In view of the varied principles on which it is possible to classify poetic compositions it is safer for our purpose to adopt that which is most in vogue, viz. the one which divides poetry into three great classes : Lyrical, Narrative, and Dramatic. It is necessary to observe, however, at the very outset that this division cannot be made with any great precision for, as we shall see, in practically every narrative poem of any recognised merit, we have a good deal of the dramatic and the lyrical elements, and similarly, narration and song cannot be entirely excluded from dramatic poetry. These three kinds of poetry represent three distinct kinds of poetic activity.
The Subjective versus the Objective Poet :
The various kinds of poetry enable us to differentiate between the subjective and the objective poet. “Lyric writer is spoken of as the Subjective or Personal Poet”. A poet is called subjective when he finds inspiration for his work in his own thoughts, emotions, imagination and experiences, and gives expression to his own personal feelings or impulses. When a poet describes the actions, sentiments, and experiences of his fellowmen and not his own, without any reference to his own views or feelings, he is regarded as an objective or impersonal artist. The subjective writer dives within himself, he steeps his theme in his own individuality and sensations ; the objective artist looks outside himself and treats his facts, scenes, characters, and situations, whether observed or imaginary, without drawing attention to his own emotions, reflections or personality. Thus, the Sonnets of Shakespeare or Milton are subjective, because in them we can trace their author’s sensations and views, but Homer’s Ilaid is objective, because it merely describes external facts, persons and events, whether historical or imaginary, and scarcely makes any revelation of the author’s self. Narrative poetry is, as a rule, objective, as we shall see later on. We have tried to distinguish between the subjective and the objective kinds of poetry, but here again, it is necessary to put up a cautionary signal ; it is impossible to draw a sharp line between the two kinds, because, however impersonal the theme of the poet may be, he cannot entirely eliminate himself from his work.
What, then, is a lyric ? The dictionary defines ‘lyric’ as ‘of or pertaining to the lyre ; meant to be sung…Now the name for short poems, usually divided into stanzas or strophes, and directly expressing the poet’s own thoughts and sentiments’. This definition shows how impossible it is to define the lyric. For instance, it can be argued that all poems except dramatic ones express ‘the poet’s own thoughts and sentiments’, and on the other hand that the lyric by no means always does so ‘directly’ : can we say that ‘Full fathom five’ or ‘O sunflower weary of time’ is a direct expression of the poet’s thoughts and sentiments ? Perhaps ‘immediate’ would be a better word. A lyric can indeed convey states of mind immediately—that is, without apparent context, without argument without comment by the poet. But this leads us into another difficulty, for many such lyrics cannot accurately be called expressions of the poet’s own states of mind : they are pure. or they are impersonal. Pure Poetry, in Mallarme’s sense of a poetry which aspires to the conditions of music, is rare in English : we find it, or something near to it, in certain of Shakespeare’s songs. possibility in Kubla Khan, in a few poems by Beddoes and Christina Rossetti, in Dobell’s The Orphan’s Song, in the non-sense verse of Lear and Carroll—poems from which prose meaning, rational sequence, the tendency of language to communicate through intellectual concepts, have all been excluded. Such poems either do not convey the poet’s state of mind at all, or express it in so oblique and rarefied a way as to render it unimportant for the reader. What is excluded in the impersonal poem is not” prose’ meaning and rational sequence but the poet’s human individuality. The Japanese haiku, the poems of the Imagists, much medieval English lyric—the carols, for example—are of this nature : we can gather from them little or nothing about the personality of their writers : whether they have ‘Anon’ or a poet’s name written beneath them, they sound equally anonymous.
Not all mediavel lyrics are impersonal. But the introduction of a personal note into the English lyric was rare till Wyatt. This development was very closely connected with a major, perhaps the greatest, revolution in English poetry—the gradual detaching of the lyric from music and the establishment of it as a form in its own right. So long as lyric poems were composed to be sung, the lyric remained subordinate to the exigencies of musical form ; and it was also limited by conventions laying down what subjects were appropriate for song, and often by certain conventional attitudes towards those subjects. The stock subject for lyrics throughout the 16th century was love, and the prevalent attitudes towards it were derived from the formal code of chivalry and the Courts of Love. Here and there in this period we find a poem which breaks away from such conventional limitations : Wyatt’s ‘They flee from me’ and ‘My lute awake’, or Drayton’s ‘Since there’s no help’, are poems in which the writer’s personality thrusts through the medium—poems which are the reverse of anonymous, and introduce a realism quite at variance with the traditions of the love song. But it is not till the end of the century that we find, in John Donne, a poet who, impatient both with the technical and the psychological fetters of lyrical tradition, consistently applied this realism to his love poetry, exploring the whole gamut of sexual feeling—its violent contradictions, its exorbitant passion, its directness and evasiveness, its idealism but also its disrespect.
Donne was seldom, in any strict sense, a lyric poet. But he and his followers won the revolution which liberated the lyric from its confinement within musical forms and Romance conventions : we can see his realism, diminished sometimes into cynicism or flippancy, in the lyrics of Caroline and Restoration poets : after Donne, a lyric could, theoretically at least, be about anything and written in any metre. Nevertheless, it remains true that not every state of mind, not every kind of rhythm or of language, is in practice adaptable to lyric.
Unless we throw in our hands and call any poem lyrical that is not epic, narrative, didatic or satiric, we simply must draw a line somewhere, on one side of which will be true lyrics, on the other side a mass of hybrids possessing some lyrical quality but mixed in with qualities derived from other kinds of poetry. My own tests for the true lyric are tests of mood, rhythm and language.
It is commonly accepted, if only in principle, that a lyric should be single-minded : it should present, that is to say, a mood or a state of mind which is unequivocal, undiluted, neither modified by intellectual reservations nor complicated by ironic overtones. It can be a cry straight from the heart (‘Western Wind ; when wilt thou blow’) : it may be, on the other hand, a frivolous or a patently ‘artificial’ poem, yet one which nevertheless gives an effect not only of simplicity but of spontaneity (e.g., Rochester’s Love and Life). In other words, it is a song—a form of words which whether written or music keeps something of the immediacy or the artful artlessness that reveals its musical ancestry.
The business of the lyric is to make words sing and dance, not to make them argue, moralise or speechify. For this reason, certain rhythms—differing in different languages—seen more natural to lyric-writing than others. In English, the heroic couplet or the blank verse line is an impossible medium for a love lyric ; and the iambic pentameter, so superb and flexible, and capable (as Pope proved) of infinite subtlety even when kept to its most regular syllabic form, is a meter intrinsically unlyrical. For this reason, we have included very few sonnets, although the sonnet form taken over by English poems from French and Italian was originally associated with music. The five-stress iambic line seldom produces a lyrical movement a four-or three-stress iambic line does, and so may a stanza in which five-stress lines are set in a pattern with shorter ones : why this should be so, we cannot explain. The anapaestic rhythm sound to us a more consistently lyrical one than the iambic. Yet it was little used by English lyricists till the 17th century, when its potentiality was shown in some of Dryden’s songs. Anapaestic rhythm, too regularly used, gives a mechanical and tedious effect, as witness Byron’s The Destruction of Sennacherib, or certain of Thomas Moore’s Irish Melodies and Swinburne’s poems. But a more tactful handling of the anapaest, varying it with the iamb, can produce a beautifully flexible lyrical rhythm—the dancing lilt we get in many of Browning’s and Hardy’s shorter poems.
Finally, there is the test of language. Here we are on much more debatable ground. It is not difficult to recognise lyrical rhythms, or the transparency and single-mindedness of the lyric : but is there such a thing as lyrical language, and if so, how do we identify it ? Suppose I take a line from a poem unknown to a given reader, and ask him to tell me, on the strength of this sample, whether the poem it comes from is a lyric ? For example,
Lo ! what a mariner love hath made me !
It could come from a play, or from a dramatic monologue. In fact, it is from a poem by Surrey which, we should call a lyrical poem. It is wrong, of course, to base any final judgments on isolated lines : we must consider the language of cacti poem as a whole, in relation with the poem’s rhythms and the purity or simplicity of the state of mind it is expressing. Also it would be ridiculous to suggest that there is only one kind of’ lyrical language : for instance, poets have managed to move far from the lyric’s source in song, and write poems in a colloquial language which nevertheless does not disqualify them as lyrics. Yet, although I can offer no all-embracing definition of lyrical language, I seem to be able to recognise this way of saying things when I meet it—and in lines so far removed from each other in time and subject and intensity as Drummond’s ‘A hyachinth I wished me in her hand’ and Heber’s ‘By coil Siloam’s shady rill’.
The most notable line of’ development in English lyrical verse can be traced in its power to deal seriously with a widening range of subject-matter, while preserving its lyrical character. Shakespeare in his sonnets, Donne in his love poems, explored far more deeply into the meanings of experience than any of their lyric predecessors. But their deployment of thought and syntactical patterns were generally too complex for these poems to come properly within my definition of the lyric. Seriousness, depth and resonance of meaning, allied to the authentic lyrical utterance as I hear it, appear most signally in Wyatt, in Shakespeare’s songs, in Marvell, in Blake’s Song of Experience, Wordsworth’s Lucy poems, a few of Emily Bronte’s, and more than few by Hardy and Yeats.
The lyric line appears to have considerable gaps. For instance, there was little good lyric writing between the end of the 17th century and the Romantics. But the 18th century was the great age of hymn-writing ; moreover. Charles Wesley, Isaac Watts and other hymn-writers took over for their own purpose the four-square metre which had been so commonly used in cynical or lascivious songs by Restoration lyricists—anticipating, no doubt, the Salvation Army’s sturdy refusal to let the Devil have all the best tunes. Again, the early 17th century for most of us means the Metaphysical poets, whose work is indeed one of the greater glories of English poetry. But its value was little recognised in their own time, and this kind of poetic thinking had too elaborate a dialectic for the lyrical mode-lyrics do not argue. We must remember. though, that while Herbert, Vaughan, Crashaw and other followers of Donne were writing, there were also lyrical poets at work, who were sometimes influenced by the great Metaphysicals and now seem overshadowed by them : Carew, Waller, Davenant, Suckling, Lovelace, for example, wrote lyrics the best of which have outlived their day.
The verse of the Cavalier poets and the Restoration lyricists may not much appeal to modern readers, who took for irony, tough thinking, sincerity, a roughened surface. These poets, with their smoothness, their rather facile paradoxes and antitheses, their apparent frivolity of attitude, must evidently be rated as minor writers. But we are ourselves disposed to reject lyrics which are technically so accomplished, which run easily, and display such verve, urbanity, or high spirits as those of Dryden, Rochester, Sedley, Gay. ‘Poetry does not have to be great or even serious to be good’, said W.H. Auden in his inaugural lecture of Oxford.
Anyone who has to work his way through the mass of minor verse produced in the 19th century may well regret the loss of that urbane poise and gaiety we find in Restoration lyrics. Pope and his followers made little use of the lyric form ; the Romantics used it for serious purpose. We can see the break most easily in Hood, who wrote some excellent lyrics but kept his lighter side for facetious, punning verse, and never the twain did meet. We have no Victorian writer, except Clough in a few passages of Amours de Voyage, who manages to be at once lyrical and amusing. The great Romantics certainly enlarged the scope of the lyric, as they enlarged human sensibility : very few earlier lyrics have the resonance of Wordsworth’s ‘A slumber did my spirit seal’, or even of Keats’ ‘In a drearnighted December’. But the spiritual pressure behind their finest lyrics was never equalled by their immediate successors. With the Victorians, the Romantic seriousness dwindled into solemnity and all too often into mawkishness. The Victorians did; however, extend the lyric in two directions : the detailed observation of nature––we get this from Tennyson, and Browning, from Patmore, D.G. Rossetti and Meredith, above all from Hopkins ; and the lyrical treatment of human relationships on more intimately personal lines than poets bad cared to attempt before.
VARIOUS KINDS OF LYRIC POETRY
Lyric poetry takes various forms, according to the nature of the emotion which inspires it. The various forms of lyric can be differentiated by the matter and the treatment in which that feeling. is expressed. The following are the chief forms of the lyric:
(i) The Lyrics of Religious Emotion, or Hymns : These are the outpourings of the poet’s soul not towards man but towards God and the supernatural. To this class belong the Psalms of David which exhibit to us this species of lyric poetry in its highest manifestation. The Hymns of the Rig-Veda also belong to this class.
(ii) Patriotic Songs: Akin to religious lyrics are patriotic or heroic songs. In these are sung the praises of national heroes, their warlike exploits and other great achievements, or the glory of ones native land. National songs are to be found among all peoples. A patriotic song may breathe the spirit not of the author alone but of an entire nation, as in the case of the French national anthem. The Marseillaise, or the Indian Vande Mataram. Campbell’s Ye Mariners of England, Walter Scott’s Breathes there the man with soul so dead, Moore’s Pro Patria Mori, W. E. Henley’s England and Kipling’s The Children’s Song are some of the best-known patriotic poems. Sublimity, elevation and sincerity must characterise both sacred and patriotic lyrics.
(iii) Love Lyrics : These are the outpouring of the sentiment of love, its bliss and tragedy, its joys, its hopes, and its disappointments. The lyrics so inspired are very “numerous, and every literature, particularly, perhaps, English literature, is rich in them. We have a whole array of them in Francis Palgrave’s The Golden Treasury. The Elizabethan Age of English literature was specially prolific in this respect, as in the works of Spenser (Epithalamion) Marione (Come live with me and be my love), Jonson (Drink to me only with thine eyes), and Shakespeare (Take, O take lips away), to mention no more.
(iv) Elegies : Elegy is derived from a Greek word for a song of mourning or a lament : it is a mournful or a plaintive lyric. Lucy’s Death in Wordsworth, Byron’s Thyrza, Cowper’s Loss of the Royal George are examples of lyrical elegies. Shelley’s Adonais and Tennyson’s In Memoriam, though elegies, are philosophical in their mood and long-drawn out in their treatment. Milton’s Lycidas and Matthew Arnold’s Thyrsis are spoken of as pastoral elegies because the mourners over the dead are represented as shepherds, the scene is laid amidst rural surroundings, and the other details and machinery of the poems are made to accord with the fiction of shepherds lamenting over the death of one of themselves.
(v) The Sonnet : The sonnet is a short poem limited to fourteen lines” with a definite rhyme arrangement. The sonnet is of Italian origin, and Petrarch was the first great Italian sonneteer. This form of verse was introduced into England a little before the reign of Queen Elizabeth. In her reign there was a lively interest in sonnet writing, and some of the best sonnets in the English language are from the pen of Shakespeare. In the succeeding age Milton wrote very inspiring and perfectly modelled sonnets. In the Restoration Age this form of verse was almost neglected. The sonnet reappeared with the advent of Wordsworth, Byron, Keats and others of the Romantic Revival, and even at the present day it is a form which finds much favour with poets and the public.
The sonnet is, as we have said, a rhymed poem limited to four-teen lines ; each line is, as a rule, of five iambic fact. The fourteen lines are broken up into sets, a group of eight, called the octave, and a group of six, called the sestet. Sometimes, instead of eight continuous lines, we have two stanzas of four lines each or two quatrains, and similarly, instead of one verse of six lines we have two or three lines each or two tercets. The rhyming arrangement is as follows : in the octave a, b, b, a, a, b, b, a, and in the sestet c, d, c, d, c, d, or c, d, e, c, d, e.
Narrative poems are so called because their principal function is to narrate what has actually happened, i.e., historical incidents, or what men believe to have happened i.e., myths and legends. Unlike lyrical poetry, such verse does present the feelings of the writer or his individual experiences or his thoughts, because he does not invent his facts. Narrative verse is entirely impersonal, except for the element of personality which the poet can convey to it by his style and his treatment of theme.
The following are the main types of the narrative poetry :
(i) Ballad : A narrative poem, usually simple \and fairly short, originally designed to be sung. Ballads often begin abruptly, imply the previous action, utilizing simple language, tell the story tersely through dialogue and described action, and make use of refrains. The folk ballads, which reached its height in England in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, was composed anonymously and handed down orally, often in several different versions. The literary ballad, consciously created by a poet in imitation of the folk ballad, makes use of many of its devices and conventions. Coleridge’s Rhime of the Ancient Mariner, Keats’s La Belle Dame Sans Merci, and Wilde’s Ballad of Reading Gaol are all literary ballads.
The chief quality of the genuine old ballads is their ‘simplicity and their artlessness—plainness of thought, plainness of diction and within their compass, nobility. In a ballad no moral is drawn, no analysis of feeling attempted, no detailed ornament introduced. It appeals by its rapidity of rhythm, its plainness of thought and diction and its inherent feeling of nobility.
(ii) Epic : These conventions, only some of which can be mentioned here, are followed by writers of epic with varying degrees of strictness. The poet begins by announcing his theme, invoking the aid of a muse, and asking her an epic question, with the reply to which the story begins. He then launches his action in medias res, in the middle of things. This action concerns a hero, a man of stature and significance ; Odysseus, for example, is the King of Ithaca, and Aeneas is the founder of the Roman Empire. In the course of the story, the hero performs many notable deeds, one of which is to descend into the under-world. The major characters are catalogued and described, many of them having dignified set speeches which reveal their characters. There are usually great battles in which the gods them-selves, who are regularly involved in epic stories, take part. Finally the epic poet adopts a style, dignified, elaborate and exalted, suitable to his theme.
Just as in the case of the ballad we have the primitive, and the literary ballads, so similarly in the case of the epic we have the early epics which, like the Mahabharata and the Iliad, were handed down during successive generations by word of mouth—wonderful feats of memory—and the later written epics like Dante’s The Divine Comedy or Milton’s Paradise Lost. The former are spoken of as the ‘epics of growth’, because it is believed that the small, separate, independent songs, celebrating single exploits of their heroes, were gradually put together to form the epic poem, which is not, therefore, in its entirety, the work of any one single author. Thus, it is held by some critics that the Iliad is a collection of lays or ballads, originally short, that were pieced together at a later date by some man or genius whose name may have been Homer. The epic of art or the literary epic, on the other hand, is the work of one single author.
The following are the basic characteristics of the epic, whether it is primitive or literary :
(a) An epic is a narrative poem.
(b) It is supposed to have a divine inspiration.
(c) It deals with a subject of great and momentous importance for mankind.
(d) The characters of the story are partly human and partly divine.
(e) An epic poem must contain some one personage, distinguished above all the rest, who is regarded as the hero of the tale. When there is one principal figure who is the centre of the various activities and enterprises, the unity of the action or plot is rendered more perceptible.
(f) The epic action must have a beginning, a middle and an end, and to ensure this the author must either relate the whole story in his own person, or introduce some of his characters who will narrate to us the events that precede the opening of the poem. He must satisfy our curiosity in every detail. Thus, in Milton’s Paradise Lost, Satan tells us at the very beginning of the poem, in the First Book, the reason why he and his companions are following in a burning lake in Hell. There is no time limit to the duration of the action of an epic. The action of Paradise Lost extends whole ages. It is not essential that an epic should end successfully, i.e., with the victory of the hero, but it usually does, for an unhappy conclusion would have the effect of depressing the mind rather than a stimulating or elevating it.
Paradise Lost is a great epic of English literature which satisfies the requirements of definition given above. Firstly, Paradise Lost is a narrative poem : it narrates the scriptural story of the creation of man, his temptation and fall, and his expulsion from Eden. There are many elements in the story, as told by Milton, which either do not agree with, or are in the nature of additions to the Biblical account ; these divergencies give scope for the exercise of the poet’s individuality, which, as we have said before, need not be entirely eliminated even in a narrative poem. Secondly, the real author of the epic is supposed to be the Holy Ghost, whose mouthpiece is the author. In the opening lines of Paradise Lost which, in the language of criticism, are known as the ‘Invocation’, Milton invokes the Heavenly Muse, which is another name for the Divine Spirit, to sing
‘Of Man’s first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree, whose normal taste
Brought death into the world, and all our woe.’
Thirdly, the subject-matter of the epic, viz., the fall of Man and his. subsequent redemption by Christ is of stupendous import and significance for mankind. Lastly, besides Adam and Eve, the first human beings on our Earth, there are the three Divine Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, introduced into the poem, not to speak of the supernatural agency of good and evil spirits that play such an important part in the development of the story.
(iii) Mock Epic : If a long narrative poem should satisfy all the tests of epic poetry, but if the subject which it celebrates be of a trivial nature, like the cutting off of a lock of a woman’s hair, which is the story that is related in Pope’s Rape of the Lock, then such a poem is called a Mock Epic. In a mock epic the poem is supposed to be the inspiration of a Muse, the characters are partly human and partly divine, and the language is stilted and grandiose, but the subject is of a very frivolous and unimportant character.
(iv) Allegory, Parable, Fable, Myth : Allegory is an extended narrative which carries a second meaning along with its surface story. Generally, the characters in an allegory do not have individual psychologies but are incarnation of abstract ideas and may bear such names as Lechery, Pride, Meekness, etc. An allegory may be prose narrative, such as Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progess, a poem, such as Spenser’s Faerie Queene, or a play, such as Everyman.
Allegory is classified into three categories. Firstly, it is religious. Pilgrim’s Progress is the greatest example in the prose form of the religious or spiritual allegory. It tells us of the journey of Christian, the pilgrim, from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. The journey of Christian is an allegory of the experiences of the soul of a converted sinner going from darkness to light, from death to immortality. Dryden’s The Hind and the Panther is an example of a poetic allegory of religious disputes. Secondly, allegory is political. Dryden’s allegory Absalom and Achitophel is an example of political allegory in verse. In this poem the poet gives an account of the critical state of affairs in England in his own day under the guise of a story taken from the Bible ; contemporary characters are introduced in the semblance of figures from ancient Jewish history. Lastly, allegories lamenting over the wrongs of certain classes in society are called allegories. One such composition is The Vision concerning Piers the Ploughman of William Langland, which was written with the object of bringing about reform in social and ecclesiastical affairs in the England of Richard II’s time.
A Parable, which is a form of allegory, is a short tale or story, the incidents of which are taken from everyday experience, and are intended to suggest a moral or spiritual meaning e.g., the parable of the Sower, or that of the Prodigal Son, in the Bible.
The Fable differs from the Parable, inasmuch as it is not con-fined to ordinary events of everyday life. Dr. Johnson very well defined it thus : “A Fable or Apologue seems to be in its genuine state a narrative, in which begins irrational and sometimes inanimate are for the purpose of moral instruction feigned to act and speak with human interests and passions.” The fables of Aesop and in the Hitopadesa, the well-known Indian collection of ethical tales and fables, are of this nature. The greatest master in the art of fable-writing, in relatively modern times, was the Frenchman La Fontaine.
There is one other literary form which also contains a secondary meaning deeper than is evident from its surface. It is the Myth. The myth is a primitive way of expounding the mysteries of nature and life by parables, drawn from experience, which most people can under-stand. Max Muller’s view is that in early times men, being unable to form abstract conceptions, naturally described the simplest phenomena in nature in the same concrete terms which they would use to describe personal actions. Succeeding ages would interest what was originally a description of natural phenomena into a myth about a person or persons. As an instance in point we have the Sun-Myth referred to in our remarks on the origin of poetry.
(v) Didactic Poetry : From the earliest times, English poets have wished to teach their readers as well as to delight them. Poetry in which men set out to teach a lesson, or give a definition, or ex-press some point of view is called didactic. The lessons which they try to teach may be intensely practical, as in the case of jingles used in the old days to teach children the alphabet :
A is for Adam, who was the first man,
He broke God’s command, and thus sin began.
Or, the poet may simply define the ‘merry heart’ :
Jog on, jog on, the footpath way,
And merrily heart the stile-a :
A merry heart goes all the day,
Your sad tries in a mile-a.
Or again, he may give vent in verse to literary criticism or to philosophical speculation. Its function is to convey knowledge and instruction. In fact, didactic poems are sermons in verse. In all such poems which aim at instruction, their merit depends on sound thoughts, correct principles, clear and apt illustration. Among the Romans the greatest didactic, or, more properly, philosophical writer is Lucretius, who wrote a long poem in six books called De Rerum Nature (On the Nature of Things), in which he expounds his atomic philosophy. In English literature Pope’s Essay on Criticism and Essay on Man belong to the class of purely didactic verse.
(vi) Satire : It is ridicule of an idea, a person or type of person, or even mankind. Satire has been used from Classical times to mock human vices and frailities. In his verse satires the Roman writer Horace, scoffing gently at man’s foibles, is amused rather than sternly indignant, whereas Juvenal, severe in his reaction to man’s vices, expresses his moral displeasure with trenchant force. In the Elizabethan Age, John Donne, John Marston and Joseph Hall wrote poetical satires ; their works lack artistic finish, and is coarse rather than witty. In the seventeenth century, Dryden wrote a number of satires : political (Absalom and Achitophel), personal (Mac Flecknoe), religious (The Rind and the Panther). After him came Alexander Pope, the great master of verse satire. The Dunciad, or The Progress of Dulness, in which most of the writers who had the misfortune to incur the enmity of Pope are pilloried, and some of his Epistles, masterpieces of their kind.
(vii) Epistles in Verse : All Epistles in verse are not necessarily satiric. An epistle, in its original meaning, is a letter addressed to an absent person ; at the present day we use the term only of letters of an ancient time or of elaborate literary productions which are, or pretend to be, intended for real or imaginary modelled on the Epistles of the Roman writer Horace, which are more or less essays on moral or philosophical subjects. They are chiefly distinguished from other poems by being addressed to particular patrons or friends. Verse epistles need not be confined to moral or critical subjects, for poems of love as well as elegiac poems have been cast into this form. The Epistle in verse was not unknown in the Elizabethan Age. Samuel Daniel used it. Later on, Dryden excelled in this class of poetry (Epistles to the Duchess of Ormond and to Congreve) as did John Gay and William Congreve, but the greatest writer of Epistles in English is Pope (Eloisa to Abelard ; The Epistle to Arbuthnot). Eloisa’s epistle to Abelard is an instance of the sentimental, and the one to Arbuthnot of the didactic form.
(vii) Pastoral Poetry : Pastoral Poetry ‘exhibits to us a life with which we are accustomed to associate the ideas of peace, of leisure and of innocence ; and, therefore, we readily set open our hearts to such representations as promise to banish from our thought the cares of the world and so they transport us into calm Elysian regions. At the same time no subject seems to be more favourable to poetry. Amidst rural objects nature presents, on all hands, the finest field for description ; and nothing appears to flow more of its own accord, into poetical numbers, than rivers and mountains, meadows and hills, flocks and trees, and shepherds void of care.’ A successful pastoral poem, according to the writer just quoted, must give us the idea of a rural state in which there is ease, equality and innocence ; where the shepherds are gay and agreeable, without being learned and refined, and fain and artless without being gross and wretched. They must not be made to discourse, as they are made to do in some poems, as if they were courtiers or scholars, for then the poem would lack the true spirit of a Pastoral.
The Pastoral like the Sonnet was introduced into England from Italy during the Elizabethan period, and Edmund Spencer was one of the earliest to adopt this form in The Shepherd’s Calendar, which was eclipsed by the success of Sir Philip Sidney’s pastoral prose romance, Arcadia. The convention was extremely popular during the sixteenth century, and it was only towards the middle of the seventeenth century that its vogue expired. Phineas Fletcher was the last of the pastrol writers of this age. The fashion was revived for a little while in the eighteenth century, when Allan Ramsay published The Gentle Shepherd in 1725. In our own time this form has found little favour with poets.
(ix) Eclogues and Idylls : Eclogues and Idylls are terms used loosely in modern literary criticism to denote the same kind of Pastrol Poems. Eclogue originally meant a short pastoral dialogue in verse ; and Idyll comes from a Greek word which signifies a descriptive piece or little picture. Both these terms are used indiscriminately of a short poem of pastrol or rural character, which aims at depicting the simple incidents in the life of simple country-folks—the loves and jealousies of sheperds.
Tennyson in his Idylls of the King has used the word in a different sense. He used it to denote not a poem dealing with pastoral or rural life but a picture-poem, which gives an elaborate and complete representation of any scene of life, and which contains one leading idea.
“Idyllic” in English generally suggests a pastoral or rural setting. We may speak of Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield or of Hardy’s Under the Greenwood Tree as idyllic novels, because they paint the simple life of the country-side.