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Just Listen Podcast: Elegy in a Country Churchyard

"Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard"  is a poem by Thomas Gray, completed in 1750 and first published in 1751. The poem's origins are unknown, but it was partly inspired by Gray's thoughts following the death of the poet Richard West in 1742. Originally titled "Stanzas Wrote in a Country Church-Yard," the poem was completed when Gray was living near St Giles' parish church at Stoke Poges.

On 3 June 1750, Gray moved to Stoke Poges, and on 12 June he completed "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard." Immediately, he included the poem in a letter he sent to Horace Walpole, that said:

I have been here at Stoke a few days (where I shall continue good part of the summer); and having put an end to a thing, whose beginnings you have seen long ago. I immediately send it you. You will, I hope, look upon it in light of a thing with an end to it; a merit that most of my writing have wanted, and are like to want, but which this epistle I am determined shall not want.

The letter reveals that Gray felt that the poem was unimportant, and that he did not expect it to become as popular or influential as it did. Gray dismisses its positives as merely being that he was able to complete the poem, which was probably influenced by his experience of the churchyard at Stoke Poges, where he attended the Sunday service and was able to visit the grave of his aunt, Mary Antrobus, whose death devastated his family.

His friend Horace Walpole popularised the poem among London literary circles. Gray was eventually forced to publish the work on 15 February 1751 in order to preempt a magazine publisher from printing an unlicensed copy of the poem.

The poem embodies a meditation on death, and remembrance after death. It argues that the remembrance can be good and bad, and the narrator finds comfort in pondering the lives of the obscure rustics buried in the churchyard.

“Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” by Thomas Grey…we begin…..