Elegy

Elegy (Greek term, probably of foreign origin). Originally, in the 7th century BC, the term signified a song accompanied by a flute. In Greek and Roman literature it referred to long poems of a certain form (elegaic couplet: hexameter and pentameter) regardless of content. Its meaning began to change in Roman literature: an elegy became a poem of any form expressing grief and sadness, tinged with eroticism. In Ukraine numerous elegies were written in the 17th–18th century. They dealt with various subjects—erotic, political, and religious—and expressed longing for the past, longing for one's homeland, grief over human fate (‘worldly songs’), and sorrow over political events (eg, songs attributed to Ivan Mazepa). The best known among them are Stefan Yavorsky's elegy on his parting with his library, written in Latin, and the elegiac poems of Dymytrii Tuptalo and Hryhorii Skovoroda. The term elegy was not used in the 19th century, but typical elegiac poems can be found among those of Taras Shevchenko, Markiian Shashkevych, Amvrosii Metlynsky, Yevhen Hrebinka, Mykhailo Petrenko, Oleksander Afanasiev-Chuzhbynsky, Leonid Hlibov, Yakiv Shchoholiv, and others, up to the modern poets (Mykola Zerov was a master of the elegiac couplet). It is characteristic that the elegiac verses of Ukrainian poets became folk songs (eg, ‘Ni, mamo, ne mozhna neliuba liubyt’’ by Ye. Hrebinka and ‘Stoit’ hora vysokaia’ by L. Hlibov). The oldest elegiac folk songs are laments for the dead. These were imitated in prose as early as the 11th century (eg, ‘Skazanie,’ about the lives of Saints Borys and Hlib). Original elegiac songs are very popular even today (besides burial songs, there are lirnyk songs, religious songs, and love songs). Some travesties (by Petro Hulak-Artemovsky) and parodies (by Volodymyr Samiilenko) of elegies have been composed in Ukrainian.

Dmytro Chyzhevsky

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 1 (1984).]




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