What Are Some Famous Pastoral Poems?

Some of the most famous pastoral poems in the English language are Christopher Marlowe's "The Passionate Shepherd to his Love," Edmund Spencer's "The Shepheardes Calender," and Alexander Barclay's "Eclogues." Famous pastoral poems in other languages include Theocritus' "Idylls" and Virgil's "Bucolics."

Pastoral poetry is a genre, mood, or tradition of poetry that celebrates the countryside and rustic life. The pastoral tradition began in ancient Greece with the oral poet Hesiod, whose poem "Works and Days" is part farmer's almanac and part poetic exploration of the nature of human labor. The first written pastoral poetry comes from another Greek poet, Theocritus, whose "Idylls" depict rural scenes. The pastoral tradition was carried into Latin by Virgil, whose "Georgics" are modeled after Hesiod.

The first pastoral poems in English were Alexander Barclay's "Eclogues," which were composed around 1515. An eclogue is a pastoral poem written in the classical style. One of the most famous love poems in English is Christopher Marlowe's pastoral, "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love." The speaker of this poem uses the beauty of a country landscape to seduce his love. For instance, in the first stanza the shepherd urges, "Come live with me and be my love, / And we will all the pleasures prove / That valleys, groves, hills, and fields, / Woods, or steepy mountain yields."

The pastoral tradition declined after the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century. Modern instances of pastoral poems include "Fern Hill" by Dylan Thomas and "Wales Visitation" by Allen Ginsberg.