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Poetry Guide: Elegiac

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.

  1. The Origins of Elegiac Meter
    Elegiac meter is a form of poetry that dates back to ancient Greece. The word "elegy" comes from the Greek word "elegeia," which means a mournful or melancholic poem. Originally, elegies were performed at funerals or other solemn occasions, and they were often accompanied by music.

    Over time, elegiac meter came to be associated with a specific poetic form. The elegiac couplet, which consists of a hexameter line followed by a pentameter line, became the standard form for elegiac poetry. This form was used by many of the great poets of ancient Greece and Rome, including Callimachus, Catullus, and Ovid.

  2. Characteristics of Elegiac Meter
    Elegiac meter is characterized by its mournful tone and sense of longing. It is often used to express grief or sorrow, but it can also be used to convey a sense of nostalgia or longing for the past. In elegiac poetry, the poet often reflects on the fleeting nature of life and the inevitability of death.

    The elegiac couplet is the most common form of elegiac meter. This form consists of a hexameter line followed by a pentameter line. The hexameter line is composed of six feet, and the pentameter line is composed of five feet. The hexameter line is often used to convey a sense of grandeur or majesty, while the pentameter line is used to express more personal or intimate feelings.

  3. Elegiac Meter in Poetry
    Elegiac meter has been used in poetry throughout the ages, from the ancient Greeks and Romans to the modern poets of today. Some of the most famous elegiac poems include "In Memoriam A.H.H." by Alfred Lord Tennyson, "Lycidas" by John Milton, and "Adonais" by Percy Bysshe Shelley.

    One of the most famous elegiac poems of all time is "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" by Thomas Gray. This poem, which was first published in 1751, is a meditation on the transience of life and the inevitability of death. In the poem, Gray reflects on the lives of the humble villagers buried in the churchyard, and he concludes that even the most obscure among us can leave a mark on the world.

  4. Nature in Elegiac Poetry
    Nature has always played an important role in elegiac poetry. In many elegies, nature is used to symbolize the fleeting nature of life and the inevitability of death. The changing of the seasons, the cycle of birth and death, and the beauty of the natural world all serve as reminders of the transience of life.