“The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the leas,
The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.”
Thomas Gray, “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”
Somber and moving, this curious antiquity is frankly a chore to read. Gray’s lyricism, though – his carefully constructed metaphors and imagery (“incense-breathing morn” or “yonder nodding beech”) – make this poet the perfect introduction to the overwrought verse of the high Romantics. The meaning seems daunting until you stop to listen and read and then it is surprising in its self-evidence. I think that is why Gray’s “Elegy” remains high on the list of must-read poetry.