Laments may also take the form of speech that is delivered after something terrible happens or someone passes away. Traditionally, laments are associated with crying and other forms of mourning. They are one of the oldest forms of songs and writing known to history. They are also traditionally performed by women.
One of the oldest laments that scholars are aware of dates back for thousand years to ancient Sumer. They are also examples throughout the epic poetry of the world, including in ‘Beowulf,’ in Homer’s epic poems, in the Jewish Tanakh, and in the Hindu Vedas.
Laments are also common subjects for religious artists—for example, the Lamentation of Christ.
Lament pronunciation: lah-mint
A lament is a song, poem, or speech of mourning and grief. They are written and delivered for someone or something.
Often, the person delivering the lament imbues their words with emotion. This is something that is difficult to convey through written words. For this reason, most laments, at least those of a structured form, are most effective when they are heard rather than read. Readers can explore a few poetic examples of laments below.
Examples of Laments
This lesser-read Thomas Hardy poem describes the life and death of a woman who took great joy from social interaction and the pleasure of others. She had a social personality and would’ve loved to have attended a specific party. The speaker comes to the realization as the poem progresses that everything around him that he used to enjoy is worthless now that she’s gone. Here are a few lines:
How she would have loved
A party to-day! –
Bright-hatted and gloved,
With table and tray
And chairs on the lawn
Her smiles would have shone
With welcomings…. But
She is shut, she is shut
The thing that pains the poet’s speaker most is that the woman is now in a place where she can no longer enjoy the earthly pleasures she once loved.
Read more Thomas Hardy poems.
Lament by Gillian Clarke
This poem was written as a lament for that which is lost due to humanity’s cruelty and neglect. It reminds readers to take the time to remember the devastation and destruction that humanity is capable of today. Here is the first stanza:
For the green turtle with her pulsing burden,
in search of the breeding ground.
For her eggs laid in their nest of sickness.
The poet begins multiple stanzas of this piece with the word “for.” This brings to mind all the creatures that the piece is dedicated to. The poet focuses on remembrance as the major theme of the piece.
Discover more Gillian Clarke poems.
This beautiful lament is written from the perspective of a woman who has recently lost her husband. The widow’s depression comes through clearly in her cold, flat tone. She describes her new situation with a dark clarity that is quite effective. For example, here are the first lines:
Sorrow is my own yard
where the new grass
flames as it has flamed
often before but not
with the cold fire
that closes round me this year.
I lived with my husband.
Rather than wailing and crying over her situation, the widow has accepted her new sorrowful life. The grief in her heart, she later notes, is stronger than any she has experienced before. She is no longer moved by the “load the cherry branches / and color some bushes / yellow and some red.”
Explore more William Carlos Williams poems.
Lament for Thomas MacDonagh by Francis Ledwidge
This lament was written in honor of Ledwidge’s fellow Irish poet and friend, Thomas MacDough who died in 1916. He was executed on May 3, 1916, for his role in the Easter Rising. The first stanza reads:
He shall not hear the bittern cry
In the wild sky where he is lain
Nor voices of the sweeter birds
Above the wailing of the rain.
The speaker notes right away that because his friend has passed away, he’s no longer going to have certain experiences. These include hearing the “bittern cry / in the wild sky” or the “sweeter birds / Above the wailing of the rain.” These beautiful images are interwoven with the poet’s grief.
Read more Francis Ledwidge poems.
The lament is one of the oldest song-forms, and poetic forms, known to history. There are examples of laments that date back thousands of years. Plus, they are still being written to this day. Similar to elegies, laments are inspired by loss and grief.
Poets write laments when they want to recognize their own losses or a loss that someone else, or perhaps even the whole world, has experienced. Death is the primary motivator of a lament. But, destruction and general loss are also important factors—for example, the loss of history, one’s home, or a natural environment.
A Biblical lament is a song or prayer of mourning directed to God. A lament might ask God to help someone move through their grief or solve a problem that they have.
Related Literary Terms
- Elegy: a poem or song that is written in dedication to someone who has died.
- Coherence: the properties of well-organized writing. This includes grammar, sentence structure, and plot elements.
- Conflict: a plot device used by writers when two opposing sides come up against each other.
- Epitaph: a short lyric written in memory of someone who has died. Sometimes, epitaphs serve as elegies.
- Euphony: a literary device that refers to the musical, or pleasing, qualities of words.
- Allusion: an indirect reference to, including but not limited to, an idea, event, or person. It is used within both prose and verse writing.
- Read: 10 Incredible Poems about Death
- Read: Book of Lamentations
- Read: 10 Unforgettable Poems about Grief
- Listen: Overview – Lamentations