Guide to Literary Terms Elegy

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Elegy - a mournful, melancholy poem, especially a funeral song or lament for the dead or a personal, reflective poem.

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The word comes from the Greek elegeia derived from elegos, meaning “mournful poem.”

Elegies originated in Greek and Roman literature where they were used for various subjects such as death, war, or love and were distinguished for having a specific meter, rather than for their subject matter. Since the Sixteenth Century, modern poets characterized elegies not by the form, but by the content, which was invariably melancholy and centered on death.

The best known elegy in English is “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” by Thomas Gray (1751). Ellipsis or ellipse - the omission of a word or words that a reader must supply for full understanding, or a mark or marks to indicate the omission or suppression of words, phrases, etc. This also means the omission in a sentence of one or more words needed to express the sense completely.

The word is taken from the Greek elleipsis derived from elleipein, meaning “to fall short” or “a deficiency.”

Sometimes the words are omitted for compact expression, as in T. S. Eliot’s use of ellipses in “The Wasteland”:

Elizabeth and Leicester
Beating oars
The stern was formed
A gilded shell
Red and gold
The brisk swell
Rippled both shores
Southwest wind
Carried down stream
The peal of bells
White towers
lines 279 – 289

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