The Birth and Growth of Elegies: Lycidas and Soldiers’ 38
An elegy is a poem of lament, usually formal and sustained, over the death of a particular person; also, a meditative poem in plaintive or sorrowful mood. Through an elegy authors are able to convey their deepest remorse and grief through the eloquent use of the English language. The convention of displaying anger or bitterness against nature and change subsequently results from the convention of pathetic fallacy. Following man’s attempt in reflecting his grief in the withering of nature, the display of anger may also be studied as a representation of his attempted mastery and vengeance against nature and change. Sacks states that ‘by the sacrifice or mimed death of the personification of nature, man causes nature’s death, or at least brings on her deathlike mourning’.^ In this manner, man attempts to either direct nature to lament or curses it. Subsequently a relationship is drawn between elegiac cursing and grief, a relation found in most traditional elegies like Milton’s ‘Lycidas’ and Layli Long Soldiers “38”.
The matter of vengeance and cursing consequently leads to another elegiac convention, that of questioning. This convention, which is at times private and at times sharply interrogative, has been used throughout the history of the elegy. Its functions is to ‘set free the energy locked in grief and rage and to organize its movement in the form of a question that is not merely an expression of ignorance but a voicing of protest’.’ When the question is addressed to someone repeatedly, the convention turns into a therapeutic ritual, in which the mourner shifts the attention away from the object of loss or himself to the world outside and stops him from becoming completely ensnared in melancholia.
Apart from preventing the mourner from drowning himself/herself in sorrow, the convention of repetitive questioning performs other functions as well. Firstly, it creates a sense of continuity as opposed to the discontinuity of death. Secondly, it acts as a protective shield against the unsettling shock of death. Thirdly, it creates a rhythm of lament with the repetitions of the words and refrains in order to keep the grief under control while keeping that expression in motion. Fourthly, it confronts the mind with the fact of death so as to achieve recognition of this fact and also to distance the mourner from the dead. Lastly, it invokes the spirit of the dead by repeating its name so that it almost replaces the dead and generates a sense of consolation. It may be noted that this act of repeated questioning either comes from one mourning voice or a division of this voice into many voices.
This division of the mourning voice makes up yet another important convention of the elegy. This division may be in the form of a distinction between mourners or it can be a division within the mourner itself The purpose of such divisions in the mourning voice is to show the splitting, and self-suppression inside the mourner that accompanies the first experience of loss. It also does the work of dramatization where the mourners infiise ceremony to the rites and also reveal their work as survivors. Lastly, this division of voices acts as a confrontational device for the purpose of recognition of the loss by the mourner.
Another important convention is the movement of the elegy as it follows the ancient rites, which is seen as the passage through grief and darkness to consolation and renewal. The movement from grief and despair to consolation and renewal not only ‘mimed the death and return of the vegetation god but also represents the initiate’s descent to and ascent from a crisis of mysterious revelation’. More often than not, this revelation is seen in the resurrection, stellification or deification of the dead of which Milton’s ‘Lycidas’ serves as an ideal example. Another point to be added in connection with the movement from loss to consolation is that the movement is always accompanied with an altered sense of perception for the lost object. In the Greek myth of Apollo and Daphne, for instance, Apollo, having insulted Cupid, was cursed with an unrequited love for Daphne. In her flight from Apollo, Daphne flees to the banks of the river where she begged her father, Peneus, for release. When Apollo grabbed her, she turned into a laurel tree. However, the fransformation of Daphne from nymph to a laurel plant did not serve any good to Apollo because even as he is able to finally hold the tree, ‘even the wood shrank from his kisses’. ‘^ It was until when Apollo found the significance of the laurel wreath in: ‘With thee shall Roman generals wreathe their heads…’ that the tree became a consoling substitute for Daphne and only then was he able to accept his loss.
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An elegy is a poem of lament, usually formal and sustained, over the death of a particular person; also, a meditative poem in plaintive or sorrowful mood. Through an elegy […]