Eclogue: Definition of Eclogue and its examples

Eclogue (Gk meaning ‘selection’) is a short pastoral poem, usually in dialogue or sometimes in soliloquy, on the subject of rural life and the society of shepherds, depicting rural life as free from the complexity and corruption of more civilized life.

The term was first applied to Virgil’s pastorals or bucolic poems. Thereafter it describes the traditional pastoral idyll that Theocritus, and other Sicilian poets, wrote. The form was revived by Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio and was particularly popular during the 15th and 16th c. A major influence came from the Eclogues of Mantuan.

Alexander Barclay wrote some distinguished eclogues while at Ely (1515-21). Edmund Spenser’s The Shepheard’s Calendar (1579) was outstanding. Later Alexander Pope attempted it in his Pastorals, and Gay burlesqued it in Shepherd’s Week (1714). By the 17th century, less formal eclogues were written by such poets as Richard Lovelace, Robert Herrick, and Andrew Marvell.

By the 18th c. the term merely referred to the form, and there were non-pastoral eclogues. A good example is Jonathan Swift’s A Town Eclogue, 1710. Scene, The Royal Exchange. In modern poems, like Robert Frost’s Build Soil, Louis MacNeice’s Eclogue from Iceland, and W.H.Auden’s The Age of Anxiety: a Baroque Eclogue, it is the medium for any ideas the poet feels a need to express.

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