What is the elegy?

What Does Elegy Mean

We explain what the elegy is, the origin of the term and the history of this type of poetry. Also, examples of great authors.

The elegy expresses pain or hopelessness in the face of loss.

What is the elegy?

The elegy is a type of lyrical poetry whose pieces consist of a lamentation , that is, an expression of pain or despair at the loss of a loved one, a feeling, a homeland, and so on. That which is characteristic of the elegy or that resembles it is known as "elegiac", and similarly, in music certain particularly sad or somber compositions are considered elegies.

The term "elegy" comes from the Greek voice élegos , a name that in ancient times they gave to a funeral song accompanied by flute or lyre, and which was characterized by a particular type of metric: the "elegiac couplet", composed of a hexameter and a pentameter. This type of verse was very common in Greco-Latin poetry , not only to express mourning or mourning, although that was perhaps its original purpose.

In fact, during the archaic period of Greek antiquity (7th-6th centuries BC), this type of stanza was used to sing solemn themes, such as death , war or the fatherland, in extensive works written by Solon ( c. 638-558 BC), Archilochus (712-664 BC), Calino, Tirteo and Mimnermo (between the 7th and 6th centuries BC). Originally the elegy was sung in the Ionian dialect, but it soon became the most popular lyric genre in all of ancient Greece .

For their part, the Romans inherited the Greek elegy and one of its main cultists was the poet and playwright Quinto Ennio (239-169 BC). However, the Romans preserved the elegiac verse and destined it to love themes, as in the eminently erotic works of Albio Tibulo (54-19 BC) and Sexto Propercio (c. 53-c.16 BC) .

For this reason, during the Renaissance, Hispanic and Italian authors cultivated the elegy as a genre of love poetry , moving away from the original Greek meaning.

However, from the development of the genre in the 16th century, the poets Juan Boscán (1487-1542) and Garcilaso de la Vega (1498-1536) reinvented it, substituting the traditional metric for the chained triplet (also a third Dantean, by Dante Alighieri), and that was from then on the customary meter of elegiac poems .

See also: Oda

Examples of elegies

Some examples of elegiac poems are as follows:

  • Elegy of the Muses of Solon of Athens (c. 638-558 BC).
  • Coplas on the death of the master Don Rodrigo de Jorge Manrique (c. 1440-1479).
  • Cry for Ignacio Sánchez Mejías by Federico García Lorca (1898-1936).
  • Elegy to Ramón Sijé by Miguel Hernández (1910-1942).
  • Elegy of the impossible memory of Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986).
  • Octavio Paz's Elegy Interrupted (1914-1998).
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