The pastoral elegy
is a subgenre
s the dead in the language of shepherds
. A division of the genre
of pastoral, it is a form not widely used in recent years; however in the past it has been used by a number of great poet
s to create deeply moving works.
In its classical form, the pastoral elegy, like pastoral poetry, is concerned with simple figures of country life. The shepherd, who habitually sits under trees playing music on the Pan pipes while he watches his flock, is the archetypal character. In a pastoral elegy, the deceased is typically recast as a shepherd, no matter what his role in life, and is surrounded by figures from classical mythology such as nymphs and fauns.
In the English language the greatest pastoral elegies are generally considered to be:
In addition, shorter and less grand versions of the pastoral elegy were written by many other poets. Andrew Marvell
was a great exponent of the pastoral form in Seventeenth Century England
, writing such poems as The Nymph Complaining for the Death of her Faun
, in which a nymph
or nature spirit
speaks an elegy for her dead pet deer
There are also elements of the form used in such elegies as:
The earliest pastoral elegies were written by the Greek poets Theocritus (310 - 250 BC), Bion (fl. 100 BC) and Moschus (fl. 150 BC). Bion's best-known work was a lament for Adonis which was an influence on many poets, such as Pierre de Ronsard, John Keats's Hyperion, William Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis and Percy Bysshe Shelley's Adonais. A pastoral elegy Lament to Bion is attributed to Moschus, and although there is considerable doubt as to its true author (bearing in mind their respective lifetimes), this was another major influence on English pastoral elegy.
The pastoral flourished to varying degrees in Europe between the Renaissance and the late Nineteenth Century, although it has cropped up in often satirical form more recently. The Renaissance brought the original texts and translations of the major Greek and Roman poets to the attention of the educated people in Western Europe, and verse such as Virgil's Eclogues proceeded to act as a major influence on poetry from around the Fifteenth Century onwards.
Although now dead as a genre, in its time, the pastoral elegy had a wide appeal. It was imitated by classically-inclined poets such as John Milton, who also imitated classical epic form in Paradise Lost; Milton's Lycidas may also use the form as a political allegory in criticism of the Church of England. But also the style was used by the Romantic poets, who saw in it the possibility for primitive and authentic expression of feeling. The pastoral as a form takes the reader far from the modern world and the urban environment, and the pastoral elegy celebrates at once a dead beloved now gone, and a world now long past.