As is my wont, I am putting off writing my paper—due the day after tomorrow—by delightedly reading unrelated material.  Or, mostly unrelated.  It all starts related, then branches off, and I follow the branches—like I say—delightedly.  (Since I really can start writing later and it’ll be ok.)

Anyways, I’m getting ready to write a paper on James Still’s poetry, and since I want to point out his engagement with the pastoral tradition, I thought I should educate myself on the pastoral tradition: ergo, reading Terry Gifford’s Pastoral.  Delightedly.  Really, I think I’m enjoying this book more than the poetry.  And here is a passage I liked especially:

“Apart from passages of realistic anti-pastoral within classical pastorals (such as Theocritus’s reminder that ‘Wherever you tread the ground’s one thorny ambush’ in his Sicilian Arcadia) the first major work of anti-pastoral was written by the Wiltshire farm labourer Stephen Duck.  The purpose of The Thresher’s Labour in 1736 was to give a worker’s reply to the eighteenth-century idealisation of the English countryside:

“‘No fountains murmur here, no Lambkins play,
No Linnets warble, and no Fields look gay;
‘Tis all a gloomy, melancholy Scene,
Fit only to provoke the Muse’s Spleen.

“Pope, it will be remembered, told his urban audience that ‘Ceres’ gifts in waving prospect stand, / And nodding tempt the joyful reaper’s hand’.  […] Duck uses…plenty of classical references, in order to gain acceptance as a self-taught answer to Pope… But, more to the point, he manages to introduce streams of sweat into Augustan poetry as his version of Pope’s ‘joyful reaper’ turns to threshing:

“‘Now in the Air our knotty Weapons fly,
And now with equal Force descend from high;
Down one, up one, so well they keep the Time,
The Cyclops’ Hammers could not truer chime;
Nor with more heavy Strokes could Aetna groan,
When Vulcan forg’d the Arms for Thetis’ Son.
In briny Streams our Sweat descends apace,
Drops from our Locks, or trickles down our Face.

“Duck wrote this poem after days of work actually threshing.  But Duck’s final fate was to be taken up by Queen Caroline and installed in a thatch-roofed pavilion in the Royal gardens as a guide who peddled pastoral lines such, ‘No plund’ring Armies rob our fruitful Plain; / But, bless’d with Peace and Plenty, smiles the Swain’.  The ‘we’ of the vigorous verse above eventually became transformed into ‘the Swain’ of the literary convention.  But Duck, in turn, had a rejoinder from Mary Collier in The Woman’s Labour: An Epistle To Mr Stephen Duck (1739).  Duck had written that after a day’s haymaking ‘Next Day the Cocks appear in equal Rows’.  Mary Collier replied that it was the women who made them suddenly appear next day.  After a brief mid-day break,

“‘…soon we must get up again,
And nimbly turn our Hay upon the Plain;
Nay, rake and prow it in, the Case is clear;
Or how should Cocks in equal Rows appear?'” (121-122)

If you made it to the end of that, … isn’t this just GREAT??