Pastoral poetry is a genre of poetry that describes rural life in an idealized way. It includes descriptions of the beauty of nature, praising the uncomplicated and stressful life in contrast to the big city and the presence of agricultural duties. It may also contain love scenes that take advantage of the idyllic and paradisiacal environment. From pastoral poetry came musical compositions that tried to recreate that sense of harmony with the countryside, and paintings in which the scenes depicted in verse were painted in a heavenly place.
What is pastoral poetry?
Theocritus is traditionally regarded as the creator of the genre, associated with the Golden Age and various religious ceremonies. In his poems appeared archetypes that would later appear in most of the poems: characters who are or pretend to be shepherds (hence the genre), who seek fulfillment, seek solace in nature for their sufferings or seek a new existence in the countryside.
Landscape is of great importance, with themes of locus amoenus (beautiful and pleasant place) and incarnations such as Arcadia, symbolizing the ultimate perfection of nature. After the genre was established in Greek literature, it was imitated by Latin poets, in particular Virgil with his Bucolics and Georgics. Hence the name ” country poetry” that is sometimes applied to the genre.
Christianity follows Virgil’s model. It softens the eroticism of love declarations and emphasizes the beauty of divine creation. The image of Jesus depicted as a shepherd means that this poem is unrivaled, despite its thoroughly obscene subject matter.
The Renaissance recovered the classical theme of love and mythological references in the dialogues of the shepherds, full of turns of phrase and cultivated rhetorical resources, as can be seen in the works of Jacopo Sannazaro and Garcilaso de la Vega. Don Quixote himself considered the life of a shepherd as an alternative to chivalry, proof of the popularity of the genre, which lasted until the 18th century, with names such as Alexander Pope.
Subsequently, the lyrics were diluted in a more general homage to the rural world, without the need for love between shepherds. Romanticism rediscovered the love of nature, but as a mirror reflecting the poet’s soul, it no longer represents a peaceful landscape like the previous literature.
During the 20th century, the genre fell into disuse, except for a few neo-rural writers who wrote in praise of the beauty of their country and the tranquility of the countryside, but certainly without the emotional encounters with shepherds.
Pastoral poetry about sheep
Next, we have an example of Pastoral Poetry, specifically a poem that is very closely related to the transhumant livestock poem by Eleuterio Prado:
When autumn came,
the deer came down from the peaks every evening.
Down the road
on the mauve slopes were secret fruits,
lost in the wind,
and the shepherd’s flower, made melancholy
of being forgotten, alone and withered in the hills.
When autumn came
melted in the mist the immense herds
left the sheepfolds
along the slow paths
and saw the sadness of the transhumant people
on the frozen field, harbinger of winter.
When autumn came,
deeper than the forests, more tenacious, more immense,
was the pain of my land
without flocks or sky.
It is important not to abandon the culture of this bucolic poetry, so focused on country life and nature, of course very interesting and which is part of our history and that for so many years has been and is essential to survive.