How does Spenser follow the pastoral tradition in the Eclogue of April in "The Shepheardes Calendar"?

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appletrees eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Shepheardes Calendar contains eclogues written for each of the twelve months. It is considered Spenser's first major work, and written in imitation of the Roman poet Virgil (who also wrote a series of Eclogues), one of Spenser's poetic inspirations. The style, considered archaic by some critics at the time, also borrows heavily from Petrarch and Mantuan, two pastoral poets of the Renaissance.

The imagery in Spenser's "Aprill" eclogue corresponds to the tradition of pastoral in a number of instances. The lines: 

"Now ryse vp Elisa, decked as thou art, 
in royall aray: 
And now ye daintie Damsells may depart 
echeone her way"


"See, where she sits upon the grassie greene, 
         (O seemely sight) 
Yclad in Scarlot like a mayden Queene, 
         And Ermines white. 
Upon her head a Cremosin coronet, 
With Damaske roses and Daffadillies set: 
         Bayleaves betweene, 
         And Primroses greene 
Embellish the sweete Violet."

are pastoral in their description of beautiful women dressed in finery, a celebration of springtime and the rejuvenation of the land that reflects human fertility. In pastoral poetry, descriptions of the natural landscape, especially the comparison of women to flowers (damask roses, daffodils, primroses and violets in the excerpt above), correlate to romantic imagery of courtship and love. This imagery permeates this eclogue, as April is a season defined by a proliferation of spring flowers. The romantic customs in England at the time involved gathering spring flowers and walking in meadows as traditional activities of courtship. For example, the origin of the expression "gathering the May" or "going a-maying", referring to hawthorn blossoms, became a euphemism for acts of intimacy.

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