How To Write An Elegy? Example Of Elegy In Poems

What is Elegy?

An elegy is a poetic genre of lament or mourning typically about someone’s death. Elegies are reflective in nature. They mourn the loss while at the same time praise virtues and achievements of the deceased. They help grief-stricken poets achieve closure, find comfort after loss and memorialize the deceased.

Elegies embrace a melancholic and reflective tone to convey the profound sense of absence and wistfulness around something or someone transformed from a living presence to a memory. Whether lamenting a friend, lover, artistic talent or some abstraction like youth, elegies use poetry’s lyrical power to give moving voice to heartache and the timeless ritual of grieving what death takes away too soon. Through their mournful words, elegiac poets provide compassion and community, which validates the hard truths of mortality and loss while keeping some spark of the deceased alive in verse.

how to write an elegy?

Following are the tips to write an elegy: –

  1. Establish a meditative, melancholic tone right from the start to indicate to readers that this is a reflective lament. You can describe feelings of loss, emptiness, or nostalgia for the deceased.
  2. Provide some background details about the person who has died – who they were, what made them special, key memories you have of them. Share specifics to make it personal.
  3. Move from grief to consolation, remembering the good times. Highlight meaningful moments and the person’s positive traits. Celebrate what they brought to the world.
  4. Use emotive descriptions and imagery to evoke the pain of absence left by this death. Metaphors can capture feelings that are hard to articulate.
  5. End by expressing your love, paying tribute, wishing them peace, or transitioning to how you will commemorate their legacy. Affirm bonds that endure despite loss.

Examples of Elegy in Poems

Example#1

“Elegiac Stanzas” by William Wordsworth

The poet mourns the death of his brother John, who passed away while traveling in the sea. Wordsworth expresses his deep sorrow and sense of loss through poignant imagery and personal reflection.

“But oft, in lonely rooms, and ‘mid the din
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;”

These lines come from William Wordsworth’s “Elegiac Stanzas,” an elegy written to mourn the death of his brother John. In this passage, Wordsworth reflects on the enduring comfort his brother’s memory provides, even amidst the loneliness of “rooms” and the chaos of “towns and cities.”

The language conveys the sweet, almost physical sensation of solace the memory can elicit. The poet owes these “sensations sweet” to thoughts of his deceased brother. The repetition of “felt” emphasizes the visceral, emotional impact – the memories are felt “in the blood” and “along the heart.” This intimate, bodily imagery reveals how deeply the loss moves and affects the speaker.

By articulating how his late brother’s memory can temporarily transport him from sadness into consolation, these lines capture a key elegiac theme – the compensatory power of recollection. The lyrical tone also eulogizes the deceased by reaffirming the ongoing presence of sweet sensations sparked by one who is gone. This exemplifies how elegies express grief while also providing comfort through commemoration.

Example#2

“Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” by Thomas Gray

“The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd winds slowly o’er the lea,
The plowman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me,”

This is an excerpt from Thomas Gray’s acclaimed elegy “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.” In these lines, Gray sets a melancholy, meditative tone through evocative imagery depicting the close of day.

The ringing of the evening bell (“curfew”) signals the end of the light, described as “the knell of parting day.” This metaphor equates the sunset with death’s finality. The subsequent visuals of the herd wandering home listlessly and the tired plowman plodding along heighten the air of resignation regarding the inevitability of darkness.

The repetition of heavy “l” sounds paces the verse with a dirge-like cadence, emphasizing the somber mood. The final line reveals the speaker alone in the encroaching shadows and solitude – “leaves the world to darkness and to me.” This melancholy closing again links the sunset with aloneness and loss.

Together these vivid details and lonely closing encapsulate the elegiac atmosphere of mourning, transience, and quiet acceptance of death’s arrival. Gray sets a scene of slow extinction of light and activity parallel to life’s own dissipation. These opening lines establish his poem’s elegiac meditation on the nature of mortality.

Example#3

“When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” by Walt Whitman

“O Powerful western fallen star!
O shades of night—O moody, tearful night!
O great star disappear’d—O the black murk that hides the star!”

In the passage, an elegy mourning the death of President Abraham Lincoln has been discussed. Whitman uses apostrophe directly addressing the ‘fallen star’ of Lincoln who has been extinguished. He conveys the sorrow and darkness left by Lincoln’s death through vivid imagery like ‘shades of night’, ‘moody, tearful night’ and ‘the black murk that hides the star’. This poetic elegy memorializes Lincoln as a great leader who has been lost leaving behind grief and gloom. The passage exemplifies the elegiac mode of tribute through lyrical lament.

Example#4

“Adonais” by Percy Bysshe Shelley

“I weep for Adonais—he is dead!
O, weep for Adonais! though our tears
Thaw not the frost which binds so dear a head!
And thou, sad Hour, selected from all years

This passage comes from pastoral elegy Of the writer i.e. Adonais, written to mourn the death of fellow poet John Keats. The speaker openly expresses grief calling out repetitively to “weep for Adonais” – a symbolic name for Keats. Through vivid imagery, the chilling “frost which binds so dear a head” conveys the finality and permanence of Adonais’ death. Despite the seeming futility of tears to “thaw” this frost, the collective outpouring of sorrow stands as a heartfelt tribute. The speaker then addresses “sad Hour,” which personifies the specific time of Keats’ passing as a tragic figure, singled out across all years. The excerpt relies on raw emotion and lyrical description to capture the significance of the loss, which makes Keats immortal through the song of Shelley’s elegy.

Example#5

“When We Two Parted” by Lord Byron

“The yellow leaf in silence falls;
The flowers all fade and die-
So my heart will bow in sorrow’s dale
For love that cannot die!”

The poet resorts to images from the world of nature such as that yellow leaf falling and flowers fading away for symbolizing endings and loss. I bow in sorrow’s dale like autumn leaves and flowers, my heart weighing down the dark valley of grief. They lament a love that has ceased to exist, despite the fact it was like “a Love which never dies,” and use natural allegories of grief as well as references on heartbroken by goodbye – thus offering their elegiac confession about an immortal kind of passion now put into eternity. Thus, these lines can be characterized as a mournful dedication to love that has perished.

Example#6

“Lycidas” by John Milton

“Yet once more, O ye laurels, and once more
Ye myrtles brown, with ivy never sere,
I come to pluck your berries harsh and crude,
And with forced fingers rude,
Shatter your leaves before the mellowing year.”

The speaker in these lines is addressing laurel trees and myrtle shrubs, which often symbolize poetic achievement. He plans to prematurely pluck their berries before the plants have fully fruited. The “forced fingers” and “shatter[ing]” of leaves indicate a violence and pain in this harvesting. Through disturbing nature’s usual cycle, the poet creates an image of interruption much like life cruelly ended too soon. This seems an elegy for another poet, whose works will now go unfinished, with potential left unrealized. It evokes the sadness of promise and creativity destroyed early, like berries picked early or leaves falling before their season. The plants stand in for a talent gone too soon, and the speaker’s effortful picking figures the difficult work of grieving this loss.

Examples of Elegy in Poems
Examples of Elegy in Poems

Related Terms

An elegy is a dirge poem that mourns the loss of someone and delves into impermanence. It is intended to honor the dead by showing grief. It is commonly symbolic and contains the sort of imagery that evokes feelings about death and loss. Some important aspects are a melancholic mood, emotional retrospects and eulogy to the dead. Tennyson’s “In Memoriam” and Whitman’s “O Captain!” are well known instances. My Captain!”.

An allegory is a story or fictional work where people, places and events are used symbolically to stand for abstract concepts ideas etc moral qualities. Its function is to express a deeper meaning or some sort of philosophical theory by using the metaphors for virtues, vices, beliefs and so on. The most famous allegories are Orwell’s Animal Farm where farm animals represented different aspects in human nature. Other ones include Pilgrim’s Progress, which represents the path of a Christian soul.

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