Pastoralism in 18th Century Poetry
The pastoral is a poetic genre popularized in the 18th century that idealizes the peaceful and simple countryside lifestyle. Pastoral poems are ordinarily written about those who live close to nature, namely shepherds and farmers. These poems about rustic tranquillity often relate a life in which humans lived contentedly off the earth. The pastoral poem often looks to nature and the simple life as a retreat from the complications of a society in which humans have become degenerate. Two poems from this era which we have studied, The Thresher's Labour, by Stephen Duck, and An Elegy Wrote in a Country Churchyard, by Thomas Gray, fit well into this category of literature.
The first poem, The Thresher's Labor, gives a first-hand account of the hard life of a farm worker. Lexico LLC's Online Dictionary defines the verb "thresh" as: "To beat the stems and husks of grain or cereal plants with a machine or flail to separate the grains or seeds from the straw" (Lexico LLC, 2001). In the course of the poem, the author tells the story of his life working on his master's farm threshing crops. The author does not seem to enjoy his work, but rather accepts its grueling repetitiveness as a way of life. The boss expects hard work from his threshers; he says to them, "Get all things ready, and be quickly drest; Early next Morn I shall disturb your Rest. Strict to his Word! For scarce the Dawn appears, Before his hasty Summons fills our Ears" (Duck, p. 5). The author's acceptance of the necessity to continue working is illustrated in the line, "Supper and Sleep by Morn new Strength supply; And out we set again, our Work to try" (p. 2). The workers are given little time to rest from their work, and the author says, "Rest never does, but on the Sabbath, show" (p. 5). The workers recognize that the fruit of their labor is enjoyed by those who are more fortunate, saying: "Let those who feast at ease on dainty Fare, Pity the Reapers,...
Cited: Duck, Stephen. "The Thresher 's Labour." Poems on Several Occasions. 1736.
Gray, Thomas. "An Elegy Wrote in a Country Churchyard." British Literature 1640-
1789: An Anthology. Ed. Robert DeMaria JR. Oxford: Blackwell, 1996.
Lexico LLC. Lexico LLC Online Dictionary. 8 May, 2001
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