Thomas Gray's elegy and the politics of memorialization
Studies in English Literature
Johns Hopkins University Press
653 - 672
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In this article, I argue that Thomas Gray's use of the elegy form in Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard (1751) reveals poetry's struggle to know or comprehend the historical present. Not knowing how to memorialize the poor who have been presumably lost to history, Gray's elegist imagines alternate lives for the dead, thus recasting fictional imagination as historical remembrance and illustrating a divide between literary thought and historical reality. The Elegy thus bears witness to a form of poetic power that relies on obscuring rather than illuminating modernity and its mechanisms.