What is this? In a simple sense it's a text about a dead person, or,
in this case, persons. Before we look at this particular elegy I want
us to think about memorial writing in general. It's clearly quite an
important part of a social organisation-the way we control and manage
death. And it's also an insight into the way we think about
individuals in a wide variety of social contexts:
* Grand memorial elegies
* Small personal ones we place in newspapers, little poems
* Letters of consolation in which the writer sets down memories of
the dead person
* Epitaphs on headstones and plaques
We can recognise in all of these there is no direct contact between
the writing and the dead person. We can see this in three ways:
1. Our awareness that this is a special kind of writing that cannot
exist without the absence of the death person
2. Our acceptance of the intertextual nature of this writing: that
there is a way of doing it which takes its meaning from other
similar kinds of writing. An official obituary is very formal and
stylised. The more unofficial kink in the newspaper columns is
also extremely generic.
3. Our sense that the death of a person distances us from them and
allows us to make sense of them as a person
But what if we thought about this from another angle. Suppose we
consider the possibility that memorial writing is not really a special
kind of writing but in fact the norm? That all writing is memorial
writing that assumes the death (or absence) of its referents? That
even when people are alive this is so confusing that we secret...
... middle of paper ...
...writer and the pictures of an amateur
31: Unletter'd muse: Muse is an allusion to nine goddesses in Greek
mythology. They inspired people to write, sing and dance. Muse is used
here metaphorically to refer to a writer inspired to record his
thoughts about the people buried in the cemetery. However, the
adjective unletter'd indicates that he is an uneducated writer,
perhaps a humble member of the community like those buried in the
32. Thee: Gray himself.
33. Some kindred . . .fate: Gray is wondering what people would say
about him if he died.
34. Haply . . . lawn: Here Gray begins to speculate about how people
would assess him after he dies.
35. Listless length: His body
36: Pore upon: Gaze upon; look upon.
37. The Epitaph: Here Gray writes his own epitaph (inscription on a
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