This week’s Poetic Form is Elegy! I am stunned at the response from you all in regards to the form I share every week. You can use this form and share your creativity. Whatever it is, stay inspired and learn this form. It’s awesome!
The elegy began as an ancient Greek metrical form and is traditionally written in response to the death of a person or group. Though similar in function, the elegy is distinct from the epitaph, ode, and eulogy: the epitaph is very brief; the ode solely exalts; and the eulogy is most often written in formal prose.
The elements of a traditional elegy mirror three stages of loss. First, there is a lament, where the speaker expresses grief and sorrow, then praise and admiration of the idealized dead, and finally consolation and solace. These three stages can be seen in W. H. Auden’s classic “In Memory of W. B. Yeats,” written for the Irish master, which includes these stanzas:
With the farming of a verse Make a vineyard of the curse, Sing of human unsuccess In a rapture of distress; In the deserts of the heart Let the healing fountain start, In the prison of his days Teach the free man how to praise.
Many modern elegies have been written not out of a sense of personal grief, but rather a broad feeling of loss and metaphysical sadness. A famous example is the mournful series of ten poems in Duino Elegies, by German poet Rainer Maria Rilke. The first poem begins:
If I cried out who would hear me up there among the angelic orders? And suppose one suddenly took me to his heart I would shrivel
Other works that can be considered elegiac in the broader sense are James Merrill’s monumental The Changing Light at Sandover, Robert Lowell’s “For the Union Dead,” Seamus Heaney’s The Haw Lantern, and the work of Czeslaw Milosz, which often laments the modern cruelties he witnessed in Europe.