Alexander Pope



A Discourse on Pastoral Poetry.


THERE are not, I believe, a greater number of any sort of verses than of those which are called Pastorals, nor a smaller, than of those which are truly so. It therefore seems necessary to give some account of this kind of Poem, and it is my design to comprize in this short paper the substance of those numerous dissertations the Criticks have made on the subject, without omitting any of their rules in my own favour. You will also find some points reconciled, about which they seem to differ, and a few remarks which I think have escaped their observation.

[4] The original of Poetry is ascribed to that age which succeeded the creation of the world: And as the keeping of flocks seems to have been the first employment of mankind, the most ancient sort of poetry was probably pastoral. 'Tis natural to imagine, that the leisure of those ancient shepherds requiring some diversion, none was so proper to that solitary life as singing; and that in their songs they took occasion to celebrate their own felicity. From hence a Poem was invented, and afterwards improv'd to a perfect image of that happy time; which by giving us an esteem for the virtues of a former age, might recommend them to the present. And since the life of shepherds was attended with more tranquillity than any other rural employment, the Poets chose to introduce their Persons, from whom it receiv'd the name of Pastoral.

A Pastoral is an imitation of the action of a shepherd; the form of this imitation is dramatic, or narrative, or mix'd of both; the fable simple, the manners not too polite nor too rustic: The thoughts are plain, yet admit a little quickness and passion, but that short and flowing: The expression humble, yet as pure as the language will afford; neat, but not florid; easy, and yet lively. In short, the fable, manners, thoughts, and expressions are full of the greatest simplicity in nature.

[5] The complete character of this poem consists in simplicity, brevity, and delicacy; the two first of which render an eclogue natural, and the last delightful.

If we would copy Nature, it may be useful to take this consideration along with us, that pastoral is an image of what they call the Golden age. So that we are not to describe our shepherds as shepherds at this day really are, but as they may be conceiv'd then to have been; when a notion of quality was annex'd to that name, and the best of men follow'd the employment. To carry this resemblance yet farther, that Air of piety to the Gods should shine thro' the Poem, which so visibly appears in all the works of antiquity: And it ought to preserve some relish of the old way of writing; the connections should be loose, the narrations and descriptions short, and the periods concise. Yet it is not sufficient, that the sentences only be brief, the whole Eclogue should be so too. For we cannot suppose Poetry to have been the business of the ancient shepherds, but their recreation at vacant hours.

But with a respect to the present age, nothing more conduces to make these composures natural, than when some Knowledge in rural affairs is discover'd. This may be made to appear rather done by chance than on design, and sometimes is [6] best shewn by inference; lest by too much study to seem natural, we destroy the delight. For what is inviting in this sort of poetry (as Fontenelle observes) proceeds not so much from the Idea of a country life itself, as from that of its Tranquillity. We must therefore use some illusion to render a Pastoral delightful; and this consists in exposing the best side only of a shepherd's life, and in concealing its miseries. Nor is it enough to introduce shepherds discoursing together, but a regard must be had to the subject; that it contan some particular beauty in itself, and that it be different in every Eclogue. Besides, in each of them a design'd scene or prospect is to be presented to our view, which should likewise have its variety. This Variety is obtain'd in a great degree by frequent comparisons, drawn from the most agreeable objects of the country; by interrogations to things inanimate; by beautiful digressions, but those short; sometimes by insisting a little on circumstances; and lastly by elegant turns on the words, which render the numbers extremely sweet and pleasing. As for the numbers themselves, tho' they are properly of the heroic measure, they should be the smoothest, the most easy, and flowing imaginable.

It is by rules like these that we ought to judge of Pastoral. And since the instructions given for [7] any art are to be deliver'd as that art is in perfection, they must of necessity be deriv'd from those in whom it is acknowledg'd so to be. 'Tis therefore from the practice of Theocritus and Virgil (the only undisputed authors of Pastoral) that the Criticks have drawn the foregoing notions concerning it.

Theocritus excells all others in nature and simplicity. The subjects of his Idyllia are purely pastoral, but he is not so exact in his persons, having introduced Reapers and fishermen as well as shepherds. He is apt to be long in his descriptions, of which that of the Cup in the first pastoral is a remarkable instance. In the manners he seems a little defective, for his swains are sometimes abusive and immodest, and perhaps too much inclining to rusticity; for instance, in his fourth and fifth Idyllia. But 'tis enough that all others learn'd their excellencies from him, and that his Dialect alone has a secret charm in it which no other could ever attain.

Virgil who copies Theocritus, refines upon his original: and in all points, where Judgment has the principal part, is much superior to his master. Tho' some of his subjects are not pastoral in themselves, but only seem to be such; they have a wonderful variety in them which the Greek was a stranger to. He exceeds him in regularity [8] and brevity, and falls short of him in nothing but simplicity and propriety of style; the first of which perhaps was the fault of his age, and the last of his language.

Among the moderns, their success has been greatest who have most endeavour'd to make these ancients their pattern. The most considerable Genius appears in the famous Tasso, and our Spenser. Tasso in his Aminta has as far excell'd all the Pastoral writers, as in his Gierusalemme he has outdone the Epic Poets of his country. But as this piece seems to have been the original of a new sort of poem, the Pastoral Comedy, in Italy, it cannot so well be consider'd as a copy of the ancients. Spenser's Calender, in Mr. Dryden's opinion, is the most complete work of this kind which any Nation has produc'd ever since the time of Virgil. Not but he may be thought imperfect in some few points. His Eclogues are somewhat too long, if we compare them with the ancients. He is sometimes too allegorical, and treats of matters of religion in a pastoral style as Mantuan had done before him. He has employ'd the Lyric measure, which is contrary to the practice of the old Poets. His Stanza is not still the same, nor always well chosen. This last may be the reason his expression is sometimes not concise enough: for the Tetrastic has [9] oblig'd him to extend his sense to the length of four lines, which would have been more closely confin'd in the Couplet.

In the manners, thoughts, and characters, he comes near Theocritus himself; tho' notwithstanding all the care he has taken, he is certainly inferior in his Dialect: For the Doric had its beauty and propriety in the time of Theocritus; it was used in part of Greece, and frequent in the mouths of many of the greatest persons; whereas the old English and country phrases of Spenser were either entirely obsolete, or spoken only by people of the basest condition. As there is a difference betwixt simplicity and rusticity, so the expression of simple thoughts should be plain, but not clownish. The addition he has made of a Calendar to his Eclogues is very beautiful; since by this, besides the general moral of innocence and simplicity, which is common to other authors of pastoral, he has one peculiar to himself; he compares human Life to the several Seasons, and at once exposes to his readers a view of the great and little worlds, in their various changes and aspects. Yet the scrupulous division of his Pastorals into Months, has oblig'd him either to repeat the same description, in other words, for three months together; or when it was exhausted before, entirely to omit it: whence it comes to pass [10] that some of his Eclogues (as the sixth, eighth, and tenth for example) have nothing but their Titles to distinguish them. The reason is evident, because the year has not that variety in it to furnish every month with a particular description, as it may every season.

Of the following Eclogues I shall only say, that these four comprehend all the subjects which the Critics upon Theocritus and Virgil will allow to be fit for pastoral: That they have as much variety of description, in respect of the several seasons, as Spenser's: That in order to add to this variety, the several times of the day are observ'd, the rural employments in each season or time of day, and the rural scenes or places proper to such employments; not without some regard to the several ages of man, and the different passions proper to each age.

But after all, if they have any merit, it is to be attributed to some good old Authors, whose works as I had leisure to study, so I hope I have not wanted care to imitate.





Erstdruck und Druckvorlage

The Works of Mr. Alexander Pope. London: Lintot 1717, S. 3-10 [quarto edition].
Vgl. Reginald Harvey Griffith: Alexander Pope, a bibliography. Vol. I: Pope's own writing, 1709-1734. Reprint. London 1962, No. 79 [quarto edition].

URL: [folio edition; Griffith, No. 82].

Die Textwiedergabe erfolgt nach der quarto edition (Editionsrichtlinien).



Kommentierte und kritische Ausgabe




Alpers, Paul: What Is Pastoral? London 1996.

Brandmeyer, Rudolf: Poetiken der Lyrik: Von der Normpoetik zur Autorenpoetik. In: Handbuch Lyrik. Theorie, Analyse, Geschichte. Hrsg. von Dieter Lamping. Stuttgart u.a. 2011, S. 1-14.

Congleton, James E.: Theories of Pastoral Poetry in England 1684 – 1798. New York, N.Y. 1968.

Domsch, Sebastian: The Emergence of Literary Criticism in 18th-Century Britain. Discourse between Attacks and Authority. Berlin u.a. 2014.

Durant, David S.: Man and Nature in Alexander Pope's Pastorals. In: Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900. 11 (1971), S. 469-485.

Elioseff, Lee A.: The Cultural Milieu of Addison's Literary Criticism. Austin 1963.

Genette, Gérard: Paratexte. Das Buch vom Beiwerk des Buches. Frankfurt a.M. 2001 (= suhrkamp taschenbuch wissenschaft, 1510)

Gerrard, Christine (Hrsg.): A Companion to Eighteenth-Century Poetry. Malden, MA u.a. 2006.

Goldgar, Bertrand A. (Hrsg.): Literary Criticism of Alexander Pope. Lincoln u.a. 1979.

Hopkins, David (Hrsg.): The Routledge Anthology of poets on poets. Poetic responses to English poetry from Chaucer to Yeats. London u.a. 1994.

Lobsien, Eckhard: Englische Poetik 1650 bis 1950. Feldstruktur und Transformation. Würzburg 2016.

Macé, Stéphane: L'Éden perdu. La pastorale dans la poésie française de l'âge baroque. Paris 2002.

Maclean, Norman: From Action to Image. Theories of the Lyric in the Eighteenth Century. In: Critics and Criticism. Ancient and Modern. Hrsg. von Ronald S. Crane. Chicago u.a. 1952, S. 408-460.

Nisbet, H. B. u.a. (Hrsg.): The Eighteenth Century. Cambridge u.a. 1997 (= The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism. Bd. 4).

O'Neill, Michael (Hrsg.): The Cambridge History of English Poetry. Cambridge u.a. 2010.

Patterson, Annabel: Pastoral and Ideology. The Neoclassical Fête Champêtre. In: Huntington Library Quarterly 48 (1985), S. 321-344.

Patterson, Annabel M.: Pastoral and Ideology. Virgil to Valéry Berkeley, Calif. 1987.

Rogers, Pat (Hrsg.): The Cambridge Companion to Alexander Pope. Cambridge, Ma 2007.

Spacks, Patricia M.: Reading Eighteenth-Century Poetry. Malden, MA 2009.



Lyriktheorie » R. Brandmeyer