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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.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a literary and musical genre. In poetry, an elegy is a poem of medium length, meditative or emotional (usually sorrowful) in content. It is most often written in the first person but is not governed by any specific rules of composition.

The elegy originated in Greece in the seventh century B.C.; the first examples, by Callinus, Mimnermus, Tyrteus, and Theognis, were mainly moral and political in content. In Hellenistic and Roman poetry, notably in the works of Tibullus, Propertius, and Ovid, the love theme came to predominate. The form of the classical elegy was the elegiac distich. In imitation of classical models, elegies were written in the Latin poetry of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

During the 16th and 17th centuries, the elegy was introduced into the new vernacular poetry by P. de Ronsard in France, E. Spenser in England, M. Opitz in Germany, and J. Kochanow-ski in Poland. However, it was long considered a minor genre. The elegy flourished during the preromantic and romantic periods, with the melancholy elegies of T. Gray, E. Jung, C. Millevoye, A. Chenier, and A. de Lamartine; the love elegies of E. Parny; and the classical elegy which was reestablished in Goethe’s Roman Elegies. Later the elegy gradually lost its distinction as a genre, and the term has been passing out of use, remaining only as a tribute to poetic tradition, for example, R. M. Rilke’s Duino Elegies and B. Brecht’s Buckow Elegies.

In Russian poetry, the elegy appeared in the 18th century. Introduced by V. K. Trediakovskii and A. P. Sumarokov, the genre reached its highest level of development in the works of V. A. Zhukovskii, K. N. Batiushkov, A. S. Pushkin (“The Light of Day Has Dimmed,” “The Clouds Are Thinning,” “The Faded Merriment of Our Youthful Madness”), E. A. Baratynskii, and N. M. lazykov. Beginning in the second half of the 19th century, poets used the word “elegy” only as the title of cycles, for example, A. A. Fet, and of individual poems, for example, A. Akhmatova and D. Samoilov.

In music, the elegy is the embodiment of the elegiac poem, for example, Borodin’s art song “For the Shores of Thy Fair Native Land” and Massenet’s Elegy for Voice, Piano, and Cello. Purely instrumental works have also been based on such compositions, for example, Tchaikovsky’s elegy from the Serenade for String Orchestra and Rachmaninoff s and Liszt’s elegies for piano.


Frizman, L. G. Zhizn’ liricheskogo zhanra: Russkaia elegiia ot Sumarokova do Nekrasova. Moscow, 1973.

M. L. GASPAROV (the elegy in literature)

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. a mournful or plaintive poem or song, esp a lament for the dead
2. poetry or a poem written in elegiac couplets or stanzas
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
Shah's elegies are popular in religious gatherings organised in Kotla Reham Ali Shah, Phullan Shareef, Bilay Wala, Meer Hazan Khan, Shehar Sultan and Muzaffargarh city; young boys from Kotla Reham Ali Shah come to him to as students so that they can learn from him.
He declared the poetry of Mir Anis a miracle of literary aesthetics, as his elegies are the powerful expressions of human values and moral principles.
(35) No Old English word denoting "elegy" has survived, although we find the term "giedd," which has a wider range of meaning, sometimes used to describe elegies. (36) However, most scholars agree that a core group of poems in the Exeter Book, as well as sections of other Old English poems, share certain thematic, structural, and formulaic qualities that fit under Greenfield's rubric.
If anything it's a celebration of life - love poems, song lyrics, children's poems - but the final section is the work I'm doing now, the elegies.
Stapleton's analysis of the relationship between the Elegies and Marlowe's other works includes detailed exploration of intertextual instances of verbal correspondences and allusions.
(17) See also Guglielmo Gorni, "Atto di nascita d'un genere letterario: l'autografo dell'elegia 'Mirtini', and Comboni, "Le elegie di Giovanni Filoteo Achillini", in Li'elegia nella tradizione poetica italiana, 147-175.
Indebtedness to the Elegies is seen in things such as Marlowe's dark sense of humor and his ironically distancing himself from his characters and undermining them.
A memoir of chaos, punk rock, and drugs, Punk Elegies by Allan MacDonell delivers an experience without a message.
Not all will want to enter this world, even through it's an evocative and different kind of coming-of-age story; but those who do will find Punk Elegies a compelling saga replete with heart-wrenching moments and rampaging hormones.
In moving toward a heteroglossic elegy she refuses the narrative of heroic victory and succession that marks so many traditional elegies, not to mention public accounts of the First World War.
The study borrows a key term--daughteronomy, meaning filial duty for daughters--from American feminist Sandra Gilbert's essay "Life's Empty Pack." The book explores paternal elegies written in the last half of the 20th century by eight Canadian women poets: Dorothy Livesay, P.K.
She demonstrates that contemporary Canadian female elegists refuse to say within the masculine tradition of mourning and instead produce elegies that assert a variety of feminist positions both within and beyond the male elegiac tradition.