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Difference Between Elegy and Eulogy

Difference Between Elegy and Eulogy

People often get confused between the terms Elegy and Eulogy. However if you study them closely, you will find that they have a lot of differences, which will be pointed out in the upcoming information.
Penlighten Staff
Last Updated: Jun 3, 2018
It is quite natural to get confused between an elegy and a eulogy as both these literary terms share a common characteristic, i.e., both of them speak about someone or something that is lost. However, the differences between them are more in number which make them stand apart from each other. The word Elegy is derived from the Greek word elegos meaning a song. An elegy, when it originated, was any poem written in elegiac meter (alternating dactylic hexameter and pentameter lines). It was never confined to any particular subject. Most classical elegies were love poems and not laments. It was only during the 16th century CE that elegy, in English literature, got its specific subject of lament. With the development of this genre, the poet now had the option to shape the poem in any meter. On the other hand, Eulogy is a Greek word that's made by combining the two words eu meaning good and logo meaning word. It is a prose, which acts as a ceremonial expression of honor to the person who has recently died. After this introductory paragraph we shall move on to the differences between the two terms in detail.

The origin of elegy lies in Greek and Latin whereas eulogy belongs to classic Greek. An elegy proceeds in three parts or three separate verses- the lament, the praise and the consolation, whereas there is no such definite structure for a eulogy.

Following are some of the noticeable differences between the two terms: Elegy Vs. Eulogy

Definition In classical Greco-Roman literature, "elegy" refers to any poem written in elegiac meter (alternating hexameter and pentameter lines). More broadly, elegy came to mean any poem dealing with the subject-matter common to the early Greco-Roman elegies-complaints about love, sustained formal lamentation, or somber meditations.- A Glossary Of Literary Terms, M.H. Abrams

Genre It is usually written in Poetry, however, it suffices to be a eulogy (only if it's in verse form).

Types Pastoral Elegy

Nature It presents a lamenting tone where usually a friend or a family member regrets the loss of a loved one, however, in a broader sense, it is an expression of regret for the loss of humanity as a whole. It is a very social kind of representation.

Examples Some of the greatest literary writers have created master pieces of elegy in English literature and here are the names of a few of them: Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard (1751) ~ Thomas Gray, Lycidas (1638) ~ John Milton, Adonais (1821) ~ P. B. Shelley, Thyrsis (1865) ~ Mathew Arnold

More about Elegies Although a form of elegy, Pastoral elegy falls under the broad category of pastoral poetry possessing some unique features. In pastoral poems, a shepherd is the main character whereas in pastoral elegies, a person deceased or dead is remolded as a shepherd despite his role in real life. When you look at the poem at its surface level, it will appear as only a grieving shepherd at the loss of his friend. However, as you step deeper, you will understand that it is about the society of shepherds, that is free from the complexity and corruption of the city life. It has a more expansive meaning than a eulogy.

Definition A Eulogy is a piece of writing or speech that is delivered in praise of a person recently died. It occurs mostly at the time of a funeral. One of the family members (probably the son) or a close relative of the deceased person delivers the speech or reads aloud the written matter to honor the dead. It is highly optimistic in nature and helpful to boost the morale of the depressed family.

Genre It is usually written in Prose, yet, there can be eulogy poems as well.

Types Tribute or Legacy, Chronological, Thematic and Personal Recollections

Nature It sets on the lines of personal experience without much connection with social issues. Another important difference is that eulogies can be offered to honor even a living person for his/her good deeds and for the respectable position that he/she secures in the society.

Examples As eulogies are a kind of personal tribute to somebody or a gesture of acceptance or honoring somebody, there are no specific examples as such. A eulogy can be written for a friend, father, sister, or it can also be an official/formal eulogy in honor of a boss, colleague, or an employee.

More about Eulogies Offering eulogies is quite a tough task because it requires composure. You are likely to become emotional, lose your mental balance and break into tears. It is absolutely normal to feel that way since the person who passed away was very dear to you. However, it is also important to complete the task for which you are standing there, i.e., paying homage to the person who is gone or is severely ill. To avoid an unwanted situation during the speech delivery, one should be ready with a back-up plan. This plan should include things like having a supporting speaker ready in case the main speaker is unable to continue. The speech should be written beforehand and should be well rehearsed. Writing a eulogy needs skill as to weave the facts about the person in flowery words. A person who has a flair for writing and is good at using ornamental language can do a better job in this field. A glass of water should always be placed at the side of the speaker to avoid throat dryness during the speech.

On a concluding note, the main characteristic difference between an elegy and a eulogy is the tone of both the genres. An elegy possesses a melancholic tone throughout the poem whereas, a eulogy has a comforting and optimistic tone. An elegy is confined to the loss of someone or something, however, a eulogy can be offered even to a living person as an honor or praise.