Saturday, March 31, 2018

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.


  1. It was interesting to read two distinct poets that wrote on the same underlying issue. While I enjoyed Skelton's simple and rhythmic rhyme scheme, I also really enjoyed Spencer's more conversational poem. Spencer's "The Shepheard's Calendar" really helped to give an insight into what life was like for the shepheards at the time. His use of imagery allowed me to understand Cuddie's desire to do more. "The dapper ditties, that I won't devise, to feede youthes fancie, and the flocking fry, delighten much: what I the bett for thy". Cuddie does not understand why he should have to entertain others if he doesn't see the joy in it himself. The conversational play of Spencer's poem made it more relatable and less forced when it comes to rhythm, but the rhyme scheme that is used plays to the simple and monotonous daily routine of the a shepheard.
    -Sarah Basler

  2. After reading "The Shepheard's Calendar," I found it to be very interesting and I enjoyed the set up of the poem, how every month matched a mood. It is very different from today's poetry. My favorite month was January, where a Shepard falls in love with a girl who appears to not love him back. Although, it was a bit confusing to read, I was still fond of the poem.
    -Leony Lopes

  3. You see two different types of poems; one being more simple to understand with the known rhythm of a poem, and the other poem by Spencer which is a little more in depth needing to be read deeper. Spencer's "The Shepherds Calendar" allows us to see the life of a shepherd while giving terms of imagery and meanings on what it really means. The way every month matched the mood of Shepherd's was a great way to allow the poem to flow together in a deeper way.

  4. Nair GonçalvesMay 1, 2018 at 6:43 PM

    Skelton and Spencer’s works are so contrasting it was interesting to look at them both and compare the styles. Skelton leans more towards simplicity while Spencer’s work is far more complex and takes more analysis to understand. I also liked the moods presented in every month, the structure of the poem was like no other poem I’ve read before. It’s really creative and allows to to really get into the life of a shepherd. This was an interesting read, and to reiterate what I said before, I absolutely enjoy the writing style! It’s really unique