Elegy and its Types

Poems have a diverse world around them. They differ in style, subject, a form of writing, meter, rhyme as well as other such features. And this difference has been seen through several ages and can be seen till date.

An elegy is a form of a poem written about the death of a person. But there are various variations in this poetic form itself. Literature students might sometimes need help with their research paper writings while they are working on this topic.

In the earlier Greek and Roman era, elegy referred to any poem written in the alternating hexameter and pentameter lines, which was known as the elegiac meter. Simultaneously the term was also used to address a loss, particularly in the case of love or it also referred to a subject matter of change. 

Both these things were represented in elegiac verse form. As the definitions of elegy have changed with time, even now certain poems in Old English, on the transience of all worldly things, like The Wanderer and The Seafarer and other such poems are even now known as elegies.

As the Renaissance hit Europe and especially England, this word continued to have a variable application. During this era John Donne came up with his elegies, although they related less to the exact sense of the elegy, they usually talked about the loss and mutability.

The definition as we see today was formed in the 17th century, a poem written on the loss or death of a person. Such poems were a formal and sustained lament that usually ended in consolation. The examples of such poems from the Medieval era are:

  • Book of Duchess and Pearl by Geoffrey Chaucer, both written in the mode of dream allegory. 
  • In Memoriam by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
  • On the death of Arthur Hallam
  • In Memory of W. B. Yeats by W. H. Auden

Sometimes the term is used in the broader sense, for somber meditations on mortality such as Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard by Thomas Gray as well as German poet Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies. Both these poems were written on the transient nature of the poets as well as of the objects they write poems on. 

Another type of elegy is a dirge, yet both differ in the fact that dirge is short, less formal, and usually represented in the form of a song whereas elegy is a long one and written in a more formal manner. Examples of dirge can be Full Fathom Five Thy Father Lies by William Shakespeare and William Collins’ A Song from Shakespeare’s Cymbeline. 

An equivalent for dirge used now is threnody. On the other hand, monody is an equivalent for an elegy or dirge but is presented as an utterance of a single person. Mathew Arnold called his elegy on A. H. Clough as Thyrsis: A monody.

Another prominent type of elegy is a pastoral elegy, which represents both the poet and the subject of the poem, that is, the object that he mourns for. This object is usually a poet as well as shepherds who are known as pastors in Latin. 

This type of elegy was originated by the Sicilian Greek poet Theocritus and later continued by the Roman poet Virgil and later developed in various European countries during the Renaissance and continued till the nineteenth century. Some of the prominent pastoral elegies are:

  • Astrophel by Edmund Spenser, which he wrote on the death of Sir Philip Sidney
  • Lycidas by John Milton
  • Adonais by P. B. Shelley
  • Thyrsis by Mathew Arnold

In addition to the representation of both the mourner and subject which are the shepherds tending their flocks, the pastoral elegy also has the following features, which are important to be remembered if one needs to understand these elegies and work upon their tasks regarding the poems without any assignment help:

  • The speaker of the poem begins by invocation of the muse and later on the alludes and makes references to other classical figures from mythology.
  • While describing the subject and mourning the shepherd’s death, the entire nature mourns with the speaker. One can easily see this feature in Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in the Country Churchyard. Critics as well as certain research paper writings on the topic of elegy have stressed that this feature developed from the primitive laments of the death of Thammuz, Adonis, and other such vegetational deities who died in the autumn season only to be reborn in the spring season. 
  • The speaker in the poem or specifically the mourner, charges with negligence, the nymphs or other guardians of the dead shepherd.
  • Then we see a procession of the appropriate mourners. 
  • After stating all this, the speaker questions the justice done by fate and adverts the corrupt conditions of his time. These passages are known as digressions and are integral to the evolution of the mourner’s thought in Lycidas
  • After the era of the Renaissance, small passages were included in these elegies in which flowers are brought to deck the hearse. 
  • In the end, we have the closing consolation. There is a different ending in the Christian elegies that end on a note of joy and assurance as opposed to grief and despair because the speaker realizes that the death in this world results in an entry into the other world which ultimately elevates a person. 

Samuel Johnson, in his Life of Milton, disapproves both of mythology in modern poetry as well as pastoralism. On the other hand, in the elegies by John Milton as well as other major poets, a framework is provided wherein one can play on the originality and power. 

When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d is an elegy on Lincoln, written by Walt Whitman, and in it still survives the industrial and non-Christian worldviews. 

In the last two decades of the twentieth century, America saw the revival of these elegies, to reflect the devastation brought by AIDS among talented young individuals. 

These were a few basic points on elegies which the students can refer to for assignment help on the topic.

John David
John David is a digital marketing professional and blogger with a strong passion for writing.