Phonology and Stylistics: A Phonaesthetic Study of Gray’s ‘Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard’

Bassey Garvey Ufot


This paper is a stylistic study of the phonological features of Thomas Gray’s ‘Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard’ (Elegy) such as phonaesthesia and prosody. Gray’s ‘Elegy’ – specifically its first line – has famously been cited in conventional criticism as an example of the metre known as iambic pentameter. But beyond that and perhaps because of the sheer size of the poem, which consists of 32 quatrains, very little in-depth work has been done particularly on its phonaesthetic structure which makes it such an outstanding and memorable poem. This research therefore undertakes a detailed investigation of all the phonaesthetic devices which identify the poem as a happy and celebratory elegy. Employing metrical phonological theories from Stallworthy, Wales, Katamba, Leech, Roach and Boulton, the study appraises all the suprasegmental features of poetry such as syllabification, metre, rhyme, elision, onomatopoeia, alliteration, assonance and consonance, and exemplifies the ways in which these devices support the meaning of the poem. The paper concludes that, based on a preponderance of these ‘happy’ phonological devices which lend great support to its sense, Gray’s ‘Elegy’ is indeed not a poem of mourning as such, but a posthumous ‘musical’ contemplation of the virtues of simplicity and hardwork.

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English Linguistics Research
ISSN 1927-6028 (Print)   ISSN 1927-6036 (Online)


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