What Else Is Pastoral?

What Else Is Pastoral?: Renaissance Literature and the Environment

Ken Hiltner
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    What Else Is Pastoral?
    Book Description:

    Pastoral was one of the most popular literary forms of early modern England. Inspired by classical and Italian Renaissance antecedents, writers from Ben Jonson to John Beaumont and Abraham Cowley wrote in idealized terms about the English countryside. It is often argued that the Renaissance pastoral was a highly figurative mode of writing that had more to do with culture and politics than with the actual countryside of England. For decades now literary criticism has had it that in pastoral verse, hills and crags and moors were extolled for their metaphoric worth, rather than for their own qualities. In What Else Is Pastoral?, Ken Hiltner takes a fresh look at pastoral, offering an environmentally minded reading that reconnects the poems with literal landscapes, not just figurative ones.

    Considering the pastoral in literature from Virgil and Petrarch to Jonson and Milton, Hiltner proposes a new ecocritical approach to these texts. We only become truly aware of our environment, he explains, when its survival is threatened. As London expanded rapidly during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the city and surrounding rural landscapes began to look markedly different. Hiltner finds that Renaissance writers were acutely aware that the countryside they had known was being lost to air pollution, deforestation, and changing patterns of land use; their works suggest this new absence of nature through their appreciation for the scraps that remained in memory or in fact. A much-needed corrective to the prevailing interpretation of pastoral poetry, What Else Is Pastoral? shows the value of reading literature with an ecological eye.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6076-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    This book argues that Renaissance pastoral poetry is more often a form of nature writing than one might think. This claim may seem puzzling to casual readers, who might even imagine pastoral to be the most common form of Renaissance nature writing, but it will likely be received with skepticism by the broad swath of literary critics who question whether early modern pastoral is generally concerned with the countryside at all. While acknowledging that pastoral literature begins to deal with literal landscapes starting in the eighteenth century, these critics, led by Paul Alpers and Annabel Patterson, argue that Renaissance pastoral...

  5. Part I. Literary Issues

    • 1 The Nature of Art
      (pp. 19-33)

      Prior to Socrates, Plato was profoundly influenced by the philosopher Cratylus, who may in fact have been his teacher. Outside of his appearance in Plato’s dialogue that bears his name, we know little about him other than what we learn from the Metaphysics, where Aristotle groups him with a number of thinkers who, because they “saw that all of nature was in flux, and that no true statement can be made about that which is in such flux, concluded that, of course, regarding what is everywhere and in every way changing, nothing could be said” (my translation).¹ Perhaps not surprisingly,...

    • 2 What Else Is Pastoral?
      (pp. 34-48)

      “It has become something of a truism,” noted Nancy Lindheim well over a decade ago, “that Vergil’s first Eclogue is the most influential work in the tradition that governs Renaissance pastoral. Paul Alpers, for example, notes that Sidney’s Apology for Poetry defends the genre solely on the basis of Eclogue 1, and Annabel Patterson virtually defines pastoral since Virgil in terms of the use of this one poem.”¹ Like many, many critics who followed Alpers and Patterson, Lindheim fully accepts this “truism.” Given the critical climate of Renaissance studies in the 1980s and 1990s, this acceptance should come as no...

    • 3 What Else Was Pastoral in the Renaissance?
      (pp. 49-66)

      Once we realize what was occurring to London’s surroundings in Stow’s time, it quickly becomes apparent that it influenced a variety of works. Consider the opening of “To Penshurst”:

      Thou art not, Penshurst, build to envious show

      Of touch or marble, nor canst boast a row

      Of polished pillars, or a roof of gold;

      Thou hast no lantern whereof tales are told,

      Or stair, or courts; but stand’st an ancient pile,

      And these grudged at, art reverenced the while.

      Thou joy’st in better marks, of soul, of air,

      Of wood, of water; therein thou art fair.¹

      Jonson here establishes a...

    • 4 Pastoral and Ideology, and the Environment
      (pp. 67-92)

      Paul Alpers played a major role in shifting critical interest in pastoral away from landscape to what are essentially, as mentioned in the preceding chapters, political concerns. I have attempted to show not only that Alpers’s reading of Virgil’s first Eclogue is too restrictive, but that poems such as “To Penshurst” and “The Description of Cooke-ham” reclaimed the original force of this Eclogue, which in fact has a great deal to do with landscapes. Readers who have patiently followed the arguments of the preceding chapters might, even if persuaded that these two early modern poems have an environmental component, still...

  6. Part II. Environmental Problems

    • 5 Representing Air Pollution in Early Modern London
      (pp. 95-124)

      When confronted with the description of a literal dark cloud of air pollution hanging over Coketown in Dickens’s Hard Times, many readers are immediately persuaded not only that our current environmental crisis has its roots in the nineteenth century, but that it was clearly making its appearance in the literature of the day. However, turn the clock back two centuries, to Spenser, Jonson, and Milton, and many of the same readers are remarkably resistant to the notion that the roots of the crisis could possibly reach back so far—at least with respect to such “modern” environmental problems as air...

    • 6 Environmental Protest Literature of the Renaissance
      (pp. 125-155)

      The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) suggests that, prior to 1644, the word leveller had only two rather obscure meanings, describing either someone who took soundings or one who took aim at something. But that was to change dramatically in the 1640s when the term began to be applied to an emerging political group.¹ “The Levellers,” as Thomas Corns notes, were “named by their enemies, to suggest that they sought to level all the social distinctions and rights of property on which society in early modern England was perceived to be founded. It was a term they disliked and disputed.”² There...

    • 7 Empire, the Environment, and the Growth of Georgic
      (pp. 156-174)

      “Were the colonized to disappear,” speculated Sartre while reading Albert Memmi, “so would colonization—with the colonizer.” By this, Sartre simply meant that if the colonized were to disappear, “there would be no more subproletariat, no more over-exploitation.”¹ While this is certainly true, many postcolonial theorists have further registered the original Memmi-inspired statement to also mean that, in addition to the material, economic injury to the colonized is added the insult (and further injury) of the colonizer consolidating a sense of “self” by relegating the colonized to a realm of “otherness” as subaltern. In this view, if the colonized other...

  7. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 175-186)
  8. Index
    (pp. 187-190)