The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Exequy” is an elegy of 120 lines of iambic tetrameter couplets, a verse form popular in a wide variety of early seventeenth century English lyrics. The second line fittingly designates the poem a “complaint” (or lament), and it appropriately sustains a tone of grief over a personal loss throughout. Henry King wrote the elegy on the death of his wife Anne, who died seven years after they were married, having borne him five children. Although first-person speakers are never identical with the authors, the speaker of “The Exequy” reflects, with reasonable accuracy, King’s personal grief over the loss of his wife. He originally gave his elegy the subtitle “To His Matchlesse Never To Be Forgotten Freind.”

The text is divided into eleven verse paragraphs of varying lengths, ranging from two to eighteen lines. Essentially, the speaker expresses his grief, develops a meditation on time, and looks to the future. In the opening paragraph, the poet establishes an elegiac tone through an address to the burial site, the “Shrine,” offering poetry instead of flowers as a fitting adornment for his “Dear Loss.” In the second paragraph, the address turns to the dead wife as the object of the speaker’s meditation and emotion. She has become his book or library, and his only business, which he peruses though blinded by tears. Paragraph 3 introduces images and metaphors related to the cosmos. Grief reminds him that she died before reaching the...

(The entire section is 571 words.)