The Role of Elegy

By Mary Jo Bang b. 1946 Mary Jo Bang
The role of elegy is
To put a death mask on tragedy,
A drape on the mirror.
To bow to the cultural

Debate over the aesthetization of sorrow,
Of loss, of the unbearable
Afterimage of the once material.
To look for an imagined

Consolidation of grief
So we can all be finished
Once and for all and genuinely shut up
The cabinet of genuine particulars.

Instead there’s the endless refrain
One hears replayed repeatedly
Through the just ajar door:
Some terrible mistake has been made.

What is elegy but the attempt
To rebreathe life
Into what the gone one once was
Before he grew to enormity.

Come on stage and be yourself,
The elegist says to the dead. Show them
Now—after the fact—
What you were meant to be:

The performer of a live song.
A shoe. Now bow.
What is left but this:
The compulsion to tell.

The transient distraction of ink on cloth
One scrubbed and scrubbed
But couldn’t make less.
Not them, not soon.

Each day, a new caption on the cartoon
Ending that simply cannot be.
One hears repeatedly, the role of elegy is.

“The Role of Elegy” reprinted from Elegy by Mary Jo Bang. © 2007 by Mary Jo Bang. Used with permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Source: Elegy (Graywolf Press, 2007)

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Poet Mary Jo Bang b. 1946

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Subjects Arts & Sciences, Living, Sorrow & Grieving, Death, Poetry & Poets

Poetic Terms Elegy

 Mary Jo  Bang

Biography

Mary Jo Bang was born in 1946 in Missouri and grew up in Cool Valley, outside of St. Louis. She originally studied sociology, earning both her BA and MA in the subject from Northwestern University. She earned a BA in photography from the Polytechnic of Central London, and an MFA in creative writing from Columbia University. She is the author of numerous collections of poetry, including Apology for Want (1997), which received the . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Arts & Sciences, Living, Sorrow & Grieving, Death, Poetry & Poets

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Poetic Terms Elegy

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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