The Sorrow Psalms

The Sorrow Psalms

A Book of Twentieth-Century Elegy

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294 pages, 6 x 9 inches

“Lynn Strongin argues that elegy is a convention in poetry that praises as much as it mourns, which is historically true and successfully executed in the poems collected here. Because death is an ultimate reality shared by all—and understood by none—The Sorrow Psalms will find a receptive audience.”—Claudia Keelan, director, MFA International, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

“A wise and judicious collection illuminating the eternal human desire to memorialize those who have passed through our lives. The Sorrow Psalms pays tribute to those who have shared their gift of learning and joy, but also includes poems that depict acts of violence resulting in death and lamentation. It is a celebration of the tenacity of the human spirit.”—Martin Tucker, editor, Confrontation

Like the pilot in W. B. Yeats’s “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death,” each of us is challenged to “balance with this life, this death.” As we share a common fate, we also share loss and sorrow. At their most mournful, with praise and love and raw emotion, poets throughout time have put their grief to paper. The elegy and its inherent drama—the inevitable struggle between love and death—are showcased in The Sorrow Psalms, a collection of twentieth-century elegies edited by poet Lynn Strongin.

Divided into five thematic sections, the elegies convey the impact of death and its aftermath; focus on the loss of family, lovers, and dear friends; contend with the loss of a child; deal with violent death; and seek to look beyond death to find some kind of resolution. The traditional stages of grieving—denial, anger, depression, and acceptance—are evident, either singly in the expression of one profound emotion or all at once, in these elegies.

Strongin’s introduction on the origins of the elegy and its evolution through the twentieth century explains what elegy has been and what it can be. “There is a river of sorrows that flows, which our creative spirits have mapped,” she writes. As they evoke and exalt the dead and give expression to the deepest emotions, the resonant elegies collected here offer comfort to those who personally or collectively grieve the passing of loved ones.


John Berryman, Elizabeth Bishop, Lucille Clifton, Billy Collins, e. e. cummings, James Dickey, Donald Hall, Jane Kenyon, Denise Levertov, Sandra McPherson, Joyce Peseroff, Robert Peters, Stan Rice, Adrienne Rich, Carl Sandburg, Anne Sexton, Ruth Stone, Mark Strand, Dylan Thomas, William Carlos Williams, and C. D. Wright.