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Pastoral Definition

A poem that depicts rural life in a peaceful, romanticized way.


A Pastoral is a type of poem that has a rich history. These poems feature the romanticism of living simple lives away from the trappings of modernity. The term was founded based on Theocritus who lived in 3 BC. That is a long time ago, thousands of years from modern times. But even then, the shepherds lived a less complex existence than the rest of the people in those societies. And this was the subject that Theocritus chose to focus on.

The term and type of poetry did fade with the Industrial Revolution. Maybe there was less emphasis then on idealizing country life and more of a draw to get away from it. But with the resurgence of this type of poetry came the same respect and longing for a less city driven existence. People might have felt comfortable enough in their modern trappings to appreciate nature again without having such a direct reliance on it. 

Pastoral Poem Example

Sir Philip Sidney

FROM: The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia, 1593

[O sweet woods]

O sweet woods, the delight of solitariness!
Oh, how much I do like your solitariness!
Where man's mind hath a freed consideration,
Of goodness to receive lovely direction.
Where senses do behold th' order of heav'nly host,
And wise thoughts do behold what the creator is;
Contemplation here holdeth his only seat,
Bounded with no limits, born with a wing of hope,
Climbs even unto the stars, nature is under it.
Nought disturbs thy quiet, all to thy service yields,
Each sight draws on a thought (thought, mother of science)
Sweet birds kindly do grant harmony unto thee,
Fair trees' shade is enough fortification,
Nor danger to thyself if 't be not in thyself.

O sweet woods, the delight of solitariness!
Oh, how much I do like your solitariness!
Here nor treason is hid, veilëd in innocence,
Nor envy's snaky eye finds any harbor here,
Nor flatterers' venomous insinuations,
Nor coming humorists' puddled opinions,
Nor courteous ruin of proffered usury,
Nor time prattled away, cradle of ignorance,
Nor causeless duty, nor cumber of arrogance,
Nor trifling title of vanity dazzleth us,
Nor golden manacles stand for a paradise,
Here wrong's name is unheard, slander a monster is;
Keep thy sprite from abuse, here no abuse doth haunt.
What man grafts in a tree dissimulation?

O sweet woods, the delight of solitariness!
Oh, how well I do like your solitariness!
Yet, dear soil, if a soul closed in a mansion
As sweet as violets, fair as lily is,
Straight as cedar, a voice stains the canary birds,
Whose shade safety doth hold, danger avoideth her;
Such wisdom that in her lives speculation;
Such goodness that in her simplicity triumphs;
Where envy's snaky eye winketh or else dieth;
Slander wants a pretext, flattery gone beyond;
Oh! if such a one have bent to a lonely life,
Her steps glad we receive, glad we receive her eyes,
And think not she doth hurt our solitariness,
For such company decks such solitariness.

Other Pastoral Definition

[n] a literary work idealizing the rural life (especially the life of shepherds)
[n] a letter from a pastor to the congregation
[n] a musical composition that evokes rural life
[adj] suggestive of an idyll; charmingly simple and serene; "his idyllic life in Tahiti"; "the pastoral legends of America's Golden Age"
[adj] used of idealized country life; "a country life of arcadian contentment"; "a pleasant bucolic scene"; "charming in its pastoral setting"; "rustic tranquility"
[adj] of or relating to a pastor; "pastoral work"; "a pastoral letter"
[adj] relating to shepherds or herdsmen or devoted to raising sheep or cattle; "pastoral seminomadic people"; "pastoral land"; "a pastoral economy"


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Misc. Definitions

\Pas"tor*al\, a. [L. pastoralis: cf. F. pastoral. See {Pastor}.]
1. Of or pertaining to shepherds; hence, relating to rural life and scenes; as, a pastoral life.
2. Relating to the care of souls, or to the pastor of a church; as, pastoral duties; a pastoral letter. {Pastoral staff} (Eccl.), a staff, usually of the form of a shepherd's crook, borne as an official emblem by a bishop, abbot, abbess, or other prelate privileged to carry it. See {Crook}, and {Crosier}. {Pastoral Theology}, that part of theology which treats of the duties of pastors.
\Pas"tor*al\, n.
1. A poem describing the life and manners of shepherds; a poem in which the speakers assume the character of shepherds; an idyl; a bucolic. A pastoral is a poem in which any action or passion is represented by its effects on a country life. --Rambler.
2. (Mus.) A cantata relating to rural life; a composition for instruments characterized by simplicity and sweetness; a lyrical composition the subject of which is taken from rural life. --Moore (Encyc. of Music).
3. (Eccl.) A letter of a pastor to his charge; specifically, a letter addressed by a bishop to his diocese; also (Prot. Epis. Ch.), a letter of the House of Bishops, to be read in each parish.

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