"Churchyard Poets" or "Graveyard Poets" is a critical term applied in retrospect to a number of English poets of the 1740s to the 1790s who wrote in the vein of Thomas Gray's Elegy in a Country Churchyard (1750). These poets are also sometimes called "pre-Romantics." Despite the name, the term encompasses at least two major works written before Gray's Elegy: James Thomson's The Seasons (1726 - 1730) and Edward Young's Night Thoughts (1742 - 1745).
What the term refers to is a set of characteristics that may apply to all the poets in question. Each member of the "school" writes about melancholy, and each shows an interest in nature. Further, the poets show an interest in "ancient" English poetic forms and folk poetry. Thus, the Churchyard Poets include Thomas Warton, Thomas Percy, Thomas Gray, James MacPherson, Robert Blair, William Collins, Joseph Warton, and even Thomas Chatterton's forgeries.
Scholars have demonstrated that most of the characteristics of the Churchyard School are not unique to them, that the production of ballads and odes, for example, did not rise in their years. However, these were notable and influential figures who created a stir in the public and, at the very least, gave the impression of a shift in mood and form in English poetry in the second half of the 18th century.