Living Legacies

On the surface, an elegy seems to be composed to honor the deceased, speaking directly to that person. But in actuality the deceased will never get to hear or read it. The only people who will are those who may have known the deceased, as this powerful example by Chidiock Tichborne — put to death in 1586 —illustrates all too well:


Written with his own hand in the tower before his execution

My prime of youth is but a frost of cares, My feast of joy is but a dish of pain, My crop of corn is but a field of tares, And all my good is but vain hope of gain; The day is past, and yet I saw no sun, And now I live, and now my life is done.

My tale was heard and yet it was not told, My fruit is fallen and yet my leaves are green, My youth is spent and yet I am not old, I saw the world and yet I was not seen; My thread is cut and yet it is not spun, And now I live, and now my life is done.

I sought my death and found it in my womb, I looked for life and saw it was a shade, I trod the earth and knew it was my tomb, And now I die, and now I was but made; My glass is full, and now my glass is run, And now I live, and now my life is done.

Here are examples or excerpts from several types of elegies: The Self Eulogy. As was the case with Tichborne's, such a poem is popular among prisoners who face execution, as this example by the great poet and adventurer Sir Walter Raleigh illustrates:

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