‘Master Tommy Lucretius’: Thomas Gray’s Posthumous Life Writing and Conversing with the Dead in his Poetry to Richard West
Keywords:Thomas Gray, Richard West, Lucretius, grief, memorial
This article considers Thomas Gray’s use of Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura in his prolific period of writing following Richard West’s death. Gray claims himself as ‘Master Tommy Lucretius’ in reference to his Latin philosophical poem, De Principiis Cogitandi; this self-presentation as a Lucretian poet continues through his English poetry concerning West’s death. Gray’s reference to conversing with the dead in a letter to West suggests that Gray’s poetry concerning West can be considered a form of posthumous life writing in two specific senses: one as a continued memorializing West’s life by Gray, and the other as a concurrent chronicling of Gray’s grief. They reach their culmination when Gray puts his questioning of poetry as a form of memorial into action when using Lucretius’ biography, and its associations with suicide, as a model of the suicidal poetic narrator in his Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. The Elegy marks an end to Gray’s use of Lucretius and De Rerum Natura to question the living’s responsibility for continuing a posthumous memorial of the dead after West’s death.
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