The Elegy’s Structures

As D. A. Powell writes in his essay on the elegy’s structures in Structure & Surprise: Engaging Poetic Turns, the elegiac mode has three kinds of structures: one with a turn from grief to consolation; one with a turn from grief to the refusal of consolation; and one from grief to deeper grief.  Below are a few poems (supplemental to those included in Structure & Surprise) which employ at least one of the elegiac structures.

Here are a few poems that turn from grief to consolation:

“Verses upon the Burning of our House. July 18th, 1666,” by Anne Bradstreet

“Shell,” by Harriet Brown

“Alfred Corning Clark,” by Robert Lowell (pp. 27-9).  Lowell, perhaps, ekes out a little consolation at poem’s end.

“Frau Bauman, Frau Schmidt, Frau Schwartz,” by Theodore Roethke (readily available in The Norton Anthology of American Literature, vol. 2).

Helpful commentary on Roethke’s poem is available here.

“Babe Buried at Sea,” by Lydia Sigourney (on pp. 315-16).

“To Toussaint L’Ouverture,” by William Wordsworth

“Elegy,” by Arthur Guiterman.  A silly take on the move from grief to consolation.

Here are some elegies that turn from grief to the refusal of consolation:

“[the thicknesses of victor decreased…],” by D. A. Powell (in Tea (Hanover, NH: Wesleyan UP, 1998): 7).

Among many other things, Doug discusses this poem here.

A rich and complex book, Powell’s Tea begins with a series of elegies to friends and lovers who died from AIDS-related complications.  Tea is vital reading for so many reasons, including the fact that it displays a variety of ways the contemporary elegy might be put to use.

“Photograph from September 11,” by Wislawa Szymborska.  (Listen to it here.)

Here are some elegies that turn from grief to deeper grief:

“Mort de A.D.,” by Samuel Beckett

“Elegy for a Long-Dead Friend,” by Michael Collier (in Dark Wild Realm (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006): 26-27).  (Is the ending of this poem deeper grief, or, strangely, consolation?)

“Funeral Direction,” by Mark Yakich

9 responses

6 04 2009
Liz Booker

Two twists on the elegy from Mark Yakich:


for Sarah Hannah (1966-2007)

I found
These words

As a child
And have

Been waiting
All my

Life to have

To send
Them to;

I’ve never
Had anyone

But you—

Tell the tree
I’m sorry.

Tree, tell
The paper

My story.



Still on this side of time—
hands interlocked,
no prayer—try

to hang on
like the hinge of
a sign that flashes


Because if the present,
the flawless sound
of a treadle sewing

machine, closes up
nicely enough, the scar
leaving the skin—

You will run a trail
to leave a trail.
No meter for grief.

24 04 2009
Mike Theune

Hi, Liz,

My apologies for the delay in posting your comment. I wanted to check with Mark that it was okay that his poems appear on this blog, and Mark, in fact, has given his permission.

Readers should note, though, that “Against Elegy” is not all left-justified; rather, in each stanza the first line is left-justified, but then the second line is indented (once), and the third line is indented (twice)–so each stanza kind of steps down from the first line… (Such details are not permitted by testy blog formatting.)

From Mark’s oeuvre, I’d also add “Funeral Direction” (from The Importance of Peeling Potatoes in Ukraine) to Mark’s takes on the elegy. “Funeral Direction” seems to be a poem that turns from grief to deeper grief…

Thanks for pointing out these poems, Liz!

5 05 2009
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