Whittled Words – Elegy Poem

Welcome to the weekly series, Whittled Words. A series highlighting the innumerable types and styles of poetry to challenge any creative wordsmith. This week’s selection:




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.

An elegy is a song of sorrow or mourning–often for someone who has died. However, poets being an especially creative and contrary group have also written elegies for the ends of things, whether a life, a love affair, a great era, a football season, etc.

While there are such things as elegiac couplets and elegiac stanzas, form does not rule an elegy; content is king (or queen) when writing elegies. Luckily, this classic form allows me to share some of my favorite poems and poets as examples.


Examples of Elegy Poems:




(the excerpt to the 29-stanza poem, I encourage you to read the original here)

By Thomas Gray, 1716 – 1771

Here rests his head upon the lap of Earth
A youth to Fortune and to Fame unknown.
Fair Science frowned not on his humble birth,
And Melancholy marked him for her own.

Large was his bounty, and his soul sincere,
Heaven did a recompense as largely send:
He gave to Misery (all he had) a tear,

He gained from Heaven (’twas all he wished) a friend.

No farther seek his merits to disclose,

Or draw his frailties from their dread abode,
(There they alike in trembling hope repose)
The bosom of his Father and his God.



(written for President Abraham Lincoln)

By Walt Whitman, 1819 – 1892


O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,

The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,

The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,

While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;

                         But O heart! heart! heart!

                            O the bleeding drops of red,

                               Where on the deck my Captain lies,

                                  Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;

Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills,

For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding,

For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;

                         Here Captain! dear father!

                            This arm beneath your head!

                               It is some dream that on the deck,

                                 You’ve fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,

My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,

The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,

From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;

                         Exult O shores, and ring O bells!

                            But I with mournful tread,

                               Walk the deck my Captain lies,

                                  Fallen cold and dead.



(not nearly as good as the other two)

By Brad Osborne

Sunset tolls the end of day

Twilight grey forbodes the night

I cry upon the ground that lay

Covering your needed light

Pain seems too much to bear

Who could need you more than I

But needed you were somewhere

By a power greater than mine

In every breath and act ahead

I hope from there you can see

You have shaped the life I led

And I pray you are proud of me


I hope you have enjoyed this entry to the series, Whittled Words. I look forward to your comments, and if you dare, maybe share your own Elegy poem. Thanks for reading!


15 Responses to “Whittled Words – Elegy Poem”
  1. beth says:

    All were powerful, each in its own way

  2. Well, I thought your example was powerful and meaningful in many ways, smashing good job my friend with a style that is ancient and very emotional. All the best.

  3. Jim Borden says:

    a wonderful style of poem, with such meaning. and I would put your elegy right up there with Whitman and Gray!

  4. To be honest, I enjoyed your poem in this style the best because of its simplicity of word and meaning. I agree with Jim that you shouldn’t consider yourself to be less skilled at this task as those whose poems you chose to add here!

  5. petespringerauthor says:

    The Whitman poem makes me immediately think of the movie Dead Poet’s Society and Robin Williams climbing on top of the desk to look at something a different way. “Oh, Captain, my captain.”

  6. Kneeling At His Grave exceeds the expectations of the author. I loved the inclusion of O Captain! My Captain! because it was a favorite of my Dad who recited it at every opportunity!

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