Poetry can serve as cautionary tales, a declaration of love and many other types of expression. Poems can discuss several themes from love and life to death and religion; however two poems with the same themes can have two different messages. Thomas Grey’s “Elegy Written in a Church Courtyard” and “Beowulf” author unknown, express themes such as death and the value of life; however their use of figurative language and choice of form convey two different messages. Figurative language can deepen the meaning of a message, while form can give the reader a hint about the poem’s theme.
Meticulously choosing the proper form for a poem is vital to conveying an author’s message. For example, “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” is written in Elegy form. An elegy is a type of lyric poem used to memorialize and mourn a person’s death. Grey uses the elegy form to memorialize and mourn all of the souls who aren’t valued. Grey states “Even from the tomb the voices of Nature cries / even in our ashes live their wonted fires / for thee, who mindful of the unhonored dead” these souls aren’t valued due to a lack of fame and fortune (91-93). Grey’s form offers structural support for his theme of death and aids the reader in understanding the poet’s point of view. “Beowulf” was written in Epic form, the oldest form of poetry, wielded to tell tales of heroic adventures and conquest. The author utilizes the epic form to dictate a cautionary tale of how man can become the monster. Beowulf, a heroic war hungry warrior defeats the demonic hellion, Grendel. An act that would be considered a great feat if it was not for Beowulf’s hunger for war and his egotistical personality. This form implies that the reader will read a story about a great man who was able to defeat a monster and triumph over evil. However at the end of the poem, the tone shifts when the author writes:
Death had come
And taken them all in times gone by
And the only one left to tell their tale,
The last of their line, could look forward to nothing. (2236-2239)
All that is left after a life of war is a monster who destroyed his own country.
The meter and rhyme scheme also play a part in a poem’s message. Grey wrote an “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” in iambic pentameter. Iambic pentameter with a rhyme scheme of ABAB offers quick rhymes and allows the reader to feel the lyrical poem. While “Beowulf” appears to be written in blank verse, this could be due to the translation process. “Beowulf” also has no rhyme scheme but does contain rhymes within the poem. For example, an internal rhyme “the monster back-tracking/ the man overpowering” showing a rhyme within the same line of poetry (760). This internal rhyme paints a picture of a weak Grendel rapidly losing the fight, Beowulf overwhelming him. Although meter and rhyme schemes do add to a poet’s message, no meter is superior to another.
Personal life can also affect a poet’s inspiration and message. For...