Eric Parisot
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The Gothic churchyard in graveyard poetry
Cultural remains and literary beginnings
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Eighteenth-century graveyard poetry was a devotional mode of poetry focused on Christian death, salvation and the afterlife, one that invested heavily in Gothic affect as a spur to piety. As a crucial tributary to later Gothic and Romantic traditions, it helped to establish the graveyard and related sites of burial and ruin as mournful locales imbued with melancholic fear. This chapter isolates the churchyard as a particular proto-Gothic poetic locale in graveyard poetry, restoring the historical, lexical and religious peculiarity of the churchyard as consecrated ground. Comparative readings of the poetry of Thomas Parnell, Thomas Gray, Edward Young and Robert Blair, and the funereal prose of James Hervey, focus on how the interrelation of nature, the church and the buried dead was carefully managed to produce a spectrum of emotions ranging from pensive melancholy to religious awe, existential and eschatological anxiety, and deathly horror. In doing so, this chapter reveals the premodern churchyard as a composite memento mori, a place with deep communal roots, a site of transformation within the Christian cosmos, as a point of origins as well as endings. The imagined churchyards of graveyard poetry, then, are apt literary emblems of a fading mortuary culture and a harbinger of the Gothic’s expansive and transformative engagement with the dead.

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