The UVic Writer's Guide


The term elegy was usually used in classical times for love poetry written with a specific meter, and in the Renaissance it kept this sense with some variation. However, since the seventeenth century elegy has come to mean a formal poem of lament and consolation concerning a particular person's death, or reflection on death in general (as in Gray's "Elegy in a Country Churchyard" [1751]). Milton's "Lycidas" (1638) is an example of the pastoral elegy, in which the speaker and the person mourned are shepherds. A less formal and lengthy form of elegy is the dirge, which is usually sung. The following lines are from Tennyson's elegy, "In Memoriam" (1850):

Let Love clasp Grief lest both be drowned,
Let darkness keep her raven gloss.
Ah, sweeter to be drunk with loss,
To dance with Death, to beat the ground,
Than that the victor Hours should scorn
The long result of love, and boast,
Behold the man that loved and lost,
But all he was is overworn.

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Copyright, The Department of English, University of Victoria, 1995
This page updated April 11, 1995