What is an Elegy | Definition | characteristic form & quality?

Introduction of Elegy

The ‘elegy’ (Greek = lamentation) is a very old name. It was commonly used in ancient Greece and Rome for any poem written in a metre which was called ‘elegiac’ Possibly because it was originally used for a song of lamentation.  This electric metre was early adopted by composers for giving vent to personal sentiments ( as distinctive form narrative)  for exhortations and reflections on a great variety of subjects,  Grave or gay.

Later even love poems were written in it. The elegiac poetry Consisted of a couplet where a dactylic Hexameter was followed by a dactylic Pentameter with a double pause of half a foot doing it Suitable for the expression of grief of other emotions and feelings.

Probably this was the reason why in Elizabethan times,  Love lyrics, particularly love plants were also sometimes described as ‘elegies’.  In England however, the name is not used in such a wide sense. Until the 17th century and even later the term was often used in England to denote any poem of Solomon meditation. in the present critical usage, however, the word is used for a lyric expressing melancholy emotion particularly on the death of somebody a friend or a great personage.  In other words, it is a sort of memorialising poem or at least, a poem on somebody’s loss. 

As a song of sadness. elegies did not exist in Greece. The poems of Goethe who emulated the theme and form of the poems of Ovid did not process this style.

The important quality of elegy


The most essential quality of an elegy is it is mournfulness. Whatever may be the subject matter of an elegy-  beat the death of a friend or The Fall of a Great City or for The Lost love or anything else. It must be sad, and in the nature of lamentations.  a great elegy must stir sad thoughts in the minds of the readers.  there runs through  Arnold’s “  the scholar Gypsy. Tennyson’s break break break  Gray’s elegy written in the in-country churchyard and its others and undercurrent of sadness which constituents their great appeal. Most of the elegies of the World have Death as their inspiration,  and death is associated with side thoughts. This is why an elegy  E cannot do without sadness.


The second great quality of an elegy is its absolute sincerity of emotion and expression because the slightest hint of simulation and Artifice is bound to spoil the ellagic interest. This feature shares with the lyric. a poet entitles to write an elegy only when his mind is shocked through and through  In the pensive thoughts aroused in his mind by the death of someone or the Fall of something great or anything he wants to deal with,  and these thoughts so flood his mind as to be ready to flow out into spontaneous expression. Shelley’s Adonais and Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard are the sincerest utterances of the emotion stirred in their minds by the villagers respectively. 

Philosophic and speculative

 The third quality of an elegy is its philosophic and speculative element. this selective element is almost a must in an elegy. in an elegy the poet broods over his subject which is commonly depth, and while breathing he is “  moved to meditation  over questions immediately raised  by it or over  the Deepest problems of life and destiny” (Hudson

Often this speculative or Philosophic element becomes so predominant as to swallow up The purely personal interest. Grey, while brooding over the death of the village rustics, speculated on the futility of “the boast of heraldry, the pomp of power.” Grey elegy circles round and round the inescapable condition which expects the rich and the poor alike.

Deep sympathy

The fourth qualities of the elegy are its subjective charm of the personality.  like the lyric, it shows the poets- is sensation, feelings and images.  Grey’s elegy brings out his Deep sympathy and genuine feelings for The villagers who are born,  live and then die unknown and unsung Arnold’s the Scholars Gypsy reveals his utter disgust of the dilettantism. 

But the sense of sadness as shown in these elegies is not only personal to the poets themselves, but also has the knack of the universe because if we were placed in the same situations we might have felt the same sense of sadness. and the sensitive mind must be afflicted with the same feelings of sorrow as Tennyson felt at the death of his friend Arthur Henry Hallam ( In Memory) Tennyson will feel what Arnold failed while visiting his father’s grave 15 years after his father’s death.

 Another great quality of the elegy is the note of hope and resignation which is sounded towards the close. This is especially characteristic of what is known as a pastoral elegy, In which the poet, of the moving through the travail of personal sorrow, comes to console himself with the fact that the subject of his grief( the person dead)  is happy e in the other world.

Pastoral Elegy

One of the chief forms of elegy is the elegy related to pastoral life. It is quite a formal form of elegy and the direct imitation of the old elegies written in the pastoral form. It has been defined as a poem written on the death of some important person or friend by using traditional pastoral symbols in honourable serious language.

Such an elegy presents both the man expressing sorrow and for whom he is expressing his melancholy, the poet himself in the form of a shepherd. This form was first composed by the Sicilian Greek poet  Theocritus. His tradition was adopted and developed by Virgil. During the Renaissance, it spread in various European countries and till the nineteenth century, it remained the chief currently in England.

The greatest example of such an elegy is Spenser’s Astrophel which was written to lament the death. Sir Philips Sidney and Milton’s Lycidas in which the dead man is the shepherd. They presented the dead and lamenting in the form of the shepherd who looked after the sheep. It has the following characteristics:

  • The speaker begins with the innovation of the Muse and uses the scriptures and mythology constantly.
  • Elegy shows that all things and powers of nature are also lamenting with the poet at this loss.
  • The lamenting poet blames the fairies and other guarding powers for his death.
  • There is generally a procession of lamenting people.
  • The poet questions the justice of The Almighty and it is called the corrupt powers of his period. 
  • There is a stanza that describes doors followers interpret details that are brought to decorate the dead man. It is a tradition adopted in such elegies. 
  •  These elegies end with the words of consolation. In Christian elegies, the poet reaches the conclusion that it is a gateway to the other world. it is immortality. So sorrows and melancholy change into joy and hope.

“Lycidas” Milton

Lycidas is a pastoral elegy upon the death of Edward king. a college mate of Milton who was drowned in the Irish Sea. It was written on the Classics model of Theocritus and Bion. It is a pastoral elegy in the style of the Greek masters. Though the poem is written on his friend Edward king, Yet Edward king is not it’s real of the subject.

The real subject of the poem is the uncertainty and torment occasioned in Milton’s mind by his realization that death might forestall the achievements of that fame which was a combination.


This poem is a noble pastoral elegy on the death of Jhon Keats. It is a highly wrought work of art and reveals Shelley at the height of his powers. In it, Shelley celebrates his love for a brother poet as he voices his affection for a certain woman in Epipsy-chidion.

Adonias was published in 1822 a few months before Shelley’s own death. It is written in Spenserian stanzas and constitutes Shelley’s appreciation of Keats. In the earlier stanzas of the elegy, the poet represents a number of, mourners in peculiarly Shelleyan imagery.

The style of Adonais is studied, elaborate and rich. the Imagery of the poem is delicate and subtle. The Spenserian stanza is used skillfully and has an immense capacity for the potential for the expression of thought in a language surcharged with emotion and grief.

In Memoriam

Tennyson’s famous poem In Memoriam was composed in 1866. Tennyson’s fame and name as an artist and thinker is mostly based on it. Milton calls a good book – A precious life-blood of a master spirit” and too few books is the definition more aptly applicable than to his elegy by Tennyson.

Naturally, the tone of grief undergoes a change with the passing of years; for no one can keep his mourning green for a long time. In the beginning we are struck by the poignancy of his grief expressed.

In Memoriam contained something that appealed to all: to the man of science who was pleased to find himself understood: to the man oppressed with doubts who found many of his own difficulties powerfully and beautifully expressed by the poet; and the orthodox believer who was gratified by the final victory of faith. In Memoriam did a great service to age.

Scholar Gipsy

Scholar Gipsy is one of Arnold’s best known and most perfectly planned poems. in this elegy the poet has described the guest of an Oxford scholar of truth and hatred for the modern life.

there several references to Oxford and the natures around it. Arnold thought of the poem as an elegy and therefore it can be described as a lament for youth and its energy. It is one of the most thoughtful and pensive poem of Victorian age.

The poem is marked with a deep note of pessimism. It has a tender sadness which reach its height in Thyrsis. Arnold’s own age, and the defect of his times are brought about in a clear style. This pessimism and sadness is brought about by contrasting the past ages when hope, religion and faith were more significant in the the life of man.

Who wrote the elegy u0022On My First Sonneu0022 ?

 Ben Jonson composed the elegy u0022On My First Sonneu0022 when his son (Benjamin) died at the age of seven years.u003cbru003e

What is the name of elegy written by John Donne ?

 u0022Holy Sonnet 17u0022 is the elegy of John Donne.  In u0022Holy Sonnet 17u0022 the famous metaphysical poet Donne mourns at the death of his wife ( his wife died in 1617).

What is the stanza form of Thomas Gray’s u0022Elegy Written in a Country Churchyardu0022 ?

Gray wrote the u0022Elegy Written in a Country Churchyardu0022 in (heroic) quatrains (four-line stanza) rhyming as ABAB

In what meter Gray composed u0022 Elegy Written in a Country Churchyardu0022 ?

Gray wrote u0022Elegy Written in a Country Churchyardu0022 in iambic pentameter.

About whom is P. B. Shelly’s pastoral elegy u0022Adonais” ?

The English Romantic poet P. B. Shelly composed the elegy u0022Adonaisu0022 on the death of another Romantic poet John Keats.

What is the stanza form of Shelly’s u0022Adonaisu0022 ?

 P. B. Shelly composed/wrote the elegy u0022Adonaisu0022 in Spenserian stanza form.

 When was u0022Adonaisu0022  published ?

The famous elegy u0022Adonaisu0022 was published in the month of July, 1821 and Charles Ollier published the poem.u003cbru003e

In his u0022Lycidasu0022 on whose death John Milton Mourns/laments ?

In his pastoral elegy u0022Lycidasu0022 Milton expressed his grief and sorrow on the death of his Cambridge (University)  friend Eward King (1612 – 1637)  who died by drowning in Irish sea.

When was the elegy u0022In Memoriamu0022 published ?

Alfred Lord Tennyson’s eminent elegy u0022In Memoriamu0022 was published in the year of 1850.

Who was Henry Arthur Hallam whose death made Tennyson sad that he wrote u0022In Memoriamu0022 ?

The English poet Henry Arthur Hallam (1811 – 1833) was Alfred Lord Tennyson’s intimate Cambridge friend whose sudden death shocked Tennyson and made him sorrowful, therefore the poet expressed his emotions (about his friend) through the elegy u0022In Memoriamu0022.

What is the (most) notable characteristic/feature of elegy u0022In Memoriamu0022 ?

Tennyson’s elegy u0022In Memoriamu0022 is abound in Lyricism or lyrical feature.

What is the stanza form of the elegy u0022In Memoriamu0022 by Alfred Lord Tennyson ?

Tennyson composed u0022In Memoriamu0022 in four-line stanza form; rhyming as ABBA.

In what meter Tennyson composed u0022In Memoriamu0022 ?

The representative Victorian poet A. L. Tennyson wrote the elegy u0022In Memoriamu0022 in iambic tetrameter.

Who wrote the elegy u0022In Memory of W.B. Yeatsu0022 ?

W. H. Auden composed the famous elegy u0022In Memory of W. B. Yeatsu0022