The Retirement Pastoral East and West

Minami, Jean
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University of Hawaii at Manoa
The pastoral poem has evolved and endured through the ages. Arising from a genre featuring shepherds living idyllically in a rural setting, the pastoral has expanded to include themes that have no traces of the conventional lovelorn shepherds or ornamented landscapes. What does survive is the main theme of the ideal realm where the simple life, far removed from the turmoil and complexities of actual life, can be led. In his preface to the Shepherds Calendar, Edmund Spenser presents the general purposes of his pastorals: For either they be plaintive, as the first, the sixth, the eleventh, and the twelfth; or recreative, such as all those be, which contain matter of love, or commendation of special personages; or moral, which for the most part be mixed with some satirical bitterness…. The element of social criticism, a characteristic of pastoral poetry, is evident here. In the emblem of the July eclogue, Spenser describes Thomalin, a shepherd, as: being both himself sequestered from all ambition, and also abhorring it in others of his cote, he taketh occasion to praise the mean and lowly state, as that wherein is safety without fear, and quiet without danger…. This eclogue praises a detached individualism that lies at the bottom of the pastoral tradition of retirement. There are three socially critical assumptions inherent in this idea of detached individualism. The first is that life as if is lived in the real world is inadequate. The second assumes that the best people are indifferent to the temptations of the marketplace and that they consequently detach themselves from the world. The last assumes that in the individual who denounces all accepted authorities, there lie the powers to establish a better life. This pastoral sentiment for retirement, which is a convention in poetry of the West, parallels a similar convention in the poetry of China and Japan.
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