American Constitutional Elegy

Max Cavitch

in The Oxford Handbook of the Elegy

Published in print April 2010 | ISBN: 9780199228133
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks of Literature

 American Constitutional Elegy

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  • Literary Studies (19th Century)
  • Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)


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This article discusses the American constitutional elegy. It argues that American national difference in literature can be tracked in the terms of its engagement with specifically American constitutional principles, concentrating on the national period, beginning in the late eighteenth century with the Revolutionary War and sketching the story up to the present day. It then returns to the great theme of elegy as a flexible form and its practices under persistent self-scrutiny. All choral poetry carries with it an association with the choruses of ancient, especially Athenian, tragedy and thus with the common understanding that the chorus speaks as or on behalf of a democratic citizenry. Marilyn Hacker has written a ‘constitutional elegy’ in the great American tradition, a tradition that continues to challenge our principled commitment to the legal and symbolic bonds of ‘adjacent difference’ in a rights-based national polity.

Keywords: American constitutional elegy; American constitutional principles; American national difference; choral poetry; American tradition; Marilyn Hacker

Article.  6594 words. 

Subjects: Literature ; Literary Studies (19th Century) ; Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)

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