife
 
Would this "madding crowd" not consist of all classes and reference a geographical characteristic found in people ?
Could there not be persons of "sober wishes" striving every day among the "madding crowd"?
Are we speaking more of character than class or mass?
 
Morning musings...
"For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?" Pride and Prejudice
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