Elegy is among the world's oldest forms of literature: a continuous poetic tradition which stretches back beyond the time of Virgil and Horace to Ancient Greece, speaking eloquently and movingly of the experience of loss and the yearning for consolation. In perhaps the purest instance of art's fundamental 'impulse to preserve' (Philip Larkin), it gives shape and meaning to memories too painful to contemplate for long, and answers our desire to fix in words what would otherwise slip our grasp.
In The Penguin Book of Elegy, Andrew Motion and Stephen Regan trace the history of this tradition, selecting the best and most significant poems and poets from the Classical roots of elegy, and from its Renaissance revival down to the present day. They show how this remarkably resilient and versatile form has continued to adapt itself even as society and religious belief have shifted around it, with striking achievements in the work of twentieth- and twenty-first-century poets as different as Czeslaw Milosz and Marianne Moore, Denise Riley and Gwendolyn Brooks.
The result is the only comprehensive anthology of its kind now available in the English language. The Penguin Book of Elegy is itself a work of preservation - and a profound and moving catalogue of the fundamentally human urges to remember and honour the dead, and give comfort to those who survive them.