An ELEGY is a poetic response to the experience of loss. Although the elegy is among the oldest poetic forms with a rich history in myths and in religious texts, the elegy was a popular nineteenth-century genre. Whitman and Dickinson were familiar with old and contemporary elegies and were well-acquainted with the history of the tradition. The Civil War offered both poets an opportunity to use the elegy as a form for new poems of their own. The death of Abraham Lincoln was of particular importance to Whitman and inspired "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd," featured in this site. Dickinson also experienced losses in the Civil War; the death of a young man from Amherst, Frazer Stearns, was deeply affecting to her and her family members. The poems that Whitman and Dickinson wrote in response to the Civil War may be classified as "elegies"; the purpose of this site is provide ways for studying the elegiac form in their works.

This site offers:

  • an historical overview of the elegy as a poetic form from its early origins through the mid-nineteenth century
  • a selection of the elegiac poetry and related prose of Whitman and Dickinson
  • a selection of critical positions of literary scholars who have commented on Whitman's and Dickinson's use of the elegy
  • suggested topics for investigations using the materials in the site and the Whitman and Dickinson archives
  • a bibliography of print and electronic resources