Classical Influences on English Poetry

By J. A. K. Thomson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER EIGHT
ELEGIAC POETRY

THE first thing to be done by the reader of this chapter is not to misunderstand the tide.

Elegiac poetry in antiquity is not necessarily concerned with death and mourning; most frequently it is concerned with love. This was the result of historical causes, which need not be expounded here. But there is the fact; most of the love- poetry in Latin is to be found in elegies. The name however is quite unimportant, for an elegy simply meant to the Romans a poem written in elegiac couplets, and an elegiac couplet was simply a pair of lines, of which the first was a dactylic hexameter and the second a dactylic pentameter.

The best known of the Roman elegiac poets are Tibullus, Propertius and Ovid. Whatever their relative importance in the judgment of modern critics, in historical importance the work of Ovid so completely transcends theirs that we shall have little occasion to dwell on the poetry of Tibullus and Propertius. There are even parts of the work of Ovid himself, and that in elegiac verse, on which we need not dwell: the Fasti, for instance, and the Tristia with the Epistulae ex Ponto, which he wrote in exile. It is the poems that deal with love, or what he calls love, that gave Ovid his prodigious celebrity. These are the Amores or 'Loves', the Ars Amatoria or 'Art of Love' and the Heroides or 'Heroines'.

Of his influence upon mediaeval literature we can speak only in general terms. There can be no question that it was considerable; the frequent references, allusions, borrowings prove that. He was not excluded from the monasteries, at least from all of them, largely because he supplied an endless number of stories which, with a little manipulation, could be used to enforce a moral. Secular persons, supposing them literate, as

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Classical Influences on English Poetry
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Preface 5
  • Contents 7
  • Chapter One - The Epic 9
  • Chapter Two - The Epic Tradition in Antiquity 30
  • Chapter Three - The Epic Tradition in Modern Times: Milton 53
  • Chrapter Four - Didactic Poetry 75
  • Chapter Five - Tragedy 97
  • Chapter Six - Comedy 119
  • Chapter Seven - Lyric Poetry 138
  • Chapter Eight - Elegiac Poetry 159
  • Chapter Nine - The Pastoral 172
  • Chapter Ten - Satire 196
  • Chapter Eleven - The Epigram 239
  • Appendix 247
  • Index 265
  • Author's Quoted 270
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