I own a copy of the Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms, entitled The Making of a Poem, to which I sometimes refer. In the third section, it devotes a chapter to the elegy, the pastoral and the ode, each with an overview and a great range of examples. I was flicking through to find a poem that would spark a prompt and came across a beautiful poem in the pastoral section.
The pastoral became popular in the sixteenth century. “On the surface, it appeared to be about an ornamental and sometimes fictional view of the rural and bucolic life. But huge questions lurked below that clear surface. In the pastoral mode poets could experiment with these questions.Was man made for nature or nature for man? Was the natural world to enter the poem as a realistic object or as a fictive projection of inner feelings?”
The pastoral poem developed from “shepherdesses and tidy rural constructs… both an escape and an idea” through the unrest of the Industrial Revolution into the “wounded pastoral”, which became a place to “mourn for and celebrate rural life”. In the twentieth century, it lamented urban intrusion, celebrated urban hubris, speculated the future and developed into eco-poetry.
|Image found on Goodreads|
What I love about this poem is that, on the surface, it is indeed a pastoral poem with imagery taken from a typical rural scene: the light in the barn, the cricket, the fox and the woman getting ready to knit, all moving towards evening and then night, gently and quietly. But when you discover that the poem alludes to the creeping cancer that took the life of the poet’s friend, and find out also that the poet was bipolar, it takes on new meanings.
This weekend, I would like you to write a new pastoral poem about evening, the shift from late afternoon through twilight to the black shed of night, following the format of Jane Kenyon’s poem, but no more than six tercets.
N.B. All quotations in this prompt come from The Making of a Poem.
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