Elegy In A Country Churchyard

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Elegy In A Country Churchyard

by G.K. Chesterton

The men that worked for England
They have their graves at home:
And birds and bees of England
About the cross can roam.

But they that fought for England,
Following a falling star,
Alas, alas for England
They have their graves afar.

And they that rule in England,
In stately conclave met,
Alas, alas for England
They have no graves as yet.


This poem is 12 lines, consisting of three 4 line stanzas. There is no consistent meter, however, the rhyme scheme is England/B/England/B, England/C/England/C, England/D/England/D

In twelve lines, Chesterton delivers a blistering rebuke of war and government.

We are presented with three groups of English:

  1. The group of dead English workers.
  2. The group of dead English soldiers.
  3. The group of living English rulers.

The workers have admirable graves, adorned with birds, bees, and their nearby homes. Nevertheless, they are dead.

By contract, the deceased English soldiers in the next stanza have comparatively tragic graves far from home.

The living rulers are described just as tragically as the dead soldiers (both described “alas, alas for England.”) The Speaker makes brutally plain that the tragedy of the rulers is that they have not yet died. The context of the three groupings tell us that the feeling of antipathy toward England’s ruling class is related to how things went for the workers and the soldiers.

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