Thomas Gray was born in London and educated at Eton, where he became friend to Richard West and Horace Walpole, one of the promoters of Gothic taste and the founder of the Gothic novel. After 4 years at Cambridge, he left without degree to do the Grand Tour of France and Italy with Walpole. He spent most of the rest of his life at Cambridge, after returning. He wrote little, for he worked slowly and carefully, seeking perfection of form.
Elegy written in a Country Churchyard is regarded as the most famous and significant of Gray’s slender poetic output. This masterful poem took Gray 9 years to complete and secured the author’s place in literary history because it came to be seen as a turning point between classical tradition, with its accent on learning and style, and the Romantic spirit, with its tendency to emotional introspection and its sympathy for the simple life or humble people
The Elegy is mostly in the classical tradition for its perfection of style, dignity and solemn tone; however, the melancholy quality of the opening and closing lines, its Gothic setting with its contemplation of death, and the way in which the poet becomes the central figure of his own poem, anticipate the poetry of the Romantics.
This poem is an example of classical poetry and also introduces new elements, which will be features of Romantic poetry. In fact, there are classical elements, as the personification, the pastoral device and the moral teaching, but at the same time we have the melancholy mood, the choice of champions of political freedom, Gothic elements and emphasis on simple and poor people, certainly innovative elements.