17 July 2024


An elegy is a sad poem, an expression of grief / form of poetry giving voice to our deepest thoughts and feelings about life, death, love, and loss.

Elegies can be personal:

*a lament for someone the poet knew or cared for
*public – mourning the loss of a public figure, or on the occasion of a public tragedy
*pastoral – using pastoral elements like nature as a metaphor for loss and mourning.

I think we have more than enough material, in today’s world, to pen some lines in this direction. In browsing elegies, there are, of course, the well-known classic favourites, like “To An Athlete Dying Young” by A.E. Housman, the poem famously recited by Meryl Streep in “Out of Africa” at her lover’s grave:

To an Athlete Dying Young

The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.

Today, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.

Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay,
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.

Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears.

Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.

So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.

And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl’s.

- A.E. Housman


That recitation really got me! For something more current, I found two poems, the first by Tony Hoagland, which speaks to the sadness so many of us are feeling these days, in our daily lives,  as we watch values we believe in and cherish begin to fall – democracy, womens’ rights, the rule of law itself.  His opening lines say it all.


It’s easy to write an elegy.
All you need to be is sad.
It’s more difficult to drive a car,
or open a can of soup
than write an elegy.
It's easier than keeping
the ones you love alive,
or tell them how crazy they make you
with their foolish, self-destructive ways
and their refusal to change.
To love people often feels like a battle,
but to write an elegy is easy.
An elegy comes after the battle is over,
and the soldiers are sitting on the ground,
their faces dirty and relaxed, telling stories
and taping up their wounds.
To live is to pay rent, have dirty dishes in the sink,
to start a fight with the one you love
in the car on the way to the store.
To write an elegy is to move out,
leaving only the elegy behind,
like a sponge or a mop or a roll of towels,
or a bowl of fresh water you placed
on the cleaned-up floor
after your precious dog is gone.

- Tony Hoagland

This poem stays with me. The following poem was penned by Linda Pastan as an elegy for Tony Hoagland, who died in 2018. Pastan herself died in 2023.

Almost an Elegy: For Tony Hoagland

Your poems make me want
to write my poems,

which is a kind of plagiarism
of the spirit.

But when your death reminds me
that mine is on its way,

I close the book, clinging
to this tenuous world the way the leaves

outside cling to their tree
just before they turn color and fall.

I need time to read all the poems
you left behind, which pierce

the darkness here at my window
but did nothing to save you.

-Linda Pastan


Life, death, love, loss – the whole shebang offers us material enough to keep writing to our last breath. So, my fellow poets, pen me your elegies. It’s easy (especially these days). All you need to be is sad.

 Please link your poem and remember to visit others, in the spirit of community. I am looking forward to your responses.