Poetry Kaleidoscope: Guide to Poetry

Elegiac

Elegiac couplet

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Elegiac refers either to those compositions that are like elegies or to a specific poetic meter used in Classical elegies. The Classical elegiac meter is a dactylic hexameter and pentameter following.

The "elegy" was originally a classical form with few English examples. However, in the mid-18th century, Thomas Gray wrote "Elegy Written in a Country Church-yard" (published 1751). That poem inspired numerous imitators, and soon both the revived Pindaric ode and "elegy" were commonplace. Gray used the term "elegy" for a poem of solitude and mourning, and not just for funereal (eulogy) verse. He also freed the elegy from the Classical elegiac meter.

Afterward, Samuel Taylor Coleridge argued that the elegiac is the form "most natural to the reflective mind," and it may be upon any subject, so long as it reflects on the poet himself. Coleridge was quite aware of the fact that his definition conflated the elegaic with the lyric, but he was emphasizing the recollected and reflective nature of the lyric he favored and referring to the sort of elegy that had been popularized by Gray. Similarly, William Wordsworth had said that poetry should come from "powerful emotions recalled in tranquility" (emphasis added). After the Romantics, "elegiac" slowly returned to its narrower meaning of verse composed in memory of the dead.


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