In this essay I will be exploring the presentation of rural life in eighteenth century poetry, by studying the poetic conventions of anti-pastoral poetry and more particularly by analysing `The Thresher's labour' by Stephen Duck. I will approach the issue by first of all addressing the meaning of pastoral poetry, and more specifically what pastoral poetry meant to eighteenth century poets, before looking at the meaning of anti-pastoral as opposed to pastoral. I will then perform a close reading of Duck's `The Thresher's Labour' as a challenge to the traditional pastoral form.
The traditional subject of pastoral poetry was that of life in the country, particularly that of shepherds. Terry Gifford states that:
to refer to pastoral up to about 1610 was to refer to poems....in which supposed shepherds spoke to each other, usually in pentameter
The Thresher's Labour (1730) and The Woman's Labour (1739) form such a self-evidently interesting and accessible pair of poems for comparative study that in recent years they have become a familiar double-act in eighteenth-century studies, both as a topic in undergraduate courses and as an element in the scholarly recovery of a self-taught, laboring-class tradition in eighteenth-century poetry. Stephen Duck's poem had often been touched on by literary historians as an eighteenth-century curiosity, as had his rags-to-riches though ultimately tragic life story, which was the subject of a respectable academic biography ( Davis...