In English literature, an elegy is a poem of serious reflection, usually a lament for the dead. However, "for all of its pervasiveness ... the ‘elegy’ remains remarkably ill defined: sometimes used as a catch-all to denominate texts of a somber or pessimistic tone, sometimes as a marker for textual monumentalizing, and sometimes strictly as a sign of a lament for the dead".
term ''elegeia'' ( grc-gre|ἐλεγεία; from , ''elegos'', "lament") originally referred to any verse written in elegiac couplet
s and covering a wide range of subject matter (death, love, war). The term also included epitaph
s, sad and mournful songs, and commemorative verses.
elegy of ancient Roman literature
was most often erotic or mythological in nature. Because of its structural potential for rhetorical effects, the elegiac couplet was also used by both Greek and Roman poets for witty, humorous, and satiric subject matter.
Other than epitaphs, examples of ancient elegy as a poem of mourning include Catullus
' ''Carmen'' 101
, on his dead brother, and elegies by Propertius
on his dead mistress Cynthia and a matriarch of the prominent Cornelian family
wrote elegies bemoaning his exile, which he likened to a death.
In English literature, the more modern and restricted meaning, of a lament for a departed beloved or tragic event, has been current only since the sixteenth century; the broader concept was still employed by John Donne
for his elegies, written in the early seventeenth century. This looser concept is especially evident in the Old English Exeter Book
(circa 1000 CE) which contains "serious meditative" and well-known poems such as "The Wanderer
", "The Seafarer
", and "The Wife's Lament
". In these elegies, the narrators use the lyrical "I" to describe their own personal and mournful experiences. They tell the story of the individual rather than the collective lore of his or her people as epic poetry
seeks to tell. For Samuel Taylor Coleridge
and others, the term had come to mean "serious meditative poem":
A famous example of elegy is Thomas Gray
's ''Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard
'' (1750). In French, perhaps the most famous elegy is ''Le Lac''
(1820) by Alphonse de Lamartine
And in Germany, the most famous example is ''Duino Elegies
'' by Rainer Maria Rilke
"Elegy" (French: ''élégie'') may denote a type of musical work, usually of a sad or somber nature. A well-known example is the Élégie, Op. 10, by Jules Massenet
. This was originally written for piano, as a student work; then he set it as a song; and finally it appeared as the "Invocation", for cello and orchestra, a section of his incidental music
to Leconte de Lisle
's ''Les Érinnyes''. Other examples include the Elegy Op. 58 of Edward Elgar
and the ''Elegy for Strings'' of Benjamin Britten
. Though not specifically designated an elegy, Samuel Barber
's ''Adagio for Strings
'' has an elegiac character.
Explained at Literary Devices
Category:Genres of poetry