Seen As Examples Of Pastoral Verse English Literature Essay

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The fact that pastoral verse has evolved significantly through history, and therefore is defined in multiple ways, makes it difficult to determine whether 'Ye Goatherd Gods' and 'To the River Duddon' fit into the genre. Sidney was writing in the Elizabethan period while Nicholson wrote in the Modern era, where pastorals were evidently classed as strikingly different forms. As Bill Overton suggests, 'Writers have continued to reinvent pastoral' (Overton 2010), so while a main feature of the genre is expressing 'attitudes to change' (Overton 2010), the genre has constantly been open to change itself. It is clear that both poems contain pastoral elements, however they both also consist of features that contradict the aims of pastoral verse.

According to Terry Gifford there are three definitions of pastoral poetry. The first is a strict form where 'shepherds spoke to each other… about their work or their loves', containing 'idealised descriptions of their countryside' in 'pentameter verse' (Gifford 1999: 1). Bill Overton suggests that this form echoes that in classical pastorals (Overton 2010). The second type of pastoral is more open to 'any literature that describes the country' involving 'contrast to the urban' (Gifford 1999: 2), and the third acts against pastoral, 'implying that the pastoral vision is too simplified and thus an idealisation of the reality of life in the country' (Gifford 1999: 2). Within or in addition to these three definitions, E. Audra and Aubrey Williams suggest that there were 'Two dominant, and opposing, theories of pastoral poetry… in late 17th- and early 18th-century England' (Audra and Williams 1961: 15). The '"neoclassic" theory' favoured 'simple and pure' features, reflecting 'the innocence and peace' 'of a shepherd living in the Golden Age' (Audra and Williams 1961: 15). It also 'looked mainly for support to the writings of the Ancients' (Audra and Williams 1961: 15), suggesting here that the pastorals made classical allusions. In contrast, the '"rationalistic"' theory is 'Simply a representation of the tranquillity of rural life', focusing on its 'quietness and leisure', to create an enjoyable picture for the 'laziness' of mankind in general (Audra and Williams 1961: 16). Pastorals can also either be 'lyric verse, drama or narrative' (Overton 2010), therefore the variance in the genre can make identifying pastorals more difficult than identifying other forms of poetry.

Some poems simply use 'pastoral as convention only' (Lerner 1972: 29), while others feature 'pastoral as theme' (Lerner 1972: 27). This 'distinction', argues Lerner, can be defined by seeing pastoral convention as single features such as 'rustic' imagery, and seeing true pastoral verse as poetry that is 'concerned with the nature of country life' (Lerner 1972: 27). Nicholson's poem uses many pastoral conventions. It is a short poem that reflects on features of nature, suggesting it is an example of lyric verse. The imagery focuses on the path of the River Duddon, involving descriptions such as, 'Marsh marigold' (Nicholson 2005: 34), and 'birches buckle and bounce in the wind' (21), to compare the beauty of nature with the impact humans have made on it. For example, the idea that the speaker had to wipe 'sinter dust from the farmyard damsons' (50) suggests he rejects the effects industry has on nature, and disapproves of how it reduces the river's beauty for him. This rejection of industry - a concept relating most obviously to town - is common of pastoral poetry, and the fact that the poem is concerned about nature suggests it uses pastoral as theme rather than simply convention. The focus on the conflict between the natural and the man-made is echoed by the conflict between past and present. The idea that Wordsworth wrote about the river when it was "Remote from every taint of sordid industry" (44), while it is now clearly used for the purpose of industry, highlights this conflict. Though the speaker suggests that the 'base and root of the living rock' is a constant (70), he also reflects on a time when nature wasn't being manipulated. Looking back to 'A hundred years' ago (51) could be interpreted as looking back to a 'Golden Age', which is a typical feature of pastoral poetry (Overton 2010). In fact Lerner discusses that 'In terms of time' pastoral 'is the Golden Age' (Lerner 1972: 40), suggesting reflection on previous eras is an essential factor of pastoral poems. Therefore, thematically, and in expressing an attitude 'to change' (Overton 2010), 'To the River Duddon' could easily be classed as an example of pastoral verse.

Sidney's poem could be classed as pastoral in that it also uses many pastoral conventions. Like Nicholson's poem it harks back to a previous time, noting the changes relating to nature. There are multiple images that relate to the country such as 'the grassy mountains' (Sidney 2005: 1), 'pleasant valleys' (2) and 'quiet forests' (3), and the protagonists of the poem are referred to as Strephon and Klauis, two typical names of shepherds (Sidney 2005: 208). In my opinion these factors are not simply conventions, as the poem focuses on a conflict between the past and present, and on a main theme of love. As Bill Overton implies, pastoral is clearly linked to 'romance' (Overton 2010), and here the two male speakers are singing after the woman they love (Sidney 2005: 208). The conflict between past and present is made significant through the adjectives used to describe nature. For example, while the speakers begin describing what they once believed nature to be in simple and beautiful terms such as 'pleasant' (2) and 'lovely' (9), there are then much more pessimistic descriptions such as 'savage mountains' (8), 'woeful valleys' (10), 'monstrous mountains' (16) and 'foul affliction's valleys' (17). In the context of love, as they have lost Urania, Strephon and Klauis have lost their admiration of nature's beauty, now perceiving the 'best pastured mountains' 'Turning to deserts' (72). The contrast in descriptions gives the poem an oxymoronic quality, suggesting that love is bittersweet, and also that nature is nothing in comparison to love. The overall message of the poem seems to be that compared to the object of the speakers' love, 'the Alps are valleys' (67), but the speakers are wistful of the past, emphasised by the repetition of the phrases 'I, that was once' (13 and 15) and 'Long since' (25, 28, 29). While the poem is contradictory about the speakers' attitude to nature, its main focuses are pastoral subjects, spoken by shepherd characters, and therefore it could perhaps act as an example of the first kind of pastoral poetry described by Gifford.

Looking at Sidney's poem in terms of form, style, diction and tone, there are again contradictions which make it difficult to determine whether 'Ye Goatherd Gods' is an example of pastoral verse. The poem is a 'double sestina' (Sidney 2005: 208), where the lines in each stanza end with the same words; 'mountains', 'valleys', 'forests', 'music', 'morning' and 'evening' (Sidney 2005). There is then a very formal structural pattern where these words occur in a different order in each stanza. The poem is also written in iambic pentameter with hypermetrical stresses, therefore it is very formally structured, and could class as an example of the first form of pastoral poem defined previously. It is presented as a song, a lyric verse, using some classical allusions such as 'O Mercury' (7) and 'Ye satyrs' (3), and celebrates the power that nature once was, for example, 'high and stately mountains' (37). Sidney's descriptions of love are elevated and hyperbolic, for example suggesting Urania's eyes are like 'two suns' (66), and that she carried 'morning' 'in her forehead' (70). However when describing nature every image presents decay from past to present, such as the 'screech owl' (18) and 'mortal serene' (42) which represent new omens, imagery turning from light to dark such as 'darkened' and 'all my day is evening' (22), and horrific images of the present such as 'sweet music' (47) sounding like 'The dreadful cries of murdered men' (48). The latter image is again oxymoronic, emphasising the contradictions both within the poem's theme of nature, and also with the poem's form itself; whether it is pastoral or anti-pastoral. The horrific imagery is supported by a quite bitter tone. Although wistful of past enjoyment, the voices become angry and harsh, wishing to 'fire the trees' (49), 'curse… music' (51), and detesting all times of day, and even themselves. While the focus on love is a pastoral idea, the way that love has turned the shepherds against nature, life, and even themselves creates a startlingly pessimistic tone that opposes the typical idealistic one of a pastoral poem. Sidney's 'Ye Goatherd Gods' corresponds with many pastoral techniques and conventions and focuses on typical pastoral themes; however aspects such as the bitter tone suggest the poem could be anti-pastoral.

Anti-pastoral poems are those that reject the idealisation and simplification of life in the country that is common to most pastoral poetry (Overton 2010). This means that they typically use a bitter tone and more realistic diction, expose reality of life in the countryside as difficult, and 'doubt whether there ever was a Golden Age' (Overton 2010). Both poems portray aspects of anti-pastoral. As previously discussed, 'Ye Goatherd Gods' is written in a bitter tone, describing what was originally beautiful in nature in terms relating to death. 'To the River Duddon' is explicitly realistic, portraying the reality of how the river's 'slagbanks slant / Like screes sheer into the sand' (47-48), and how it is 'Purple with ore' and 'muddy' (49). The harsh sound imagery in the repetition of the 's' sound in lines 47-48, and also in line 15 where 'screes scratched… like grey scabs' represents the noise of the river, but also adds a harsh, disapproving tone to condemn how the river is treated by man for industry. While the poem is in awe of nature, emphasising its power of 'eternity' (62), it opposes the typically pastoral, idealised descriptions of its beauty. The combination of technical language of nature and industry, and its realistic diction, makes Nicholson's poem seem almost anti-pastoral, however it is not wholly against pastoral as the speaker admires nature; it simply regrets how it has been treated to create business for the town.

Looking at the poets themselves, Nicholson wrote extensively on the nature around 'Millom', the area where he lived. As Neil Curry suggests, by living there he knew 'the place at first hand' and knew also 'the local history' (Curry 1994: xvii). The area seems to be a base for pastoral inspiration; it is clear from the poem's notes that Nicholson discusses how Wordsworth, 'An oldish man', wrote poetry on the nature there too (2). Curry implies 'In geography, its history and its natural history, the area could hardly be richer' (Curry 1994: xvi). While Nicholson's focus on real-life nature is a pastoral theme, Nicholson is atypical as a writer of pastoral poetry, as it is suggested that pastoral verse is written by 'people in courts and cities' who perceive the countryside as 'more natural' (Overton 2010). This again points towards the idea that Nicholson's poem is anti-pastoral, depicting a countryside scene in a realistic way, with his 'feet on the ground' as a result of his local knowledge (Curry 1994: xvii). For example, while Wordsworth believed the river was natural and pure, Nicholson knows how 'In 1860… haematite iron ore was discovered', followed by 'An "iron rush"' which forced the town to expand (Curry 1994: xvii-xvi). Rather than a 'work of courtiers' (Lerner 1972: 19), 'To the River Duddon' is therefore a poem written by someone who knows both sides of the conflict, and creates a realistic portrayal of nature. Sidney, on the other hand, was referred to as a 'Courtier Poet', therefore he would be considered a typical writer of pastoral poetry (Duncan-Jones 1991). According to The Defence of Poesy, Sidney supports the use of poetry to reflect truth to the reader (Sidney 2002). If this is the aim of 'Ye Goatherd Gods', then the message must be to instruct the reader that love is more overpowering than everything, even nature, and can change our perspectives. While the rejection of nature presented in the poem suggests a rejection of pastoral, the idea of love being the most important is an essentially pastoral theme, therefore the poem cannot be wholly pastoral or wholly against pastoral.

It is clear that both poems consist of 'contradictions' that complicate the analysis of which genre they fit into (Dutton 2002: 20). However the contradictions in defining pastoral form also confuse this classification. While both poems focus on pastoral conflicts and themes, and use conventions of pastoral poetry, the realistic diction of 'To the River Duddon' prevents it from being entirely pastoral in the formal sense, as typically a pastoral poem would use idealised images of the country. However rather than being classed as anti-pastoral, the poem could fit under the third of Gifford's definitions of pastoral verse, as it implies that 'pastoral vision is too simplified' (Gifford 1999: 2). The bitter tone of Sidney's poem also acts against the typical pastoral elements, however this can be overlooked as this tone is provoked by love, a major theme discussed in pastoral poetry, and the formal structure of the poem correlates to the pastoral form. Although Lerner suggests there is 'a good deal of pastoral impulse in literature that is not pastoral in form' (Lerner 1972: 39), and neither poem entirely fits a description of pastoral verse, the combination of elements and focus on pastoral themes in both urges me to see them as different types, but indeed types, of pastoral verse.

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