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date: 07 December 2019

Abstract and Keywords

Canonical literature from 1660 to 1800 provides striking instances of the elegiac, but few enduring examples of formal elegy. A survey from the predominantly couplet form in the first half of the period to the stanzaic elegies of the second half reveals both forms struggling against the pull of irony toward burlesque, parody, and satire. Poems that successfully resist self-reflexively contemplate the significance of the elegy itself. Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard is the culmination of a renewed interest emergent in the 1740s and sets the formal and thematic pattern to the end of the century. The popularity of the stanzaic elegy, however, renders it vulnerable to ironic subversion, most forcefully in the work of “Peter Pindar,” whose elegies on fleas, bats, and a dying ass drive the genre back to the alleys of Grub Street to await revival as a consequential literary genre in the nineteenth century.

Keywords: poetry, genre, elegy, death, stanzas

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