Week after week, I am reminded and assured of my love for Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. Thomas Gray’s Elegy is considered an incredibly popular poem of British origin and of the genre of graveyard poetry. With focusing on reprint and reproduction, it was obvious to me that the reprint of this text would be immense. It was not until I researched; looked into the Thomas Gray Archive at Oxford University that I really started to understand the transcendent effect this poem has on literature. This eternal nature goes further than reprints in anthologies and enters into new mediums. Not only did I find record of Elegy in French, Greek, Italian and Latin, this poem is found in mp3 versions. Yet, this makes sense – the elegiac style of this poem fits to the oral medium, allowing easier access for those audience members ‘allergic’ to reading the written word.
I was, however, intrigued by the extensive reproduction of the poem in the form of parodies – for example, Henry Headley’s Author leaving College, which imitates Gray’s Elegy with focus on the topic of a student leaving Oxford University. Whilst perhaps not as sullen as the topic of death and socio-economic restraints, the topic delves into a pressured social structure. Another burlesque of Gray’s Elegy similarly focuses on education, which leads me to ponder on the transcendent nature of the poem (within the literate and wealthy members of the Oxbridge community). In an advertisement for the parody, the anonymous poet (later named John Duncombe) is praised in his respect towards the original poem of Gray – “which a sincere admiration of its beauties invited the Parodist to attempt: and if it should be thought there is any merit in this Imitation, it must be attributed in a great measure to his working after so fine an Original”. This speaks to me and my own opinion of reprinting and distaste for piracy – imitation and attention to the original is the way.
Reprinting and reproduction is discussed in ‘Fugitive Verses’ and I feel that this insightful discussion neatly supports my thoughts on Gray’s Elegy in a Country Churchyard. ‘Fugitive verses’ is described as
“a genre that gestured toward the stability of literary conventions while refracting those conventions through the exchange, selection, and seriality that defined newspaper networks.”
Whilst the mp3 versions and parodies of Elegy similarly ensue the strong foundations of poetry and individual response, it simultaneously questions these strong foundations – what if this was not the original desired medium? I’m certain that Thomas Gray did not imagine Elegy, although in oral, in as far as mp3 form. So I am forced to question if reproduction of poetry, and other works, is really as much of a problem as some may think. If it does nothing else, it highlights the possibilities of literature – which surely should be praised.
Headley, Henry., “A Parody on Gray’s Elegy, written in a Country Church-yard, the Author leaving College”
Cordell, Ryan., Mullen, Abby, “Fugitive Verses”: The Circulation of Poems in Nineteenth-Century American Newspapers. Published in April 2016.