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Pastoral Poetry and Pastoral Drama eBook

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

When children weave fancies of wonderland they use the resources of the imagination with economy; uninterrupted sunshine soon cloys.  So too with these other children of the renaissance.  Their wonderland is a place whither they may escape from the pressure of the world that is too much with them; they seek in it at least the virtue that its evils shall be the opposite of those from which they fly.  They could not, it is true, believe in an Arcadia in which all the cares of this world should end—­the golden age is always a time to be sung and remembered, or else to be dreamed of, in the years to come, it is never the present—­but if they cannot escape from the changes and chances of this mortal life, if death and unfaith are still realities in their dreamland as on earth, they will at least utter their grief melodiously, and water fair pastures with their tears.  Like the garden of the Rose which satisfied the middle age before it, the Arcadian ideal of the renaissance degenerated, as every ideal must.  The decay of pastoral, however, was in this unique, that it tended less to exaggerate than to negative the spirit that gave it birth.  Theocritus turned from polite society and sought solace in his no doubt idealized recollections of actual shepherd life.  On the other hand, to the allegorical pastoralists from Vergil to Spagnuoli, the shepherd-realm either reflects, or is made directly to contrast with, the interests and vices of the actual world; in their work the note of longing for escape to an ideal life is heard but faintly or not at all.  In the songs of the late fifteenth century and in Sannazzaro there is a genuine pastoral revival; the desire of freedom from reality is strong upon men in that age of strenuous living.  It has been happily said that Mantuan’s shepherds meet to discuss society, Sannazzaro’s to forget it.  And yet, after all, these men are too strongly bound by the affections of this world to be able wholly to sacrifice themselves to the joys of the ideal.  Fiammetta must have her place in Boccaccio’s strange apotheosis of love; the foreboding of Carmosina’s death has power to draw her lover from his newly discovered kingdom along the untrodden paths of the waters of the earth.  And so when Arcadia ceased to be a necessity of sentiment and became one of fashion, where poets were no longer content to wander with their mistresses in the land of fancy, alone, ‘at rest from their labour with the world gone by,’ there appeared a tendency to return to the allegorical style, and to make Arcadia what Sicily had already become—­the mirror of the polite society of the Italian courts.  Thus it is that in the crowning jewels of Italian pastoralism, in the Aminta and the Pastor fido, we trace a yearning towards a simpler, freer, and more genuine life, side by side with such incompatible and antagonistic elements as the reproduction in pastoral guise of the personages and surroundings of the circle of Ferrara.  Not content with the pure ideal, the poets endeavoured, like Faust at the sight of Helena, to find in it a place for the earthly affections that bound them, and at the touch of reality the vision dissolved in mist.

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