Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

In its thematic development, “The Exequy” follows the overall pattern of an elegy. The poem begins with a statement of mourning and loss (lines 1-80), followed by passages of acceptance and reconciliation in which the speaker comes to terms with his grief (lines 81-114). The concluding section (lines 115-120) looks to the future in the spirit of hope and acceptance, although the hopeful tone in King’s poem is remarkably moderate. Unlike many elegies written about subjects whom the poet scarcely knew or perhaps had never met, King’s poem includes a genuine sense of personal loss and grief. The speaker refers to the youth of his bride, suggesting that death overtook her before she had reached the halfway point of life. In another passage, the speaker refers to himself as older and, therefore, reasonably expects that he would be first to die. While it does not give the specific cause of her death, the poem suggests that she died of a fever. Although the tone remains restrained and dignified, the speaker goes beyond the conventional, formulaic expressions often found in elegies. The resolution to look toward the future is achieved only through the poignant theme stressing that the speaker will join his wife in death.

At a deeper level, the poem develops a meditation on time. The first and more distant form is the time of Judgment Day, when the speaker asserts that his wife will be resurrected entirely. Until then, she sleeps in the earth, which the...

(The entire section is 440 words.)