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Ovid, while devoting his previous career to versifying things erotic, had always shown an inclination towards epic poetry. Already in the introductory elegy to the first book of the Amores , the neophyte announced that he was writing elegies merely by default. His true ambition lay elsewhere; he had actually meant to write an epic:. About arms and violent wars I was getting ready to compose in the weighty hexameter.

The material matched the metrical form: the second verse was of equal length to the first — but Cupid they say smiled and snatched away one of the feet. But already the witty features of the proem starting with its minuscule length: four meagre lines for a work of fifteen books! And, indeed, his take on epic is as unconventional as his efforts in elegiac and didactic poetry had been.

It is arguably the most unusual epic to have come down to us from antiquity — as well as one of the most influential.

Five Letters - Ma Keen Dawn

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Text of Elegy Poems

Open Book Publishers. Ovid and His Times. The Metamorphoses : A Literary Monstrum. Ovid, Metamorphoses, 3. Search inside the book. Table of contents. Cite Share. Cited by. The difficulty of recovering the original pronunciation of the language has left our conception of Hebrew metres in a state of obscurity. It has been generally supposed that the rhythm was more of sight than of sound, but that it consisted essentially in neither, depending mainly 64 on the balance of ideas.

The metre, it has been stated, might strike the eye in the external aspect of the sentences; it was designed much more to charm the mind by the harmony and music of the thoughts. But while these general principles are still acknowledged, some further progress has been made in the examination of the structure of the verses, with the result that both more regularity of law and more variety of metre have been discovered.

The elegy in particular is found to be shaped on special lines of its own. It has been pointed out that a peculiar metre is reserved for poems of mournful reflection. The first feature of this metre to be noted is the unusual length of the line.

Five Letters and an Elegy by Quoddam | | Booktopia

In Hebrew poetry, according to the generally accepted pronunciation, the lines vary from about six syllables to about twelve. In the elegy the line most frequently runs to the extreme limit, and so acquires a slow, solemn movement. A second feature of elegiac poetry is the breaking of the lengthy line into two unequal parts—the first part being about as long as a whole line in an average Hebrew lyric, and the second much shorter, reading like another line abbreviated, and seeming to suggest that the weary thought is waking up and hurrying to its conclusion.

Sometimes this short section is a thin echo of the fuller conception that precedes, sometimes the completion of that conception. In the English version, of course, the effect is frequently lost; still occasionally it is very marked, even after passing through this foreign medium.

Take, for example, the lines,. Now although this is only a structural feature it points to inferences of deeper significance. It shews that the Hebrew poets paid special attention to the elegy as a species of verse to be treated apart, and therefore that they attached a peculiar significance to the ideas and feelings it expresses. The ease with which the transition to the elegiac form of verse is made whenever an occasion for using it occurs is a hint that this must have been familiar to the Jews.

Possibly it was in common use at funerals in the dirge. We meet with an early specimen of this verse in Amos, when, just after announcing that he is about to utter a lamentation over the house of Israel, the herdsman of Tekoa breaks into elegiacs with the words,. She is cast down upon her land—there is none to raise her up. Similarly constructed elegiac pieces are scattered over the Old Testament scriptures from the eighth century B. Several illustrations of this peculiar kind of metre are to be found in the Psalms.

It is employed ironically with terrible effect in the Book of Isaiah, where the mock lament over the death of the king of Babylon is constructed in the form of a true elegy. When the prophet made a sudden transition from his normal style to sombre funereal measures his purpose would be at once recognised, for his words would sound like the tolling bell and the muffled drums that announce 66 the march of death; and yet it would be known that this solemn pomp was not really a demonstration of mourning or a symbol of respect, but only the pageantry of scorn and hatred and vengeance.

The sarcasm would strike home with the more force since it fell on men's ears in the heavy, lingering lines of the elegy, as the exultant patriot exclaimed,. The Lord hath broken the staff of the wicked—the sceptre of the rulers," etc. A special characteristic of the five elegies that make up the Book of Lamentations is their alphabetical arrangement.


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Each elegy consists of twenty-two verses, the same number as that of the letters in the Hebrew alphabet. All but the last are acrostics, the initial letter of each verse following the order of the alphabet. In the third elegy every line in the verse begins with the same letter. According to another way of reckoning, this poem consists of sixty-six verses arranged in triplets, each of which not only follows the order of the alphabet with its first letter, but also has this initial letter repeated at the beginning of each of its three verses. Alphabetical acrostics are not unknown elsewhere in the Old Testament; there are several instances of them in the Psalms.

Ovid, Metamorphoses, 3.511-733

The method is generally thought to have been adopted as an expedient to assist the memory. Clearly it is a somewhat artificial arrangement, cramping the imagination of the poet; and it is regarded by some as a sign of literary decadence. Whatever view we may take of it from the standpoint of purely artistic criticism, we can 67 derive one important conclusion concerning the mental attitude of the writer from a consideration of the elaborate structure of the verse.

Although this poetry is evidently inspired by deep emotion—emotion so profound that it cannot even be restrained by the stiffest vesture—still the author is quite self-possessed: he is not at all over-mastered by his feelings; what he says is the outcome of deliberation and reflection. Passing from the form to the substance of the elegy, our attention is arrested on the threshold of the more serious enquiry by another link of connection between the two. In accordance with a custom of which we have other instances in the Hebrew Bible, the first word in the text is taken as the title of the book.

The haphazard name is more appropriate in this case than it sometimes proves to be, for the first word of the first chapter—the original Hebrew for which is the Jewish title of the book—is "How. Three out of the five elegies in Lamentations begin with it; so does the mock elegy in Isaiah. Moreover, it is not only suggestive of the form of a certain kind of poetry; it is a hint of the spirit in which that poetry is conceived; it strikes the key-note for all that follows. Therefore it may not be superfluous for us to consider the significance of this little word in the present connection.

In the first place, it is a sort of note of exclamation prefixed to the sentence it introduces. Thus it infuses an emotional element into the statements which follow it. The word is a relic of the most primitive form of language. Judging from the sounds produced by animals and the cries of little children, we should conclude that the first approach to speech would be 68 a simple expression of excitement—a scream of pain, a shout of delight, a yell of rage, a shriek of surprise.

Next to the mere venting of feeling comes the utterance of desire—a request, either for the possession of some coveted boon, or for deliverance from something objectionable. Thus the dog barks for his bone, or barks again to be freed from his chain; and the child cries for a toy, or for protection from a terror. If this is correct it will be only at the third stage of speech that we shall reach statements of fact pure and simple.

Conversely, it may be argued that as the progress of cultivation develops the perceptive and reasoning faculties and corresponding forms of speech, the primitive emotional and volitional types of language must recede. Our phlegmatic English temperament predisposes us to take this view.

It is not easy for us to sympathise with the expressiveness of an excitable Oriental people.

Unscramble ELEGY

What to them is perfectly natural and not at all inconsistent with true manliness strikes us as a childish weakness. Is not this a trifle insular? The emotions constitute as essential a part of human nature as the observing and reasoning faculties, and it cannot be proved that to stifle them beneath a calm exterior is more right and proper than to give them a certain adequate expression.

That this expression may be found even among ourselves is apparent from the singular fact that the English, who are the most prosaic people in their conduct, have given the world more good poetry than any other nation of modern times; a fact which, perhaps, may be explained on the principle that the highest poetry is not the rank outgrowth of irregulated passions, but the cultivated fruit of deep-rooted ideas. Still these ideas must be warmed with feeling before they will germinate.

No doubt the unimpassioned style has its mission—in allaying a panic, for example. But it will not inspire men to attempt a forlorn hope. Society will never be saved by hysterics; but neither will it ever be saved by statistics. It may be that the exclamation how is a feeble survival of the savage howl.

Nevertheless the emotional expression, when regulated as the taming of the sound suggests, will always play a very real part in the life of mankind, even at the most highly developed stage of civilisation. In the second place, it is to be observed that this word introduces a tone of vagueness into the sentences which it opens. A description beginning as these elegies begin would not serve the purpose of an inventory of the ruins of Jerusalem such as an insurance society would demand in the present day.

The facts are viewed through an atmosphere of feeling, so that their chronological order is confused and their details melt one into another.


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That is not to say that they are robbed of all value. Pure impressionism may reveal truths which no hard, exact picture can render clear to us. These elegies make us see the desolation of Jerusalem more vividly than the most accurate photographs of the scenes referred to could have done, because they help us to enter into the passion of the event. With this idea of vagueness, however, there is joined a sense of vastness.

The note of exclamation is also a note of admiration. The language is indefinite in part for the very reason that the scene beggars description.