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Raymond Williams pastoral poetry

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   Dmitri Kaminiar 1359
   ENG 280
   Prof. Warley

Raymond Williams' pastoral poetry

   Written in 1973, The Country and The City discussed specifically the relationship between the city and the countryside surrounding it from a social and a literary perspective. The third chapter of this work, titled "Pastoral and Counter-Pastoral", aimed to illustrate this relationship from the point of view of pastoral poetry. Williams believed that pastoral poetry is both an abuse of language and a reflection of an aristocratic social order, something that he does not approve of due to political reasons. His criticism in this chapter is primarily social, albeit with a general use of literary examples aimed to illustrate his point. Therefore, it is likely that he considers criticism to be generally an examining tool not just of literature but of human society overall.
   More precisely, Williams often uses various quotations from literature from the past to drive his message home, starting with the main goal of this chapter. It opens with a couplet by Crabbe, "By such examples taught, I paint the Cot, / As Truth will paint it, and as Bards will not" (13). This is followed by Williams saying directly that when it comes to writing about the British countryside, there is a true way and a false one, and the one used by the poets usually is the false one. In this chapter, Williams bridges the gap between the false way of writing about the countryside and the abuse of the English language by pastoral poetry.
   "Pastoral and Counter-Pastoral" is divided into four sections, with the first three discussing the development of pastoral literary genre from a socio-historical perspective, telling that the original, classical pastoral poem (section I) became split into two literary genres: natural poetry and pastoral romance (20). Williams launched sections III and IV by focusing on pastoral romance, since it is this literary tendency that is associated for him with the aristocrats. Williams believed that neo-pastoral poetry became the tool of aristocrats, for "[w]hat happened in the aristocratic transformation is the reduction of these primary activities to forms, whether `value of allegory or the fancy dress of court games" (21). However, this conclusion of section II is only the preliminary transformation of pastoral poetry, described by Williams in sections III and IV.
   Transformation in section II is mainly the disappearance of realistic elements in the pastoral/neo-pastoral genre, as shown by Virgil's Eclogues and Georgics, for example. Sections III and IV discuss the transference of this genre from courtly entertainment to a disguise for the developing agrarian capitalism (22), something that Williams definitely does not consider natural.
   The first definite mention of his disapproval occurs in section III. This section discusses the shift from the court to "the country-house and its estate" (22) that brought back the economic element to now neo-pastoral poetry. That is important, for the courtly aristocracy had essentially removed this element from their romance but the neo-pastoral poetry does not, as shown by quotes of Nahum Tate, and Pomfret, and Pope's version of Horace on pg 25: "I'd hate a clear and competent estate / That I might live genteely, but not great [...] The unworked-for providence of nature, that mythical or utopian image, is now, significantly, acquiring a social dimension, a `clear and competent estate', well supplied with hired help", something that Williams does not approve of, as shown in section IV.
   If the first three sections were just gradual preliminaries to section IV, then section IV itself gradually brings forth the main point: the abuse of language as it socially compliments the aristocracy. The difference between sections III and IV in this respect is that while section III deals rather with the socio-historical aspect of this event, section IV shows it from a more literary aspect. Williams begins to examine several poems, primarily To Saxham by Carew and To Penshurst by Jonson as works of literature to show how Penshurst's "declaration by negative and contrast" tell how "[t]he forces of pride, greed and calculation are evidently active among landowners as well as among city merchants" (28). He tells his audience directly that the abundant use of "not" and "no" in Jonson's poetry shows that not everything is right in the English countryside from the social point of view, and he uses literary, not social, criticism to do that. From the time of Cleanth Brooks, the question - "does the poem do what it promises to" - was a prominent way of criticism, and as far as Williams was concerned, neo-pastoral poetry promised to deliver tales of Utopian lives in the country, but it was a bourgeois Utopia in his opinion and an unnatural one that brought forth abuse of the English language.
   On page 30, Williams continues to do this analysis on Jonson's poem To Penshurst:
   And I not faine to sit (as some, this day,
   At great men's tables) and yet dine away.
   Here no man tells my cups; nor, standing by,
   A waiter, doth my gluttony envy:
   But gives me what I call, and lets me eate.
   (Williams, 30)
   Upon looking at these lines Williams calls the message of Jonson's poem a "willing and happy ethic of consuming", transferring this ethic into an "easy, insatiable exploitation of the land and its creatures" (30), something that Williams could not approve of: this is a "natural order [...] simply and decisively on its way to table", something that is not natural and probably abusive. Thus, now Williams' literary criticism began to augment his social criticism in bringing his statement about the hyperbole home, reinforcing his opinion of criticism as a tool against the social evils in the process.
   From page 30 onwards, Williams talks increasingly about the ethic of consuming that such neo-pastoral poems as To Penshurst discuss their setting as if it were Paradise (31), and that is clearly a hyperbole, for no country estate can be realistically compared to a Golden Age (31), though the poets do try: "[t]his country in which all things come naturally to man, for his use and enjoyment and without his effort, is that Paradise [...] Except that it is not seen as Paradise; it is seen as Penshurst, a natural order arranged by a proprietary lord and lady" (31).
   On the next page, Williams turns to the fall of Man that resulted in man toiling now for his sustenance, when "man had to earn his bread in the sweat of his brow [...] the curse of labour" (32) - i.e. the natural order of things. However, the lords and ladies of Penshurst and Saxton and other estates seem absolved of this toil (or natural order of things) by the poets who praise their estates. Williams uses the majority of his quotes to show that they have no working-class people, and when they appear, they do it only to take advantage of the nobles' charity, while in reality this state of affairs was reversed. Williams called neo-pastoral poems of that period "abuse of language" (33) because to him that is what they did - in reality, it was the toil of people who provided the bounty described in these poems, not the charity of the aristocrats. This was a skewed reflection or an illustration of an agrarian capitalistic society and Williams did not like this. This neo-pastoral poems failed to him in a literary sense too for they do not do what they promise to - deliver truth about life in the country; or if they do, then it is a sort of life that Williams wants nothing to do with, for they are the lies mentioned in the introductory couplet at the beginning of section I.
   Williams' knowledge of literature is truly impressive: throughout the chapter, he constantly illustrates the state of rural affairs by literary examples, from Virgil to Jonson and Carew. His criticism, however, is more social than literary; to him neo-pastoral literature is just an aspect of greater social problems that had plagued British society in the past, and may continue to plague it in the present. Moreover, this is just a part of his opinion that literary criticism is a tool that can be made to influence world beyond the pages of the literature, as this essay has shown, hopefully.
   Works cited
   Williams, Raymond. THE COUNTRY AND THE CITY. New York: Oxford University Press. 1973
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