Elegy Definition and Characteristics

Elegy Definition

The word ‘elegy’ comes from the Greek word ‘elegos’ meaning ‘song’. An elegy is a mournful poem about the death of a person or more rarely a group. Elegy can also express a feeling of loss in a broader sense, such as for a way of life or reflection of human morality.


  1. It is a type of lyric & focuses on expressing emotions or thoughts.
  2. It uses formal language & structure.
  3. It may mourn the passing of life & beauty or someone dear to the speaker.
  4. It may explore questions about nature of life & death or immorality of soul.
  5. It may express the speaker’s anger about death.

An elegy is not same as a ‘eulogy’ which is a statement written in prose that is read aloud at a funeral, although an elegy might serve as a eulogy. Three elements are found in a traditional elegy-

  1. Firstly, it begins with mourn, a grief at the loss of something or someone.
  2. In the second stage, the poet shows admiration, listing qualities & impressive deeds in the person’s lifetime.
  3. The poem then moves to the third stage of consolidation. This last element may be more religious.

An elegy may be of different kinds-personal, impersonal or pastoral. Pastoral elegy represents both the poet & the one he mourns for-who is usually also a poet-as Shepherds. In Pastoral Elegies like ‘Lycidas’, Milton mourns in the grief of a shepherd.