elegy: A poem of mortal loss and consolation. The word elegy derives from the Greek élegos, "funeral lament.” It was among the first forms of the ancients, though in Greek literature it refers to a specific verse form as well as the emotions conveyed by it. Any poem using the particular meter of the elegiac couplet or elegiac distich was termed an elegy. It was composed of a heroic or dactylic hexameter followed by a pentameter. Here are two lines from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Elegiac Verse” (1882):
So the Hexameter, rising and singing, with cadence sonorous,
Falls; and in refluent rhythms back the Pentameter flows.
There were elegies, chanted aloud and traditionally accompanied by the flute, on love (amatory complaints) and war (exhortatory martial epigrams) as well as death. But, as Peter Sacks puts it, “Behind this array of topics there may have lain an earlier, more exclusive association of the flute song’s elegiacs with the expression of