Definition of elegy in English:



  • 1(in modern literature) a poem of serious reflection, typically a lament for the dead.

    • ‘That this is an elegy only makes the poem more poignant, makes the grief of the persona part of the political indignation, complicates the emotional nexus of the voice.’
    • ‘As a result, modern elegies more often than not break with the decorum of earlier modes of mourning and become melancholic, self-centered, or mocking.’
    • ‘The biography then turns to extra-familial influences, including Surrey's friendship with Henry Fitzroy, the Earl of Richmond, for whom he would invent the English sonnet in his Windsor elegies.’
    • ‘The texts I shall consider are fascinating in themselves, but they also contribute to our understanding of modern elegy in general.’
    • ‘WH Auden made the strongest case against literature in his elegy for WB Yeats: ‘Now Ireland has her weather and her madness still / For poetry makes nothing happen’.’
    • ‘The love poem has turned into something else with the death of the beloved, the acute sadness in the poem seeming to move it toward the elegy or threnody.’
    • ‘Except for writers of obituaries and elegies, no serious biographer judges his subject under the aspect of eternity.’
    • ‘I would argue that what links these modern elegies is the focus on a relationship ruptured prior to death.’
    • ‘We need laments and elegies: Innocents have died and will again, and the struggle to hope is hard and haunted by loss.’
    • ‘In order to exhume further the elegy in the Elegiac Sonnets, we now might consider the extent to which the work resonates with traditional notions of ‘elegiac’ and the elegy as a poem of mourning.’
    • ‘Belcher mentions Dylan Thomas's elegy for his father in connection with this piece.’
    • ‘It is perhaps best, then, to consider this a new category of elegy with two extremes: those elegies that achieve reconciliation, as some of Plumly's poems do, and those that fail to achieve reconciliation, such as those by Plath.’
    • ‘That final line transforms the poem into an elegy for his father, the source of lament that drove the speaker into nature and into thoughts of dying.’
    • ‘The elegy, as real poems do, brings us to a place where words give way to the music of silence, where we approach the unsayable and bow before it.’
    • ‘Addison was buried in Westminster Abbey, and lamented in an elegy by Tickell.’
    • ‘And unlike the elegies the sonnets are predominantly poems of invocation, apostrophe and direct address, he writes.’
    • ‘That is, modern family elegies, though occasioned by death, do not seek compensation for that loss.’
    • ‘The poem is a whimsical elegy on the death of a friend's husband, focusing on the denial and hope and implausible resilience of the survivor, in the proud silent puzzlement of a cat left alone.’
    • ‘The bells are on buoys in Sydney harbour, and the poem is partly an elegy and meditation on Joe Lynch, a friend of the poet's, who had one night fallen from a commuter ferry and drowned.’
    • ‘I sometimes think that my poems are elegies for that lost life.’
    funeral poem, funeral song, burial hymn, lament, dirge, plaint, requiem, keening
    keen, coronach
    threnody, threnode
    View synonyms
  • 2(in Greek and Latin verse) a poem written in elegiac couplets, as notably by Catullus and Propertius.

    • ‘I suspect few readers of these elegies will come sufficiently prepared in Greek mythology and Roman legend not to make heavy use of Mr. Katz's 31 pages of notes.’
    • ‘The Echo Gate includes versions of the Latin love elegy.’
    • ‘Originally, the Greek elegy expressed grief; but the form broadened widely with Latin adaptations, such as Ovid's love elegies, Amores, to include almost any kind of subject.’
    • ‘It refers to the fact that before Catullus and his poems to Lesbia, there was really no such thing as love poetry in the fullest sense, and that the romantic elegy was the invention of a later poet, Propertius.’


Early 16th century: from French élégie, or via Latin, from Greek elegeia, from elegos mournful poem.