The New International Encyclopædia/Pastoral Poetry

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The New International Encyclopædia
Pastoral Poetry
Edition of 1905. See also Pastoral on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

PASTORAL POETRY (Lat. pastoralis, relating to a shepherd, from pastor, shepherd; connected with pasci, to feed, pabulum, food, OChurch Slav. pasati, to feed, Skt. , to protect). A kind of poetry in which the incidents, thoughts, and emotions of cultivated society are presented under the disguise of rustic life. The characters are shepherds and shepherdesses, in a setting of valley and hillside, and the usual theme is love. This artificial literary genre flourished in antiquity and for centuries throughout Western Europe. The oldest extant forms are the idyl and the eclogue, but the pastoral motive may enter the romance and the drama.

Antiquity. The pastoral undoubtedly takes its root far hack in Greek literature. According to Ælianus (Varia Historia, x. 18) its inventor was Stesichorus of Himera in Sicily (who died about B.C. 555); and his subject was the blindness of Daphnis, afterwards the typical love-lorn cowherd. According to the ancient grammarians, it originated in the rustic cult of Artemis at Syracuse (Scholia upon Theocritus). These traditions certainly point to very old folksongs now lost. The extant pastoral dates from Theocritus, who flourished about B.C. 270 at the courts of Syracuse and Alexandria. To him are attributed thirty-one idyls (little pictures of life), of which ten are strictly bucolic. Here first occur Thyrsis, Tityrus, Corydon, Damoetas, Daphnis, Lycidas, Menaleas, and Amaryllis, names since made familiar to Western Europe. Theocritus seemingly reproduces the language of the peasants, their melodies, superstitions, and custom of answering one another in verse. His idyls are short descriptive lyrics combined with little dramatic pieces, sometimes comic, like the mimes which had been popular in Sicily since Sophron (about 440 B.C.). The poet introduces himself under the name of Simichidas, and devotes an idyl to his patron Ptolemy Philadelphus of Alexandria, and another to Hiero II. of Syracuse. Theocritus was followed by two poets: Bion of Symrna, known for his beautiful Lament for Adonis, and Moschus, author of the still more beautiful Dirge for Bion. Several centuries later an unknown Greek writer told the story of Daphnis and Chloe in prose. The theme of the romance is artless innocence; its tone is sensuous and decadent. The pastoral poem had already been adapted to Italy by Vergil (d. 19 B.C.). However much Theocritus may have idealized his country scenes, he yet had nature before his eyes. The purely artificial pastoral began with Vergil, who took his notes not so much from nature as from Theocritus. Vergil composed ten graceful bucolics, which he called eclogæ (i.e. selections). Like Theocritus, he wove into them incidents from his own life. From Vergil the pastoral motive spread to Horace, Catullus, and other Roman poets, and eventually throughout Western Europe.

Italy. The pastoral of the Renaissance did not spring from Vergil alone. To it contributed the pastourelles, love songs with a rustic setting, which were cultivated in various countries of Southern Europe in the thirteenth century. They especially flourished in Provence, as early as the twelfth century, whence they were largely diffused. They were in no way connected with Vergil, but they seem to have had their source in folk-song. In the fourteenth century the two streams of influence — the native and the classic — united to form the modern pastoral. The Vergilian revival first took the form of allegories in which the learned addressed Latin epistles to one another under pastoral names. Eclogues of this kind passed between Dante and Giovanni del Virgilio, professor of Latin at Bologna (about 1320). Dante figures as Tityrus and his friend as Mopsus. Petrarch (1304-74) also composed a pastoral in twelve eclogues, in which he worked out an elaborate allegory. Dante and Petrarch thus mark the reappearance of Vergil as a literary force. Boccaccio (1313-75) blends the ancient and the indigenous pastoral. He wrote Latin eclogues much in the manner of his great compatriots. His Ameto (1342) is the first pastoral romance in the vernacular. He took as his model the song-fable in which prose is employed for the narrative and verse for the expression of the feelings. Under the names Caleone and Fiammetta Boccaccio veiled his passion for Maria, natural daughter of King Robert of Naples. The Ameto, with its disguised personal history and cross-loves, is the prototype of the later Italian pastoral romances, of which a famous specimen is the Arcadia (1504) by Jacopo Sannazaro. Another aspect of the pastoral, which indeed is found in Petrarch, was rendered by Mantuan (d. 1516). His rustics were made a medium for fierce satire on women, the Court, and the Church. Attention has already been called to the dramatic element in the pastoral as early as Theocritus. When the popularity of the mediæval mystery play began to wane, the pastoral drama, easily expanded from the eclogue, was one of the forms that took its place. Even in Boccaccio's Ninfale Fiesolano the pastoral begins to assume a dramatic turn. But the first distinctive pastoral drama is the Orfeo of Poliziano, a sort of opera given at Mantua in 1471. It is founded on the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. During the next century many similar pastorals were produced at the Italian courts. By far the best of them is the Aminta of Tasso, performed at Ferrara in 1573. Equally well known in its own time was the Pastor Fido of Guarini (1590).

Spain. In the Spanish Peninsula the native pastoral songs counted for much more than elsewhere. As early as 1300 the pastourelle was cultivated at the Court of Dom Diniz, King of Portugal. And in Spain proper the Christmas mystery play, performed by real shepherds, was in fact a pastoral. The way was thus prepared for Juan de la Encina (d. 1534), who, besides translating Vergil's eclogues, composed pastoral pieces for recital before audiences at the house of the Duke of Alba. To this time belong also the pastoral lyrics by Garcilaso (d. 1536), one of Spain's greatest poets. Under Italian influences, the pastoral romance made its appearance with the Menina e Moça (Girl and Maiden) of the Portuguese Ribeiro (d. 1550). It was followed by the more famous Diana (1558) of Montemayor, a Portuguese by birth who chose to write in Spanish. For Spain the pastoral sentiment received its most refined expression in Cervantes, in his Galatea (1584) and the closing chapters of Don Quixote (1616).

France and Germany. In Southern France the pastoral love song goes back to the twelfth century. At the outset this kind of poetry belonged to the country folk, who sang it especially in May, but as early as Marcabru the pastoral is already an artistic form and becomes stereotyped. A knight, happening to come where a shepherdess is, makes love to her, but he is usually dismissed. This is the theme of all. No pastorals of genuinely popular design have survived. The pastoral soon appeared in Northern France. From the beginning of the thirteenth century the French pastorele strongly influenced that of Provence. The shepherd Robin or Robert was adopted in the South, and Marion, too. The old theme blooms charmingly in the Jeu de Robin et de Marion (c. 1283) by Adam de la Halle. Though the song fable of Aucassin et Nicolette (c.1225) contains delightful rustic scenes, it is hardly a true pastoral. During the sixteenth century the pastoral disguise was sometimes employed by the poets. Clement Marot (d. 1544) addressed an eclogue to the King, in which he described the course of his life under the symbol of the four seasons. The pastoral ideal, enforced by translations of the Italian Arcadia, the Spanish Diana, and the Greek Daphnis and Chloe, culminated in the Astrée (1610-25) of Honoré d'Urifé, an immense prose romance. Here the bucolic life reached its extreme idealization. The nymphs appear in gilded buskins, arms adorned with bracelets, and heads covered with garlands of pearls. From the Astrée the pastoral made its way into Germany, where it flourished for more than a century. Of the German pastorals may be cited the Hercynia of Opitz (1622), the Daphnis (1754) and the Idyllen (1756) of Gessner, the Luise (1795) of Voss, and Goethe's Hermann und Dorothea (1797), in which the idyl returned to the truthfulness and simplicity of Theocritus.

England. Before the sixteenth century there was nothing beyond the realistic treatment of the shepherd scenes in the religious drama, and Robene and Makyne of Robert Henryson (d. 1506?), written in the Scotch dialect. The pastoral on the Continental model made its first English appearance in the six dull eclogues of Alexander Barclay (d. 1552). They closely resemble the work of Mantuan. In 1563 appeared eight equally dull eclogues by Barnabe Googe. To Tottel's Miscellany (1757) Surrey contributed two beautiful pastoral songs in the Italian manner. The important date for the English pastoral is 1579, when Edmund Spenser published the Shepherd's Calendar. In twelve eclogues under this title, Spenser handles the leading motives — allegory, satire, and love. During the next quarter of a century English literature became saturated with pastoral sentiment. In all the great writers lived the image of a ‘golden world’ somewhere in Arcadia or the Forest of Arden. The pastoral poem was cultivated in many lyrics, of which may be cited Marlowe's Passionate Shepherd; and in many collections, as Britannia's Pastorals of William Browne and the Eclogues of George Withers. Of romances inspired originally by Italy and Spain, the most typical is Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia (1590), which had many imitators. There was, moreover, another large group of romancers, at the head of whom stood Robert Greene and Thomas Lodge, the authors respectively of Menaphon (1589) and Rosalind (1590). Undying charm was given to the pastoral ideal by Fletcher, Ben Jonson, and Shakespeare, in The Faithful Shepherdess, The Sad Shepherd, and As You Like It. A generation later Milton placed the masque in an exquisite pastoral setting and composed his great dirge in the manner of Moschus (Comus and Lycidas) . After Milton the English pastoral fell into sad ways. The pastorals of Pope and Ambrose Philips — each published in 1709 — are utterly conventional. Their imagery, when not borrowed, is either false or so general as to convey nothing. In ridicule of Philips, John Gay professed to depict rustic life with the gilt off. His Shepherd's Week (1714) probably comes somewhere near country manners. William Shenstone wrote several pretty ballads, in which appear Strephon and Chloe. We come to something better in Allan Ramsay's Gentle Shepherd (1728), a genuine picture of Scotch rural life. Later in the eighteenth century, the pastoral was fused with other forms of descriptive poetry and hardly existed as an independent species. The pastoral elements may, however, be uncovered. For example, the summons from the city to the country, so frequent in Cowper, is a motive of Spenser. And the lyrics of Burns, many of them, are pastoral songs. The Vergilian type of pastoral has become thoroughly discredited. But several of the greatest English poets in the nineteenth century drew upon the Sicilian idylists. There they found truth, grace, and charm. The two finest dirges since Milton — Shelley's Adonais and Arnold's Thyrsis — go back to Bion and Moschus. Pastoral themes were beautifully rendered by Landor in some of his Hellenics (1847), for example “The Hamadryad.” Theocritus is easily discovered in Tennyson's Dora and The Miller's Daughter.

Bibliography. Material for the history of the pastoral is scattered. Consult: Lang, Theocritus, Bion, and Mochus, “Golden Treasury Series” (London and New York, 1880); Gaspary, Geschichte der italienischen Litteratur (Berlin, 1885-88); better in the translation of Zingarelli, Storia della letteratura italiana (Turin, 1889-91); Warren, History of the Novel (New York, 1895); Dunlop, History of Prose Fiction (1888); Herford, Spenser: Shepherd's Calendar (ib., 1895); Chambers, English Pastorals (ib., 1896); Stedman, Victorian Poets (ib., 1887); Smith, “Pastoral Influence in the English Drama,” in the Publications of the Modern Language Association (Baltimore, 1897); the authorities referred to under Provençal, French, and Spanish Literatures; and the writers mentioned in this article.