An Author's Assemblage: Brief Notes and Notices

The accumulation of posts to this web page serves merely as an author’s assemblage of brief notes and notices: the collection of informal bits of information, quotations, and observations gathered as one way to display a personal reflection of perceptions on poetry, publication, and related selections of material drawn from my perspectives as a poet or professor of literature and creative writing.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Rosanna Warren on Characteristics of Pastoral Poetry

“In the first place, pastoral archetypally situates itself in an idealized and artificial landscape. Whether in the Greek Arcady often invoked by Virgil or Theocritus’s Sicily, the scenery is standard (tamarisks, beeches, willows, galingale, olive trees, musical brooks), and it is understood that nature here has obliged by providing an elemental poetic space. We shall find an analogous space in Strand’s moonlit fields.”

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“The idealization of the landscape requires, as a corollary, a principle of exclusion, and this feature also characterizes Strand’s poems. Pastoral seems to provide shelter from the city, family, politics, illness, and the biological consequences of love. It is the locus amoenus whose very conventionality affords it blessed protection. But the power of pastoral paradoxically rests in its fragility, its evanescence. Its generic purity and artificiality direct our attention inevitably to all it has excluded. We are invited to study the ways in which pastoral poems willingly suffer contamination, and derive from it their most poignant strengths.” —From “Negative Idylls: Mark Strand and Contemporary Pastoral,” a chapter in Rosanna Warren’s Fables of the Self: Studies in Lyric Poetry (W.W. Norton, 2008)

1 comment:

  1. I think these comments about pastoral poetry apply very well to a great deal of our own contemporary nature writing—by which I mean, I think, lyrical nonfiction about our relationship with the nonhuman world that underlies our everyday dramas. A sense of nature's fragility is an inevitable result of environmental awareness, and the concentration on the natural aspects of our environment creates a similar sense of the implied existence of a less natural world beyond the page. What I find so interesting is how lyrical ancient poetry conveys such a different world than epic ancient poetry—Sappho and Callimachus, for example, versus Homer. Callimachus, of course, specifically set out to plow uncommon fields rather than walking in Homer's tracks. This lyrical/pastoral sort of urge seems to animate nature writers, however scientific or contemporary their approach, in much the same way that it inspired classical poets.

    Michael Sims



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