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This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 509 pages of information about Pastoral Poetry and Pastoral Drama.

I

Some confusion of thought appears to have prevailed among writers as to the origin of pastoral.  We are, for instance, often told that it is the earliest of all forms of poetry, that it characterizes primitive peoples and permeates ancient literatures.  Song is, indeed, as old as human language, and in a sense no doubt the poetry of the pastoral age may be said to have been pastoral.  It does not, however, follow that it bears any essential resemblance to that which subsequent ages have designated by the name.  All that we know concerning the songs of pastoral nations leads us to suppose that they bear a close resemblance to the type of popular verse current wherever poetry exists, folk-songs of broad humanity in which little stress is laid on the peculiar circumstances of shepherd life.  An insistence upon the objective pastoral setting is of prime importance in understanding the real nature of pastoral poetry; it not only serves to distinguish the pastoral proper from the more vaguely idyllic forms of lyric verse, but helps us further to understand how it was that the outward features of the kind came to be preserved, even after the various necessities of sophisticated society had metamorphosed the content almost beyond recognition.  No common feature of a kind to form the basis of a scientific classification can be traced in the spontaneous shepherd-songs and their literary counterpart.  What does appear to be a constant element in the pastoral as known to literature is the recognition of a contrast, implicit or expressed, between pastoral life and some more complex type of civilization.  At no stage in its development does literature, or at any rate poetry, concern itself with the obvious, with the bare scaffolding of life:  whenever we find an author interested in the circle of prime necessity we may be sure that he himself stands outside it.  Thus the shepherd when he sang did not insist upon the conditions amid which his uneventful life was passed.  It was left to a later, perhaps a wiser and a sadder, generation to gaze with fruitless and often only half sincere longing at the shepherd-boy asleep under the shadow of the thorn, lulled by the low monotonous rustle of the grazing flock.  Only when the shepherd-songs ceased to be the outcome of unalloyed pastoral conditions did they become distinctively pastoral.  It is therefore significant that the earliest pastoral poetry with which we are acquainted, whatever half articulate experiments may have preceded it, was itself directly born of the contrast between the recollections of a childhood spent among the Sicilian uplands and the crowded social and intellectual city-life of Alexandria[1].

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