elegy

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.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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