Graveyard School of Poetry

The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms - Ross Murfin 2018

Graveyard School of Poetry

Graveyard School of Poetry: A group of eighteenth-century poets who, unlike their “rational” neoclassical contemporaries, emphasized (im)mortality, melancholy, mystery, and subjectivity. The Graveyard School, which arose in England in the first half of the century, spread to continental Europe, where it enjoyed an even greater vogue, in the second half of the century. Graveyard poets typically reflected on death and bereavement in their poems, many of which were actually set in graveyards and often incorporated ghosts, ruins, and the physical horrors of the grave, using graphic and gloomy imagery for spiritual ends. The Graveyard School influenced the development of Gothic literature and is often said to have laid the groundwork for English romanticism. Notable British Graveyard poets include Robert Blair, Thomas Gray, Thomas Parnell, and Edward Young.

EXAMPLES: Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” (1751) is the most famous Graveyard poem. Other examples include Parnell’s “A Night-Piece on Death” (1722), Young’s The complaint; or, Night-thoughts on life, death, & immortality (1742); and Blair’s The Grave (1743), in which the poet describes a tomb with “low-brow’d misty Vaults, / (Furr’d round with mouldy Damps, and ropy Slime),” and, in an apostrophe, personifies the “trusty Yew” that grows nearby:

Chearless, unsocial Plant! that loves to dwell

’Midst Skulls and Coffins, Epitaphs and Worms:

Where light-heel’d Ghosts, and visionary Shades,

Beneath the wan cold Moon (as Fame reports)

Embody’d thick, perform their mystick Rounds.

No other Merriment, Dull Tree! is thine.