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Death of the Pastoral Elegy (Research Paper Sample)
Death of the Pastoral Elegy This essay contends that Lycidas modifies the pastoral by introducing a clash between the traditions of pastoral sympathy and the vehemence of an intimate grief, leading to a culmination of the form through this change. source..
Cornelius Professor Nderitu ENGL 251: Milton 26 April 2017 Death of the Pastoral Elegy By about the mid 17th century, the pastoral elegy – which had been a form originating from Theocritus in early 3rd century BC – experienced a marked waning in relevance and appeal among the contemporary population. This decline follows a change in the viewpoints regarding the place of man in nature as well as in changes regarding the portrayal of mourning. In his work Lycidas, Milton revives and invokes the pastoral elegy one last time, and in doing so he changes its form and delivery in subtle ways but manages to bring the pastoral elegy to its peak. After Lycidas, the pastoral elegy no longer stood as a viable poetic form capable of capturing an elegist’s lament, and thus fell out of popularity. However, what changes makes Lycidas unique from other pastoral literature or elegies and why does Lycidas seemingly stand as the ultimate end to prominent pastoral works? In its essence, the pastoral uses manifestations of natural beauty and life to sympathetically resonate with the feelings of the narrator as he traverses a natural landscape. Yet, Milton changes and twists this traditional union of man and nature to fit the role of a grander, more liberal personal expression. This essay contends that Lycidas modifies the pastoral by introducing a clash between the traditions of pastoral sympathy and the vehemence of an intimate grief, leading to a culmination of the form through this change. Primarily, in order to understand the changes the Milton has made towards the pastoral elegy, it is important to first understand how this form had been rendered in the past by other English authors. Again, the pastoral appears to be an ideal regarding the union between nature and man, where natural features in the setting actually come alive with the sentiments of the narrator. The prototypical shepherd of this form is surrounded by well known motifs such as singing matches or conflicts and issues pertaining to romance and love. In a sense, the pastoral environment preserves an ideal of the past, where a return to such an environment would then serve to highlight present emotions in their contrast to those of the past. Such a natural environment, with its sympathetic deities and creatures, serves to show a longing for a time and place which has been lost forever in the present. Moreover, this concept of the pastoral landscape as an idyllic retreat into the past appears most clearly in the last few cantos in Book VI of Edmund Spenser’s work The Faerie Queene. The use of pastoral escape in The Faerie Queene may be taken as a model for how characters undergo changes and interactions with an environment that embraces an ideal or a past. For instance, Calidore’s pursuit of the Blatant Beast is only accomplished after he experiences a long episode spanning the last four cantos of the sixth book in the pastoral landscape that teaches and renews his notions of courtesy. To this point, the environment that Calidore finds himself in after his initial pursuit of the Blatant Beast in Canto 9 is in fact a familiar pastoral landscape. It contains all the standard themes of the pastoral character as well, with the romantic plot between Calidore and Pastorella, the rival in Colin Clout, the appearance of a beast in the tiger, and the utopian-esque scenery and people with lives that are closely tied to nature. Additionally, consider these initial descriptions of the scene upon Calidore’s entrance into the pastoral world as evidence for such a retreat: “There on a day, as he pursew’d the chace, He chaunst to spy a sort of shepheard groomes, Playing on pypes, and caroling apace, The whyles their beasts there in the budded broomes Besides them fed, and nipt the tender bloomes: For other worldly wealth they cared nought” (Spenser Book VI, Canto 9, lines 37-42). Here, the classic atmosphere of the pastoral appears, with the unconcerned and contented shepherds running blissfully unaware of dangers, dressed in their flowery garlands and wool skirts. Further, in Canto 10, another element of this form appears with the intervention of the three Graces and their elevation of physical reality through their dance. The interaction with the pastoral environment eventually aids Calidore in his capture of the Blatant Beast: “For all that hetherto hath long delayd This gentle knight from sewing his first quest, Though out of course, yet hath not bene mis-sayd, To shew the courtesie by him profest Even unto the lowest and the least. But now I come into my course againe, To his atchievement of the Blatant Beast; Who all this while at will did range and raine, Whilst none was him to stop, nor none him to restraine” (Spenser Book VI, Canto 12, lines 11-18). Spenser characterizes the pastoral episodes as “out of course” but still beneficial to Calidore’s cause in relation to its reinforcement of the values of courtesy. Arguably, the rediscovery of the notions of courtesy through Calidore’s rescue of Pastorella in these final cantos of Book VI and the subsequent role that such a renewal of courtesy plays in the capture of the Blatant Beast illustrates the regenerative or recuperative role of an escape into the pastoral environment. Such restorative capabilities of the pastoral in its portrayal and preservation of important aspects of the past allow for the elegiac form to deal with the issues of death as the narrator comes to terms with what has been lost as he wanders in the landscape, and what still remains. Through this process of exploration in the pastoral, the elegist comes to explicate his own cause for grief and allow for his recovery from that grief. In one sense, of course, this comparison is beside the point: you need to compare Lycidas with other pastoral elegies (as we did in class that day we talked about Virgil and Moschus) in order to get a clear sense of how Milton’s goals differ. In regards to Milton, the pastoral elegy becomes modified with an uncharacteristic individualistic character to grief that produces a considerably different effect as the pastoral tradition – such convention as we have outlined above in Spenser – clashes with a strong personal voice. The difference that is produced ostensibly allows for an elevation of the pastoral form. In fact, in his essay on Lycidas, Balachandra Rajan describes the work as “the climax of a tradition and as the casting aside of tradition by the individual talent” (51). It is possible to locate this “casting aside of tradition” in several passages of Lycidas. A salient instance even occurs in the beginning lines: “Yet once more, O ye laurels, and once more Ye myrtles brown, with ivy never sere, I come to pluck your berries harsh and crude, And with forced fingers rude, Shatter your leaves before the mellowing year. Bitter constraint, and sad occasion dear, Compels me to disturb your season due: For Lycidas is dead, ere his prime,” (Milton, lines 1-8). This passage constitutes a violation of the pastoral tradition in several ways. Unlike most pastoral elegies, there is no directed purpose or passage indicating the subject of the poem for the reader. Instead, Milton launches us directly into the heart of the issue: Lycidas’ shocking and untimely death in youth. In addition, note that the Milton makes a slight acknowledgement to the tradition of the pastoral elegy with the phrase, “yet once more”, suggesting a return to an old form. But the tiresome context with which the remark finds itself seems to hint that the pastoral elegy and tradition near their end and are indeed a dying genre. After this address to tradition however, Milton quickly moves into a first person declaration and towards the issue of the elegy. In this move, he conjures several known natural elements and conventions of the pastoral environment, and violates each. Berries are plucked before they are ripe, the leaves are shattered before the year, disrupting the progression of “seasons due”: natural elements are summoned only to be unsettled. Significantly, the shortness of the fourth line functions to emphasize the “harshness” and “crudeness” of the violation as well, contrasting sharply with the rest of the passage and creating a feeling of abruptness. Moreover, Milton adds to this clashing dynamic between personal voice and tradition by conflating two causes of grief, “bitter constraint” and “sad occasion dear”. The former “bitter constraint” refers to the immediacy of the personal sorrow experienced by the narrator while the latter educes the traditional recognition these lamentable events – a “sad occasion dear” - by other shepherds in the literature of the pastoral. Milton generates an incredibly clear portrait of a conflict between pastoral tradition and the intensity of personal grief in these initial lines that prefaces the nature of Lycidas as a poetic work. In another moment, the framework of the pastoral elegy becomes violated again with Milton’s voicing and introduction of strong personal fears and reflections of death. Consider the lines where Milton ruminates regarding the essence of Lycidas’ death in drowning: “He must not float upon his watery bier Unwept, and welter to the parching wind, Without the meed of some melodious tear. Begin then, sisters of the sacred well,” (Milton lines 12-15) The recurrence of the “w” consonant within these lines illustrates a precariousness and terror than becomes associated with the idea of drowning and indicates an anxiety over what it means to be dead at sea. Again, these poetic techniques illustrate very personal fears regarding the subject of death and drowning and highlight a sort of anxiety that seems disconnected with the sympathetic world of the pastoral. In fact, consider that such individual fears and despair explicitly manif...
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