Ancient Greece

The Idylls



Ancient Rome

The Eclogues




Ancient Rome

The Georgics



Dangling above our heads hung canopies

Of whispering elms and rustling poplar-trees;

Near us the water of the sacred well

Dropped from the Nymphs' cave, tinkling as it fell;

On every twig in shadow sat with glee

The sunburnt crickets, chattering busily;

And murmuring afar off in solitude,

Bowered in the deep thorn-brake, the turtle cooed.

All rich delight and luxury was there:

Larks and bright finches singing in the air;

The brown bees flying around the well;

The ring-dove moaning; everywhere the smell

Of opulent summer and of ripening-tide:

Pears at our feet and apples at our side

Rolling in plenteousness; in piles around

Branches, with damsons burdening to the ground,

Strewn for our feast; and from the full wine-tun

Wax of a four-years-aged seal undone.


… for you the Nymphs

Bring baskets, see, with lilies brimmed; for you,

Plucking pale violets and poppy-heads,

Now the fair Naiad, of narcissus flower

And fragrant fennel, doth one posy twine-

With cassia then, and other scented herbs,

Blends them, and sets the tender hyacinth off

With yellow marigold. I too will pick

Quinces all silvered-o'er with hoary down,

Chestnuts, which Amaryllis wont to love,

And waxen plums withal: this fruit no less

Shall have its meed of honour; and I will pluck

You too, ye laurels, and you, ye myrtles, near,

For so your sweets ye mingle.


First of all, Nature is manifold in the birth of trees. For some with no human urging come at their own will and spread wide by plain and winding river, like the soft osier and tough broom, the poplar, and pale willow-beds with their silvery leafage; and some rise from seed they drop, like the towering chestnuts, and Jove's winter-oak, lordliest of leafage in the woodland, and those oaks that Greece holds oracular. Others, like the elm and cherry, multiply from the root in serried undergrowth; and the tiny bay-tree on Parnassus springs beneath her mother's vast shade. These ways are of Nature's ancient gift; in these wear their green all the tribes of forest and underwood and sacred grove.


From Number 7, lines 135-147, translated by Walter Headlam, found on horcarm138.htm


From Book II, Alexis, uncredited verse translation found on


From Book II, prose translation by J.W.MacKail, Virgils' Works, Modern Library, New York 1934, pp. 295-352, found on


16th century England

The Shepheardes Calender

Sir Edmund Spenser


17th century England


John Milton


20th century England

The Lord of the Rings

J. R. R. Tolkien


from April:

Bring[i] hether the Pincke and purple Cullambine,

With Gelliflowres:

Bring Coronations, and Sops in wine,

worne of Paramoures.

Strowe me the ground with Daffadowndillies,

And Cowslips, and Kingcups, and loued Lillies:

The pretie Pawnce,

And the Cheuisaunce,

Shall match with the fayre flowre Delice.


from July:

Here has the salt Medway his sourse,

wherein the Nymphes doe bathe.

The salt Medway, that trickling stremis

adowne the dales of Kent:

Till with his elder brother Themis

his brackish waues be meynt.

Here growes Melampode euery where,

and Terebinth[ii] good for Gotes:

The one, my madding kiddes to smere,

the next, to heale theyr throtes.

Hereto, the hills bene nigher heuen,

and thence the passage ethe.

As well can proue the piercing levin,

that seeldome falls bynethe.

[i] Bring) all these be names of flowers. Sops in wine a flowre in colour much like to a Coronation, but differeing in smel and quantitye. Flowre delice, that which they vse to misterme, Flowre de luce, being in Latine called Flos delitiarum.

[ii] Melampode and Terebinth) be hearbes good to cure diseased Gotes. Of th'one speaketh Mantuane, and of th'other Theocritus. [terminthou tragon eskhaton akremona.] (He cites Virgil and Theocritus on the use of Melampode and Terebinth - squire)


Ye valleys low where the milde whispers use,

Of shades and wanton winds, and gushing brooks,

On whose fresh lap the swart Star sparely looks,

Throw hither all your quaint enameld eyes,

That on the green terf suck the honied showres,

And purple all the ground with vernal flowres.

Bring the rathe Primrose that forsaken dies.

The tufted Crow-toe, and pale Jasmine,

The white Pink, and the Pansie freakt with jeat,

The glowing Violet.

The Musk-rose, and the well attir'd Woodbine,

With Cowslips wan that hang the pensive hed,

And every flower that sad embroidery wears:

Bid Amaranthus all his beauty shed,

And Daffadillies fill their cups with tears,

  ...and groves and thickets there were of tamarisk and pungent terebinth, of olive and of bay; and there were junipers and myrtles; and thymes that grew in bushes, or with their woody creeping stems mantled in deep tapestries the hidden stones; sages of many kinds putting forth blue flowers, or red, or pale green; and marjorams and new-sprouting parsleys, and many herbs of forms and scents beyond the garden-lore of Sam. The grots and rocky walls were already starred with saxifrages and stonecrops. Primeroles and anemones were awake in the filbert-brakes; and asphodel and many lily-flowers nodded their half-opened heads in the grass: deep green grass beside the pools, where falling streams halted in cool hollows on their journey down to Anduin.

Found on


Lines 136-150, found on


From Book IV, Chapter 4 in The Two Towers

In essence, literary pastoral presents an idealized portrait of rural life, in the process offering a systematic preference for country over city life, simplicity over complexity, nature over artifice, and tradition over innovation. Explicitly named after the shepherds who formed its first subject matter, pastoral poetry often traced the romantic aspirations and disappointments of simple herders of sheep and goats, whose outdoor work allowed time for music, especially on the panpipes or flute, song contests, and debate on various sentimental, agricultural, political, and folkloric topics.

The pastoral tradition in European literature began with the Idylls of the third-century B.C. Greek writer Theocritus, whose poems often focused on the simple lives and loves of shepherds and goatherds, nostalgically recalled from the writer’s native Sicily. The rural subjects of Theocritus’ verse included musical and poetic contests, mythological narratives, seasonal celebrations, and elegiac laments.

The tradition of classical pastoral poetry was further elaborated by the first-century B.C. Roman writer Virgil in his ten Eclogues, based on Theocritan models, as well as the Georgics, a four-part didactic poem on the required labors of the agricultural year regarding crops, trees, vines, livestock, and bees.

Following Virgil, an implicit assumption of pastoral poetry was that rural life was morally superior to urban civilization. Pastoral literature was revived in the English Renaissance in the work of three of the era’s leading writers: Edmund Spenser’s Shepheardes Calendar (1579), a medley of twelve poems based on Virgil’s Eclogues and featuring song contests, elegies, laments of scorned lovers and frustrated poets, and criticisms of corruption in the late-sixteenth-century English church and state; Sir Philip Sidney’s Arcadia (1590), a long prose narrative, set in an imaginary Greek provincial realm, combining chivalric romance with traditional pastoral interludes, and structured around the principle of rustic retreat from the outside world; and William Shakespeare’s As You Like It (c.1600), a romantic comedy representing the sentimental benefits— and ironic deficiencies— of withdrawal to a sylvan retreat, the imaginary Forest of Arden, from the perilous environs of the court.

Pastoral poetry continued to be written through the eighteenth century by Alexander Pope and others, but at the risk of becoming artificially restricted to the classically defined rules of the era. Although anticipated in some of the poetry of Gray, Oliver Goldsmith, and George Crabbe, it was only with William Wordsworth’s re-creation of the pastoral using realistic rural characters and simplified diction that the tradition was renewed and made available to Hardy’s influential precursor George Eliot in her novels Adam Bede (1859) and Silas Marner (1861), and then to Hardy himself, beginning with his second novel, Under the Greenwood Tree (1872), the title of which was based on a line from a song in As You Like It.

from Jonathan A. Cook’s Introduction to Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy, Barnes & Noble Classics Series.

All contents excerpted and reprinted without permission solely for purposes of discussion on