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A Short Analysis of Thomas Gray’s ‘Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard’

A summary of a classic poem

There was a time when every schoolchild could quote lines from Thomas Gray’s poem ‘Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard’, since it was a popular poem to be taught, learnt by rote, and analysed in schools in Britain. Gray’s poem gave Thomas Hardy the phrase ‘far from the madding crowd’ for use as the title of his fourth published novel; the phrase ‘paths of glory’ was used as the title for Stanley Kubrick’s 1957 anti-war film; and the phrase ‘mute inglorious Milton’ has become well-known. But in recent decades its popularity has declined. Is it still worth reading, studying, and subjecting to close analysis? Yes, yes, and yes. First, here’s a reminder of the text of ‘Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard’, before we move on to explain 1) why it isn’t an elegy, 2) why Gray didn’t want it published, and 3) how an obscure poet who died young helped to sow the seeds of this great poem.

Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard

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 glimm’ring 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; Read the rest of this entry

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10 of the Best Poems about the Sun Everyone Should Read

The best sun poems

Previously, we’ve offered up some classic summer poems, but in this post we’re specifically interested in classic poems about the sun, that wonderful ball of hydrogen and helium that makes life on Earth possible and allows us to get a decent suntan for six days of the year. Each of the ten following poems describes or uses the sun in some way – sometimes to explore other themes, sometimes simply to praise the sun for its warmth and light.

Henry Howard, ‘Set Me Whereas the Sun Doth Parch the Green’. Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1517-47) invented the English sonnet form, adapting the Italian form and rhyme scheme to create the blueprint that Shakespeare, among many others, would later use. In this sonnet, Surrey adapts an Italian poem written by Petrarch, and essentially says, ‘Put me wherever you like, in the warmest sun, in youth or in old age, in earth, heaven, or hell, but I’ll still love you the same’. The poem earns its place on this list for its opening four lines, describing the sun’s ‘temperate heat’. Read the rest of this entry

A Short Analysis of T. S. Eliot’s ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’

A summary of a classic modernist poem

‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ has been called, by the critic Christopher Ricks, the best first poem in a first volume of poems: it opened Eliot’s debut collection, Prufrock and Other Observations, in 1917. ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ had been written by T. S. Eliot, though, back in 1910-11, and made its debut in print in June 1915, when it was published in Poetry magazine. Previously, one poetry bookseller had rejected the poem on the grounds that it was ‘absolutely insane’: Harold Monro, an influential publisher and owner of the Poetry Bookshop in London, was offered the chance to publish ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’. He flung it back, labelling it ‘insane’, as Peter Ackroyd records in his lucid and informative biography T.S.Eliot. This ground-breaking modernist poem has attracted many interpretations, involving everything from psychoanalysis to biographical readings, but it remains an elusive poem. Read the rest of this entry