Beginning with an informative introduction on the form of lyric poetry known as elegy, this comprehensive anthology of English-language poems from the late middle ages to the present represents both what endures and what varies in modes of lamentation. The first section (pp. 35-147) is divided into four parts: watching the dying, viewing the dead, ceremonies of separation, and imagining the afterlife. The second, and much longer section (pp. 151-444), is composed of subsections lamenting the gamut of specific losses: dead family members, children, spouses and lovers, friends, those dead by violence, the great and beautiful, poets mourning other poets, self-elegies, and meditations on mortality.

Within each section poems are chronologically arranged "to show how historical and cultural differences have produced aesthetic changes" and to illuminate "the often strikingly transformed procedures for mourning devised by so many poets in our own era of mounting theological and social confusion." (p. 26) An index listing authors, poem titles, and first lines is another way of navigating this voluminous collection.


Several of the poems have been annotated in this database: [e.g., Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night (Thomas), Viewing the Body (Snodgrass) as have other anthologies, especially Remembrances and Celebrations: A Book of Eulogies, Elegies, Letters, and Epitaphs (Harris, ed.) and Trials, Tribulations, and Celebrations: African American Perspectives on Health, Illness, Aging and (Secundy & Nixon, eds.)] in which the section on loss and grief in African American poetry is particularly relevant.

If there is such a thing as what Wallace Stevens calls "a handbook to heartbreak," this anthology comes close. I couldn't put it down (even as bedtime reading). It is worth revisiting often.


W. W. Norton

Place Published

New York



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