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The term originated (by Theocritus) as referring to shepherds (“pastor” in Latin) is used throughout literary history to describe literature (especially poetry) that deals with rural, agricultural, unsophisticated, bucolic life, in particular the conditions of love – naïve, innocent, uncluttered by social considerations, where it is always fine weather, both literally and symbolically. Eventually the term encompassed any mise-en-scene where civilization was limited to conforming with nature rather than vice versa, where trees and flowers prevailed over human constructions. By the Renaissance, when cities were the scene of most plots, the pastoral retrogressed to a former, purer, life, before the complications of “modern” living interfered with Man’s “natural” affinities. Romantic poetry, even Robert Burns in his elegies, thrived on this return to a simpler life (Wordsworth’s poetry shows a contrast if we compare “London” to his other poems). The pastoral signature is recognized in other genres, too, such as the drama of Fletcher (The Faithful Shepherdess) and Shakespeare’s As You Like It. Prose examples might be melodramatic love stories such as Tess of the Durbervilles. A modern example might be Frost’s Stopping by the Woods.
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