Before, however, saying farewell to this, the lighter side of English pastoral verse, I would call attention to a poem which perhaps more than any other illustrates the spirit of volutta idillica, characteristic of so much that possesses abiding value in pastoral. Unfortunately Carew’s Rapture is almost throughout of a nature that forbids reproduction except in a scientific edition, or an admittedly erotic collection. Though its licence is coterminous with the bounds of natural desire, the candour of its appeal to unvitiated nature saves it from reproach, and the perfection of its form makes it an object of never-failing beauty. The idea with which the poem opens, the escape to a land where all conventional restrictions cease to have a meaning, was of course suggested by the first chorus of the Aminta:
Nome senza soggetto,
Quell’ idolo d’ errori, idol d’ inganno;
Quel che dal volgo insano
Onor poscia fu detto—
Che di nostra natura ’l feo tiranno.
I can only extract one short passage out of Tom Carew’s poem, that which describes how
Daphne hath broke her bark, and that swift foot
Which th’ angry Gods had fast’ned with a root
To the fix’d earth, doth now unfetter’d run
To meet th’ embraces of the youthful Sun.
She hangs upon him, like his Delphic Lyre;
Her kisses blow the old, and breath new, fire;
Full of her God, she sings inspired lays,
Sweet odes of love, such as deserve the Bays,
Which she herself was. Next her, Laura lies
In Petrarch’s learned arms, drying those eyes
That did in such sweet smooth-paced numbers flow,
As made the world enamoured of his woe.
This is not itself pastoral, but it belongs to that idyllic borderland which we previously noticed in dealing with Italian verse. And again, as in Italy, so in England, we find the same spirit infusing the mythological tales. Did time and space allow it would be an interesting diversion to trace how the pastoral spirit evinced itself in such works as Peele’s Tale of Troy, Lodge’s Scilla’s Metamorphosis, Drayton’s Man in the Moon, Brathwaite’s Narcissus Change (in the Golden Fleece), and found articulate utterance in the voluptuous cadences of Venus and Adonis.
There are two specimens of English pastoral verse which I have reserved for separate discussion in this place, namely, Lycidas and Britannia’s Pastorals. The one is probably the most perfect example of the allegorical pastoral produced since first the form was invented by Vergil, the other the longest and most ambitious poem ever composed on a pastoral theme.
Milton’s poem was written on the occasion of the death of Edward King, fellow of Christ’s College, who was drowned on his way to Ireland during the long vacation of 1637, and first appeared in a collection of memorial verses by his Cambridge friends published in 1638. It gathers together within its narrow compass as it were whole centuries of pastoral tradition, fusing them into an organic whole, and inspiring the form with a poetic life of its own.