Oh, what a plague is love!
How shall I bear it?
She will unconstant prove,
I greatly fear it.
It so torments my mind
That my strength faileth;
She wavers with the wind,
As the ship saileth.
Please her the best you may,
She looks another way;
Alas and well-a-day!
Phillida flouts me.
I have already had occasion to mention the mysterious A. W. in Davison’s Poetical Rhapsody, but I cannot refrain from calling attention to one other poem of his. It is headed ’A fiction, how Cupid made a nymph wound herself with his arrows,’ and is perhaps the nearest thing in English to a Greek idyllion, though in the manner of Moschus rather than of Theocritus. The opening scene will give an idea of the style:
It chanced of late a shepherd’s
That went to seek a strayed sheep,
Within a thicket on the plain,
Espied a dainty nymph asleep.
Her golden hair o’erspread
Her careless arms abroad were cast,
Her quiver had her pillow’s place,
Her breast lay bare to every blast.
The shepherd stood, and gazed
Nought durst he do, nought durst he say;
When chance, or else perhaps his will,
Did guide the god of love that way.
And so the long pageant troops by, not without its passages of dullness, its moments of pedestrian gait, for it must be borne in mind that the poems quoted above are for the most part the choice of what has survived in a few volumes, and that this in its turn represents the gleanings from a far larger body of verse that once existed. In spite of its perennial freshness the charge of want of originality has not unreasonably been brought even against the best compositions of the kind. It could hardly be otherwise. Except in the rarest cases originality was impossible. The impulse was to write a certain kind of amatory verse, for which the fashionable medium was pastoral; not to write pastoral for its own sake. The demand was for convention, the familiar, the expected; never for originality or truth. The fault was in the poetic requirements of the age, and must not be laid to the charge of those admirable craftsmen who gave the age what it wanted; especially when in so doing they enriched English poetry with some of its choicest gems.
The pastoral lyric of the next two reigns is far too wide a subject to be entered upon here. Grave or gay, satirical or idyllic, coy or wanton, there is scarcely a poet of note or obscurity who did not contribute his share. Nowhere is a rarer note of pastoral to be found than in L’Allegro, with its
shepherd tells his tale
Under the hawthorn in the vale.