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Elegy in Poetry: Definition of Elegy and Its Types

Exploring the Various Types of LOVE in English Literature


An elegy is a type of poem or song that expresses deep sorrow or grief, usually over someone’s death. It’s a way for the poet to mourn and remember the person who has passed away. Elegies often reflect on the life of the deceased, their virtues, and the impact they had on others. These poems typically have a mournful tone and use imagery and symbolism to evoke emotions in the reader. They may also include themes of loss, longing, and the passage of time.

One famous example of an elegy in English literature is “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” by Thomas Gray. In this poem, Gray reflects on the lives of ordinary people buried in a rural churchyard, contemplating the passage of time and the inevitability of death. Elegies have been a part of English literature for centuries, with famous examples including “In Memoriam” by Alfred Lord Tennyson and “Lycidas” by John Milton. In more modern times, poets like W.H. Auden and Seamus Heaney have also written elegies. Elegies are not limited to mourning the dead; they can also lament other types of loss, such as the end of a relationship, the passing of youth, or the decline of a cherished place or way of life. Regardless of the specific subject matter, elegies often serve as a form of catharsis for both the poet and the reader, providing a means to process and come to terms with feelings of grief and sadness.

Types of Elegy

1. The Pastoral Elegy: A pastoral elegy is a poetic form that combines elements of pastoral poetry with themes of mourning and remembrance. It typically reflects on the loss of a loved one or a public figure within the context of an idyllic rural landscape, using natural imagery to evoke feelings of sorrow and reflection.


1. “Lycidas” by John Milton – Milton’s lament for his friend Edward King, blending pastoral imagery with Christian allegory.

2. “Adonais” by Percy Bysshe Shelley – A tribute to John Keats, characterized by its pastoral settings and elegiac tone.

3. “Thyrsis” by Matthew Arnold – Arnold’s elegy for his friend Arthur Hugh Clough, set amidst the English countryside.

4. “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” by Thomas Gray – Though not strictly pastoral, it employs rural imagery to mourn the common people buried in a churchyard.

2. The impersonal elegy: An impersonal elegy in poetry is a form that mourns not for an individual but for broader losses such as societal changes, cultural shifts, or historical events. It focuses on themes that transcend personal grief, offering a reflection on collective experiences and human condition.


1. “The Waste Land” by T.S. Eliot – Reflects on the disillusionment and fragmentation of post-World War I society.

2. “In Memory of W.B. Yeats” by W.H. Auden – Mourns the passing of poet W.B. Yeats while contemplating the role of poetry in a turbulent world.

3. “Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold – Explores the decline of faith and loss of traditional values in Victorian society.

3. The personal elegy: A personal elegy in poetry is a form that mourns the loss of a specific individual, expressing the poet’s personal grief, memories, and emotions. It often serves as a tribute to the deceased, celebrating their life and reflecting on the impact they had on the poet’s own existence and identity.


1. “In Memoriam A.H.H.” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson – Written in memory of Tennyson’s friend Arthur Henry Hallam, exploring grief, faith, and the passage of time.

2. “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” by Thomas Gray – Reflects on the lives and deaths of ordinary people buried in a rural churchyard, blending personal reflection with broader themes of mortality.

3. “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” by Walt Whitman – Mourns the death of Abraham Lincoln while also expressing personal grief and reflecting on the cycle of life and death.

Origin of Elegy:

The origin of elegy in poetry dates back to ancient Greece, where it was initially a form of lyric poetry expressing mourning and lamentation. The term “elegy” comes from the Greek word “elegeia or elegos ,” which means “a song of mourning.” Early elegies were often performed at funerals or as tributes to the deceased. Over time, the elegy evolved, becoming a prominent genre in various cultures and languages. It has since expanded to encompass themes beyond mourning, including reflections on loss, love, nature, and the human condition. Elegies continue to be a significant and enduring form of poetic expression across literary traditions.

Elegy’ MCQs 

1. Who is often credited with writing the famous elegy “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”?

A) John Keats

B) Percy Bysshe Shelley

C) Thomas Gray

D) William Wordsworth

2. What does the term “elegy” derive from?

A) Latin word “eleger”

B) Greek word “elegos”

C) Italian word “elegia”

D) French word “élégie”

3. Who wrote the elegy “Lycidas” in memory of his friend Edward King?

A) John Donne

B) William Wordsworth

C) John Milton

D) Samuel Taylor Coleridge

4. Which poet wrote “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” as an elegy for Abraham Lincoln?

A) Emily Dickinson

B) Walt Whitman

C) Edgar Allan Poe

D) Langston Hughes

5. What type of elegy explores abstract concepts like love, spirituality, or the nature of existence through the lens of grief?

A) Personal Elegy

B) Nature Elegy

C) Metaphysical Elegy

D) Political Elegy

6. Which poet wrote the elegy “In Memoriam A.H.H.” in memory of his friend Arthur Henry Hallam?

A) Lord Byron

B) Alfred, Lord Tennyson

C) Robert Browning

D) Christina Rossetti

7. “Funeral Blues,” a modern elegy expressing intense personal grief, was written by which poet?

A) W. B. Yeats

B) T. S. Eliot

C) W. H. Auden

D) Sylvia Plath

8 Who is the subject of the famous elegy “Adonais” written by Percy Bysshe Shelley?

A) William Shakespeare

B) John Keats

C) Lord Byron

D) Samuel Taylor Coleridge

9. Which of the following is not a common theme in elegies?

A) Love

B) Joy

C) Loss

D) Grief

10.In which culture did the elegy originate?

A) Ancient Egypt

B) Ancient Greece

C) Ancient Rome

D) Medieval England

11.Who is considered the father of English elegy?

A) John Donne

B) John Milton

C) Thomas Gray

D) William Wordsworth

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