Graveyard poets  

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The Birth of Venus (detail), a 1486 painting by Sandro Botticelli
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The Birth of Venus (detail), a 1486 painting by Sandro Botticelli
The "Graveyard Poets" were a number of pre-Romantic English poets of the 18th century characterised by their gloomy meditations on mortality, 'skulls and coffins, epitaphs and worms' (Blair: The Grave 23) in the context of the graveyard. To this was added, by later practitioners, a feeling for the 'sublime' and uncanny, and an interest in 'ancient' English poetic forms and folk poetry. They are often reckoned as precursors of the Gothic genre.

The Graveyard Poets include Thomas Parnell, Thomas Warton, Thomas Percy, Thomas Gray, James MacPherson, Robert Blair, William Collins, Mark Akenside, Joseph Warton, Henry Kirke White and Edward Young. James Thomson is also sometimes included as a graveyard poet.

The earliest poem attributed to the Graveyard school was Thomas Parnell's A Night-Piece on Death (1721) in which King Death himself gives an address from his kingdom of bones:

"When men my scythe and darts supply
How great a King of Fears am I!" (61-62)

Characteristic later poems include Edward Young's Night Thoughts (1742) in which a lonely traveller in a graveyard reflects lugubriously on:

The vale funereal, the sad cypress gloom;
The land of apparitions, empty shades! (117-18)

Blair's The Grave (1743) , proves to be no more cheerful as it relates with grim relish how:

Wild shrieks have issued from the hollow tombs;
Dead men have come again, and walked about;
And the great bell has tolled, unrung and untouched. (51-3)

However a more contemplative and mellow mood is achieved in the celebrated opening verse of Gray's Elegy in a Country Churchyard (1750) in which

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day.
The lowing herd winds slowly o'oer the lea,
The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me. (1-4)

The Graveyard Poets were notable and influential figures, who created a stir in the public mind, and marked a shift in mood and form in English poetry, in the second half of the 18th century, which eventually led to Romanticism.




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Graveyard poets" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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