The elegy began as an ancient Greek metrical form and is traditionally written in response to the death of a person or group. Though similar in function, the elegy is distinct from the epitaph, ode, and eulogy: the epitaph is very brief; the ode solely exalts; and the eulogy is most often written in formal prose. The elements of a traditional elegy mirror three stages of loss. First, there is a lament, where the speaker expresses grief and sorrow, then praise and admiration of the idealized dead, and finally consolation and solace (source: Poets.org).
When working with the elegy, we specifically focused on the three main stages of loss and examined how W.H. Auden presented each of them in his tribute to Irish poet, William Butler Yeats.
In Memory of WB Yeats by W. H. Auden
Part I: free verse- no rhyme or meter, much like the initial feeling of great sorrow or loss when a loved one has passed. Predominantly uses imagery, each stanza being a different “snapshot” about the day that Yeats died. This reflects the scattered thoughts of a grieving person as their minds fill with images about the deceased.
Part II: blank verse- still no rhyme, but there is meter, suggesting that a sense of “order” is returning, and one begins to remember the loved one with admiration (after all, who really remembers the bad stuff?). It takes more effort (in choosing words to fit a meter) to create the iambic pentameter, unlike the free verse. It does require some time and effort to move past the initial stage of grief.
Part III: verse with both meter (trochaic tetrameter) and a rhyme scheme (stanzas are quatrains with two rhyming couplets each). Rhyme and meter are both present, forming a sort of “wholeness” after the loss (not that free verse poems cannot be considered “whole” in their own right, but it does require a bit more effort in order to create both rhyme and meter).
We then turned the same ideas about the stages of loss as students watched/listened to the three verses of a more modern elegy, “Good-bye, England’s Rose” by Sir Elton John:
NOTE: As we are doing many Visible Thinking exercises with the poetry unit, we are sharing verbally instead of using PostIt Notes. I shuffle their class cards and deal them into three piles: See/Think/Wonder.