What is Elegy?

An elegy is an expression of grief. It is a song of mourning. It was originally the form of poetry on the subject of sadness, especially 'complaints about love'. But now the word normally refers to the poems written on the subject of death of someone or great loss of any kind.

Elegies are of two kinds: Personal Elegy and Impersonal Elegy. In a personal elegy the poet laments the death of some close friend or relative, and in impersonal elegy in which the poet grieves over human destiny or over some aspect of contemporary life and literature. In this way we get his philosophy of life and death. “Rugby Chapel”, for example, is a personal elegy in which the poet mourns the death of his father. It shows Arnold’s elegiac genius at its best.

Elegy refers to reflective poems that lament the loss or death of someone or something. In Greek and Roman times Elegy referred to any poem composed in elegiac meter. Elegiac meter is constructed in alternating dactylic hexameter and pentameter lines. During Elizabethan times Elegy referred to love poems. Thomas Gray’s “Elegy in a Country Churchyard” is a famous English elegy where Gray expresses the sorrowful feelings which arise in his mind on seeing the grave of the poor country people buried near the church.

Since the seventeenth century, the elegy has typically been used to refer to reflective poems that lament the loss of something or someone, although in Elizabethan times it was also used to refer to certain love poems. Elegies written in English frequently take the form of the pastoral elegy. But now the word elegy normally refers to the poems written on the subject of death of someone or great loss of any kind. Modern elegies like “Break, Break, Break” by Alfred Lord Tennyson, do not follow the many and strict conventions of the classical pastoral elegies, but they contain the elements of beginning with mourning and ending with state or implied consolation. In Tennyson’s present elegy, the speaker seems to be consoled by the idea of having his grief lightened by expressing it.

Published on 23 Jan. 2014 by Kedar Nath Sharma

Related Topics

Thomas Gray: Biography

Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard: Analysis

Alfred Lord Tennyson: Biography

Break Break Break: Analysis