elegy, in Greek and Roman poetry, a poem written in elegiac verse (i.e., couplets consisting of a hexameter line followed by a pentameter line). The form dates back to 7th cent. B.C. in Greece and poets such as Archilochus, Mimnermus, and Tytraeus. Later taken up and developed in Roman poetry, it was widely used by Catullus, Ovid, and other Latin poets. In English poetry, since the 16th cent., the term elegy designates a reflective poem of lamentation or regret, with no set metrical form, generally of melancholy tone, often on death. The elegy can mourn one person, such as Walt Whitman's "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd" on the death of Abraham Lincoln, or it can mourn humanity in general, as in Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard." In the pastoral elegy, modeled on the Greek poets Theocritus and Bion, the subject and friends are depicted as nymphs and shepherds inhabiting a pastoral world in classical times. Famous pastoral elegies are Milton's "Lycidas," on Edward King; Shelley's "Adonais," on John Keats; and Matthew Arnold's "Thyrsis," on Arthur Hugh Clough.

Meditative lyric poem. The classical elegy was any poem written in elegiac metre (alternating lines of dactylic hexameter and pentameter). Today the term may refer to this metre rather than to content, but in English literature since the 16th century it has meant a lament in any metre. A distinct variety with a formal pattern is the pastoral elegy, such as John Milton's “Lycidas” (1638). Poets of the 18th-century Graveyard School reflected on death and immortality in elegies, most famously Thomas Gray's “An Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard” (1751).

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The term "elegy" was originally used for a type of poetic meter (Elegiac metre), but is also used for a poem of mourning, from the Greek elegos, a reflection on the death of someone or on a sorrow generally - which is a form of lyric poetry. An elegy can also reflect on something which seems strange or mysterious to the author. In addition, an elegy (sometimes spelled elegíe) may be a type of musical work, usually in a sad and somber attitude. It is not to be confused with a eulogy.

Literary elegies

Musical elegies

elegy for simon corl, botanist

Elegy in Painting

Elegy in Films

Further reading

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