All definitions are taken from M. H. Abrams’ A Glossary of Literary Terms.
Elegy. A formal and sustained lament in verse for the death of a particular person, usually ending in a consolation. . . . Occasionally the term is used in a broader sense for somber meditations such as the Old English “elegies,” which deal generally with the mortality of human beings and the passing of things they value.
[. . .]
An important subspecies of the elegy is the pastoral elegy, which represents both the mourner and the one he mourns—who is usually also a poet—as shepherds. . . . The pastoral elegists . . . developed elaborate conventions, which are illustrated here by reference to Milton’s “Lycidas.” In addition to the fictional representation of both mourner and subject as shepherds tending their focks (lines 23-36 and elsewhere), we usually find these conventions:
1. The lyric speaker begins by invoking the muses, and goes on to make frequent reference to other figures from classical mythology (lines 15-22, and later).
2. All nature joins in mourning the shepherd’s death (lines 37-49).
3. The mourner charges with negligence the nymphs or other guardians of the dead shepherd (lines 50-63).
4. There is a procession of appropriate mourners (lines 88-111).
5. The poet raises questions about the justice of fate, or Providence and adverts to the corrupt conditions of his own times (lines 64-84, 113-31).
6. Post-Renaissance elegies often include an elaborate passage in which appropriate flowers are brought to deck the hearse (lines 133-51).
7. There is a closing consolation. In Christian elegies, the lyric reversal from grief and despair to joy and assurance occurs when the elegist suddenly realizes that death in this world is the entry to a higher life (lines 165-85).
Form. “Form” is one of the most frequently used terms in literary criticism, but also one of the most diverse in its meanings. It is often used to designate a genre or literary type (“the lyric form,” “the short story form”), or for patterns of meter, line, and rhymes (“verse form,” “stanza form”). It is also, however, the term for a central critical concept. In its application, the form of a work is the principle that determines its organization or is its “shaping principle.”
Lyric. A lyric is any fairly short poem, consisting of the utterance by a single speaker, who expresses a state of mind or a process of perception, thought, and feeling. Many lyric speakers are represented as musing in solitude. Although the lyric is uttered in the first peron, the “I” in the poem need not be the poet who wrote it.
Pastoral. The originator of the pastoral was the Greek poet Theocritus, who in the third century B.C. wrote poems representing the life of Sicilian shepherds. (“Pastor” is Latin for “shepherd.”) Virgil later imitated Theocritus in his Latin Eclogues, and in doing so established the enduring model ofr the traditional pastoral: a deliberately conventional poem expressing an urban poet’s nostalgic image of the peace and simplicity of the life of shepherds and other rural folk in an idealized natural setting. The conventions that hundreds of later poets imitated from Virgil’s imitations of Theocritus include a shepherd reclining under a spreading beech tree and meditating the rural muse, or piping as though he would ne’er grow old, or engaging in a friendly singing contest, or expressing his good or bad fortune in a love affair, or grieving over the death of a fellow Shepherd. From this last type developed the pastoral elegy, which persisted long after the other traditional types had lost their popularity.
In recent decades the term “pastoral” has been expanded in various ways. William Empson, for example, identified as pastoral any work which contrasts simple and complicated life, to the advantage of the former: the simply life may be that of a shepherd, the child, or the working man; in Empson’s view this mode of life serves as an oblique way to criticize the class structure of society. [. . .] Other critics apply the term “pastoral” to any work which represents a withdrawal from ordinary life to a place apart that is close to the elemental rhythms of nature, where the protagonist achieves a new perspective on a former mode of life amid the complexities and conflicts of the social world.
Sonnet. A lyric poem consisting of a single stanza of fourteen iambic pentameter lines linked by an intricate rhyme scheme. There are two major patterns of rhyme in the English Sonnet:
1. The Italian or Petrarchan sonnet falls into two main parts: an octave rhyming abbaabba follwed by a sestet rhyming cdecde or some variant, such as cdccdc.
2. The English sonnet or the Shakespearean sonnet. This sonnet falls into three quatrains and a concluding couplet: abab cdcd efef gg.