“Elegy to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady” is a melancholy, emotion-charged poem of eighty-two lines, involving a poet’s celebration of his lady, who committed suicide because her guardian thwarted their love. As an elegy, the poem follows the conventions of the genre in its effusive praise of a young, prematurely deceased person whose foreshortened life serves as an inspiration to present and future generations.
The elegy opens with a male poet who beholds his beloved’s ghost with a sword piercing her bleeding heart. He addresses her, until line 74, questioning her fate as a thwarted lover and a suicide: “Is it, in heav’n, a crime to love too well?” Why has she been treated so shabbily by her family? Will she be remembered for the wonderful woman that she was? Is she now in heaven, now in possession of some kind of peace, despite her Christian sin of suicide? Her ambition destined her for the heavens, and her departure from this earth has deprived her family below of all “virtue (to redeem her race)” (lines 11-28).
The poem proceeds next to a diatribe against her uncle and guardian. The poet-lover actually compounds the guardian’s failings in Christian charity toward his female ward by heaping curses for the early death of the uncle’s entire family to an overwrought, even surrealistic degree (“And frequent hearses shall beseige your gates/While the long fun’rals blacken all the way”).
(The entire section is 441 words.)