Guide to Literary Terms

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What is the definition of an elegy?

The definition of an elegy is a reflective, mournful poem, typically written as an expression of sorrow for someone who has died.

Elegy

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Last Updated on September 26, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 138

An elegy is a reflective, mournful poem, typically written as an expression of sorrow for someone who has died. In Western literature, elegies began with the Greek and Roman literary traditions, where they were written on subjects such as death, love, and war. More modern poets adopted the content, rather than the form, of the poems.

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Elegy comes to English from the Greek elegeia, derived from elegos, meaning “mournful poem.”

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The most famous elegy in the English language is Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.” Gray’s speaker reflects sorrowfully on the universality of death and the subsequent oblivion that awaits most humans:

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Latest answer posted November 24, 2010, 7:15 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

Can storied urn or animated bust 

         Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath? 

Can Honour's voice provoke the silent dust, 

         Or Flatt'ry soothe the dull cold ear of Death? 

see: poetry

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