What is an Elegy ?

An elegy is a poem of mourning written for a specific loved one, a famous figure or an event that has triggered a feeling of loss. Elegies are written in a poetic  form that uses a set rhyme and rhythm to convey grief. The elements of a traditional elegy mirror three stages of loss. First, there is a lament, where the speaker expresses grief and sorrow, then praise and admiration of the idealized dead, and finally consolation and solace.

The term Elegy covered war song, love poems, political verses, and lamentations for the dead in ancient Greece. In fact Elegy covered a wide range of subjects, both grave and gay (joyful). The form or structure was more important than the subject matter. It was written in the Elegiac measure. An Elegiac measure is a couplet composed of a dactylic hexameter followed by dactylic pentameter. 

During the 18th and early 19th century, funerals were done quite differently than they are today. For example, in many areas of England, the interment of the body called for respectful silence  rather than having a minister or other esteemed person speak over the deceased. In order to provide an opportunity for the family and friends of the dead person to express their sorrow and grief in such a way that everyone could appreciate it, the custom began of writing elegies on small pieces of paper and pinning them to the pall (the velvet cloth that covered the coffin) before it was carried through the streets to the graveyard.

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After the funeral, the elegies were sometimes collected from the pall and combined into sheets that were printed and then sent as gifts to those who may not have been able to attend.

In modern times a subject matter of Elegy became important than the structure. The theme of an elegy must be mournful or sadly reflective. It is a lamentation for the dead, unsuccessful love, the fall of a famous or a tribute to something loved and lost. The English Elegy does not use the ancient Elegiac measure. 

Examples of an Elegy


The best example of a formal elegy is Gray’s ‘Elegy written in a Country Churchyard’ and Oliver Goldsmith ‘The Deserted Village’.

Features of an Elegy

1) It is a poem of lament, mourning the death of a person, or the end of an era or way of life.
2) The poet has the freedom to write in any form that he chooses.
3) The tone adopted by the poet is dignified and solemn.
4) The Elegy is suitable for serious reflections on heavy topics such as life and death. Some poets use this form to express their digress on other subjects. In ‘Lycidas’ Milton has talked about the degradation of poetry and religion.  
5) Although the Elegy is a poem of grief, it changes by the end to resignation, peace or even joy, as the poet comes to terms with his loss.

Difference between eulogy and elegy


A eulogy is a speech that is given for a deceased person while an elegy is a poem of mourning written for a specific loved one, a famous figure or an event that has triggered a feeling of loss. While eulogies are written in paragraph form, elegies are written in a poetic  form that uses a set rhyme and rhythm to convey grief.

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How to Write an Elegy?


First, there are a few things that you should know.
1. An elegy is a poem that usually rhymes. The rhyming will help you with the rhythm of your elegy.
2. It is usually written in rhyming couplets – that means that every two lines will rhyme with each other.
3. Each stanza is made up of four lines. Two sets of rhyming couplets per verse.
4. It may have just one or even a few verses, but generally elegies are short.
If you find that rhyming is just too difficult for what you’d like to say, take heart! Many modern elegies use Free Verse, or non-rhyming poetry, to express their sorrow adequately.

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