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An elegy is a mournful poem that expresses sorrow, usually for someone who has died. It normally has a melancholy or nostalgic tone and is reflective in nature. As with other types of poetry, there are many elements that need to be analyzed to form a complete picture of the purpose of the elegy and the deeper meaning behind it. While literary study, such as elegy analysis, necessitates the use of clues from the text to form opinions, is not an exact science because interpretations often vary from person to person, depending on who is synthesizing the information. Elegy analysis is best done by reading the entire poem several times to form an overall interpretation of the poem.
Before an accurate reading of an elegy can be completed, readers should carefully read the poem, making sure to look up the meaning of any unfamiliar words and the history behind any unknown or obscure allusions contained in the elegy. Becoming familiar with all words and phrases and conducting a few thorough readings are vital to making sure the poem is understood because, theoretically, every word or phrase in a poem should have meaning. After gaining a basic understanding of the elegy, a more complete reading of the poem can be done by focusing on various elements and the overall effect and meaning of the elegy.
The historical time period in which the elegy was written and any similarity to the life of the author or to major events of the time can be important in finding the deeper meaning in an elegy. The context in which an elegy was written can be extremely important to its meaning in some cases. Other elegies may stand alone without dependence on their historical context or the life of their author, who sometimes is and sometimes is not the elegy's speaker.
In elegy analysis, the setting of the elegy as described in the poem is usually an important element because this can illuminate the person, or other event, being mourned and the purpose and intended audience. Determining the point of view in which the poem is presented and who its speaker is also are integral to figuring out the deeper meaning behind the elegy. The characterization portrayed by the speaker of the subject being mourned also is crucial to effective elegy analysis. Literary elements that are included, such as figures of speech, meter, word choice, tone and imagery need to be examined in terms of what effect they add to the overall elegy.
While thinking through these individual literary elements and the elegy in its entirety, conducting an in-depth analysis — line by line, stanza by stanza and overall — can help readers to understand the meanings and themes captured in the elegy. This analysis also can lead to an understanding of the relationship and feelings between the speaker and the subject being mourned in the elegy. After readers develop their own analysis and synthesis of the elegy, it can be helpful to read published critical analyses of the elegy and share their opinions with others to compare thoughts.