Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard
 Thomas Gray

[ stanzas 11 - 15 reprinted from The Norton Anthology of Poetry. Shorter 
Fourth Edition. London: W. W. Norton & Company, 1997. ]

The Elegy's context in The Sound and the Fury

Nor you, ye proud, impute to these the fault,
   If Memory o'er their tomb no trophies raise,
Where through the long-drawn aisle and fretted vault
   The pealing anthem swells the note of praise.

Can storied urn or animated bust
   Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath?
Can Honor's voice provoke the silent dust,
   Or Flattery soothe the dull cold ear of Death?

Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid
   Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire;
Hands that the rod of empire might have swayed ,
   Or waked to ecstasy the living lyre.

But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page
   Rich with the spoils of time did ne'er unroll;
Chill Penury repressed their noble rage,
   And froze the genial current of the soul.

Full many a gem of purest ray serene,
   The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
   And waste its sweetness on the desert air.







1. Context of Gray's Elegy in The Sound and the Fury: Jason Compson receives a letter from his Uncle Maury, who wants Jason, as the power of attorney for Mrs. Compson's estate, to send him money as an "investment" in a questionable scheme. Maury conducts his finances as aggressively and carelessly as Jason does. They both expect to get rich quickly without hard work and without seriously researching their investments. Maury's letter compares his hopeful "bonanza" to the buried tomb, "full many a gem of purest ray serene," of Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard." In Gray's Elegy, the tomb contains the decorated urns and busts of a once great family, a dynasty now forgotten despite the archealogical ornaments of their honor and vanity. The family, rich in life, is made poor because there is no one to find or appreciate its riches. Gray speculates that the tomb could have contained a "heart once pregnant with celestial fire," just as the Compson family once had the loving Caddy before she left them. 
     Neither Maury nor Jason realize the context of the line Maury quotes. The reference to the Elegy is ironic, since the riches mentioned are lost, not likely to be found, and their burial is the archealogical fact of the family's mortal and perhaps failed hopes of being a dynasty. Gray's Elegy is not unconditionally naive and optimistic like Maury's letter. [Context contributed by Joel Deshaye, 2000.]