Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Shepheards Calendar

The annals of literature are filled with dead forms and genres, but none of them is probably deader than the Pastoral. Once, along with Epic and Tragic verse, it stood among the prime modes of literary composition, but today it seems a strange and distant prospect, one whose very atmosphere -- although curiously unfamiliar -- seems at the same time already stale. And yet, for Edmund Spencer, it was precisely with this genre that he sought to resuscitate the moribund body of English verse, and breathe new life into a national literature.

The formula is simple: to move away from the City and its attendant troubles, back into an imaginary green world, populated with shepherds and shepherdesses, the former playing upon their oaten reeds and singing love calls, the latter wandering about fetchingly, replying with fleeting hints of "no" or "yes" before dashing off to still more distant pastures. As with the poetry of the medieval troubadours or the fleeting lovers on Keats's Grecian vase, love among these figures was generally unconsummated, desire eternally deferred, and the conventions of a progressive plot -- indeed, of any plot at all beyond romance in general -- were as though unknown.

Spencer's model was Virgil's Eclogues; as with many Renaissance writers, having a classical model was the shortest route to respectability. Within that model, though, Spencer took considerable freedoms, treating the bucolic settings as scenes for miniature dramas of his own. Two of his characters -- the fair Rosalind and her suitor Colin Clout (the latter borrowing his name from Skelton's poem) fairly outgrew the page, bestowing their names and histories on many successor characters, including Shakepeare's Rosalind in As You Like It. In other hands, such a poetic cycle might seem a piffle, but Spencer uses them to stake no less a ground than that of English poetry itself. In this, he is aided and abetted by one "E.K." (possibly a disguise for Spencer himself), who situates the verses that follow within both the classical world of Virgil and the vernacular realms of Chaucer.

12 comments:

  1. I was just discussing resuscitating the dead recently, but in terms of the humanities, as I am often asked why I intend to major in what is begrudgingly called a "dying field" by more people than I would feel comfortable with. So I have to admire Spencer's bravery as I too embark on a journey to attempt at saving what is perceived to be dying.

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  2. One would imagine that literature would change over time. Religious beliefs having such an effect on early writers. Classical being better accepted, until Chaucer rocked the
    boat with vanacular. It seems as though over each period of time new life was breathed into literature. The foundation of tge shepards herding is a great structure or slate to gently look back upon in literature although, Pastoral was no longer of use over time.

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  3. I can't imagine the difficulty in trying to bring back a dying form of literature on your own. It seems that most of the time those with the passion to do so create some incredible work. I'm sure Spencer's ability to mold his modern styles onto the classical model was what led to his success.

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  4. I don't really understand October. There seems to be a shepherded, piers, the poet writing the poem, who may or may not be Cuddie. I did notice a theme of fickle muses and fame. The fame makes sense. You mentioned how Spencer hyped himself up by introducing himself under another name. Otherwise the explanation in class should help.

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  5. I liked the variation of writing forms displayed throughout the months. Spencer wrote the poems very well because the characteristics varied per month, and our interpretation of the poem can vary as well. For some, the months can come together to form a whole year and a story or like myself I found that each month stood alone as a separate poem.

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  6. I like this work. I find the monthly setup to be interesting, and while the Shepheard's Calender is more recent than Chaucer's work, it doesn't seem that way given the linguistic structure. I would imagine that since this was written after Chaucer's day, language must have evolved, which causes me to think that this must have been intentional. All in all, this collection of poems come together in one account quite handsomely, despite the language barrier that all old literature possesses.

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  7. It seems that the pastoral always had the ideas of love, yet never totally realized. I think - and I may be way off base here - that October deals with love, but not one of a person, but love of one's art. Cuddie is a poet who seems to be a bit down in the dumps about the fact that he spends his time creating poetry which he loves, but it seems that his audience does not find it as amazing as he does. And his friend Pierce (or Piers or Percy? That was hard to follow!)is trying to build up his self confidence. I also found it amusing that maybe the muse that Cuddie referred to was not an ethereal one, but something more of this earth: "And when with wine the braine begins to sweate" Kind of got the idea that with a little wine the creativity starts to emerge a bit more...maybe some liquid courage one might say?








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  8. So, my understanding of the Shepherd's Calender is that it is broken up into 12 eclogues. Each of the eclogues are broken up into a month of the year, which in turn also represents the changing of the seasons. Each month can also stand alone as a separate poem. But in my opinion, they should be read all together.

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  9. The thought of bringing back a dying/dead form of literature sounds difficult on its own let alone doing it on your own. However, just like today’s trends being coming back into style, it seems doable given that the effort and passion is there. It also seems that the trends that do make it back tend to stick around for a good amount of time (snapback hats)

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  10. Reading The Shepheard's Calendar, I can see Edmund Spencer's fixation with nature and the simplicity of it. Each verse of Spencer's poem is told with a month and season to create the sense of nature relating to the passion of love, heartache, despair.

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  11. I find it funny that pastoral literature is mentioned here just because in english 345 we are constantly talking about how so many of Shakespeare's plays include pastoral themes. Major props to Edmund Spencer for bringing back a dying form of literature assuming his work effected Shakespeare in some sense. Timeline wise I'm pretty sure Spencer included pastoral themes before Shakespeare did.

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  12. Thanks for your information, it was really very helpfull..
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