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 verse, about their work or their love. (Gifford, 1999, p 1).
The modern day meaning of pastoral is much broader and seems to consist of any art form that depicts the countryside. However the form of pastoral poetry that I am concerned with in this essay is that of the eighteenth century pastoral. This is more generally poetry that is concerned with idyllic life in the country, with particular contrast to that of life in the city. I believe that this development of pastoral poetry in Elizabethan times stems from the emerging cities and the commercialisation that the rise of the cities embodied. This brought about a tension between the `hustle and bustle' of life in the city with the relative calm that ideas of the country represent. Pastoral poetry represented a time before commercialisation, which may be one reason ...
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... would have to quit working. The labour of threshing is not compatible with creating poetry. The workers speak in the poem only to highlight their inability to speak as a consequence of their labour. Duck acknowledges that threshers cannot be poets, but contradicts himself as he was once a thresher, and has produced a poem about that very subject.
I believe that Duck's poem is revolutionary for its time in the sense that Duck has taken the pastoral form and used it to convey sounds, sights, smells and an overall sense of the realities of rural urban life in the eighteenth-century. He took the form of pastoral poetry, as well as dabbling with the Georgic form, and was bold enough to use its advantages and disadvantages to convey what he felt was `real' urban life, in a period in which was highly influenced by the classics and had a very clear literary hierarchy.
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