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Introduction to the Pastoral in English poetry

Introduction to the Pastoral in English poetry

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    Sarah Law Poetic Forms & Genres
  • 2. Definition
    • The word pastoral comes from 'pastor' the Latin for Shepherd
    • 3. OED 'Pastoral':
    'A poem, play, or the like, in which the life of shepherds is portrayed, often in an artificial and conventional manner; also extended to works dealing with simple rural and open-air life.'
    Sarah Law Poetic Forms & Genres
  • 4. Pastoral: a Brief History
    • 3rd Century BC Greek poet Theocritus wrote a series of poems representing the lives of Sicilian shepherds
    • 5. Greek names e.g. Lycidas, Damon, Philomena, Chlorinda often continued to appear in pastoral poetry
    • 6. 1st Century AD Roman poet Virgil adapted the genre with his Eclogues: a more idealized vision of rural life. Set his poems in 'Arcadia'
    • 7. 14th Century Italian poets revived the genre which spread throughout Europe
    Sarah Law Poetic Forms & Genres
  • 8. Pastoral in English
    • 1579 Spenser's The ShepheardesCalender
    • 9. The poem introduces 'Colin Clout' and depicts his life as a shepherd through the twelve months of the year. Deliberately archaic language.
    • 10. Pastoral Life is not presented realistically in any of these works
    Characters are interested in the pursuit of romance, an idyllic rural landscape and a life of leisure
    Sarah Law Poetic Forms & Genres
  • 11. From 'The Passionate Shepherd to his Love' (Christopher Marlowe, 1599)
    Come live with me and by my Love,
    And we will all the pleasures prove
    That hills and valleys, dale and field,
    And all the craggy mountains yield.
    There will we sit upon the rocks
    And see the shepherds feed their flocks,
    By shallow rivers, to whose falls
    Melodious birds sing madrigals.
    Sarah Law Poetic Forms & Genres
  • 12. A parody of the Pastoral:from Don Quixote (Cervantes, 1615)
    • 'This is the meadow where we came across those charming shepherdesses and gallant shepherds who were reviving and imitating the pastoral Arcadia, an original and intelligent idea that I should like us to imitate in our turn, Sancho, if you are agreeable, and turn ourselves into shepherds...we'll wander around the hills, the woods and the meadows, singing here, lamenting there, drinking the liquid crystals of the springs or of the pure streams or of the mighty rivers...'
    Sarah Law Poetic Forms & Genres
  • 13. Pastoral as Myth
    • The people Don Quixote has seen were aristocrats playing at being shepherds.
    • 14. The pastoral landscape is a view of the countryside from the urban perspective of the town or court.
    • 15. Pastoral is often a nostalgic form, produced by those conscious of having lost something: it looks backwards in time
    • 16. Simplicity is located in the country, complexity is located in a sophisticated and decadent city.
    Sarah Law Poetic Forms & Genres
  • 17. Pastoral Comedy 'As You Like It' (Shakespeare, 1600)
    Sweet are the uses of adversity,
    Which, like the toad, ugly and venemous,
    Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
    And this our life, exempt from public haunt
    Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
    Sermons in stones, and good in every thing.
    (II, i, 1-17)
    Sarah Law Poetic Forms & Genres
  • 18. The 'Golden Age'
    • Nostalgia for the 'Golden Age' is a key component of the pastoral myth
    • 19. In this golden age at the beginning of human history, life was simple and happy
    • 20. This gave way to the silver age, then the bronze age, then the present day age of iron.
    • 21. Described by Roman poet Ovid (1st Century AD)
    Sarah Law Poetic Forms & Genres
  • 22. From Ovid's Metamorphosestranslated by Arthur Golding 1567
    Then sprang up first the golden age, which of itself maintained
    The truth and right of everything unforced and unconstrained
    There was no fear of punishment; there was no threatening law
    In brazen tables nailed up to keep the folk in awe
    There was no man would crouch or creep to judge with cap in hand
    They lived safe without a judge in every realm and land.
    Sarah Law Poetic Forms & Genres
  • 23. The springtime lasted all the year, and Zephyr with his mild
    And gentle blast did cherish things that grew of own accord.
    No muck nor tillage was bestowed on lean and barren land
    To make the corn of better head and ranker for to stand.
    Then streams ran milk, then streams ran wine; and yellow honey flowed
    From each green tree wheron the rays of fiery Phoebus glowed...
    Sarah Law Poetic Forms & Genres
  • 24. The Garden of Eden, a Christian version of the golden age and Arcadia?
    .....This was the place,
    A happy rural seat of various view;
    Groves whose rich Trees wept odorous Gumms and Balme,
    Others whose fruit burnisht with Golden Rinde
    Hung amiable, Hesperian Fables true,
    If true, here only, and of delicious taste:
    Betwixt them Lawns, or level Downs, and Flocks
    Grassing the tender herb, were interpos'd
    Or palmiehilloc, or the flourie lap
    Of some irriguous Valley spred her store,
    Flours of all hue, and without Thorn the Rose...(Milton: Paradise Lost, Bk IV)
    Sarah Law Poetic Forms & Genres
  • 25. The Pastoral Elegy
    • A poem of mourning in which the mourner and the person who is being mourned are represented as shepherds.
    • 26. e.g. Milton, Lycidas (1637); Shelley, Adonais (1821); Arnold, Thyrsis (1865).
    • 27. See handout for extracts from Lycidas
    Sarah Law Poetic Forms & Genres
  • 28. Conventions of the Pastoral Elegy
    • The speaker begins by invoking the muses and goes on to make references to figures from classical mythology
    • 29. The poet and the dead person are depicted as shepherds tending their flock
    • 30. All nature joins in mourning the shepherd's death
    • 31. The mourner accuses the dead shepherd's guardians (often nymphs) of negligence
    • 32. The poet questions fate for allowing the death
    • 33. Flowers are brought to decorate the hearse
    • 34. Some kind of consolation at the end.
    Sarah Law Poetic Forms & Genres
  • 35. Other forms of Pastoral
    • Eclogue: a soliloquy from one character or dialogue between two. e.g. Spencer's ShepheardesCalender
    • 36. Modern example: Louis MacNeice ‘Eclogue for Christmas’ (1930)
    Sarah Law Poetic Forms & Genres
  • 37. from Eclogue for Christmas
    A. I meet you in an evil time.
    B. The evil bells
    Put out of our heads, I think, the thought of everything else.
    A. The jaded calendar revolves
    Its nuts need oil, carbon chokes the valves,
    The excess sugar of a diabetic culture
    Rotting the nerve of life and literature...
    Sarah Law Poetic Forms & Genres
  • 38. More recent use of Pastoral
    • Pastoral in the classical sense died out in the eighteenth century, the last notable example being Pope's Pastorals of 1709.
    • 39. In more recent usage 'pastoral' has come to be employed in an extended sense.
    • 40. Poet and critic William Empson, in Some Versions of Pastoral (1935) defined it as the 'process of putting the complex into the simple'
    • 41. 'In pastoral you take a limited life and pretend it is the full and normal one' (i.e. an element of pretense)
    Sarah Law Poetic Forms & Genres
  • 42. Childhood as the Golden Age?
    • Since the Romantic Period, one version of pastoral is the literature of innocent childhood.
    There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
    The earth, and every common sight,
    To me did seem
    Apparelled in celestial light,
    The glory and the freshness of a dream.
    It is not now as it hath been of yore;-
    Turn wheresoe'er I may,
    By night or day,
    The things which I have seen I now can see no more.
    (Wordsworth, from Intimations of Immortality, 1807)
    Sarah Law Poetic Forms & Genres
  • 43. The anti-pastoral
    • One common criticism of the pastoral is its artificiality
    • 44. Samuel Johnson on Milton's Lycidas:
    'We know that they never drove a field, and that they had no flocks to batten; and though it be allowed that the representation may be allegorical, the true meaning is so uncertain and remote that it is never sought because it cannot be known when it is found'
    Sarah Law Poetic Forms & Genres
  • 45. The anti-pastoral
    • A second objection is that the pastoral obscures the hardship and exploitation of agricultural workers by landowners.
    • 46. In reaction to this there developed a kind of poetry called the anti-pastoral, which challenged the conventions of pastoral
    Sarah Law Poetic Forms & Genres
  • 47. From Stephen Duck's The Thresher's Labour (1736)
    Think what a painful life we daily lead;
    Each morning early rise, go late to bed:
    Nor, when asleep, are we secure from Pain
    We then perform our labours o'er again:
    Our mimic fancy ever restless seems
    And what we act awake, she acts in dreams.
    Hard Fate! Our labours ev'n in sleep don't cease;
    Scarce Hercules e'er felt such Toils as these!
    Sarah Law Poetic Forms & Genres
  • 48. In Conclusion
    • Early 20thC critic and author Edmund Gosse declared that 'the pastoral is cold, unnatural, artificial, and the humblest reviewer is free to cast a stone at its dishonored grave'
    • 49. But, as the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics comments, 'there must be some unique value in a genre that lasted 2,000 years'.
    • 50. The non-classical idea of pastoral still appears in different forms which identify the simple and natural on one side and the cultivated and complex on the other.
    Sarah Law Poetic Forms & Genres