22 pages 44 minutes read

Martha Collins

Again Later

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 2020

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Literary Context: Modern Elegy

As one might expect from an elegy made entirely from a short, automated message, “Again Later” is an unadorned and spare poem; and while traditional elegies tend to be elaborate, modern elegies tend to be spare. A traditional English elegy would likely include most—or all—of the following elements:

a repeated elegiac refrain; a description of the “laureate hearse” decked out in floral finery; an interrogation of the muses who fell asleep during their watch over the (now, unfortunately, dead) subject of the elegy; an enumeration and description of the procession of mourners; and nature’s horrified reaction to the death. . . . Ultimately, the longed-for consolation is often achieved through the apotheosis and objectification of the mourned, frequently through stellification (Connolly, Sally. Grief and Meter. University of Virginia Press, 2016, pp. 7-8).

A 20th- or 21st-century elegy, however, would likely not include many of these traditional elements. Instead, modern elegies are typically bare-bones examples of the genre. As David Kennedy observes, “[M]odern elegists have often opted to simplify where their predecessors chose to trope” (Kennedy, David. Elegy. Routledge, 2007, p. 59.).

Moreover, modern and contemporary poets have done away with the single most important element of a traditional elegy: consolation.