Lesson 11. The target skills: analysis of ancient poetry as literary works and as data about a lifestyle and a vision of life set in time and space.
1. Below are three samples of what is called «pastoral poetry». It comes from «shepherd» (= «pastor»). It deals with the pleasures of a simple rural life or treats the longings and desires of simple people. It «invites us to forget for a while man’s destiny and to indulge ourselves in a daydream of rustic simplicity and romantic love». Pastoral poetry is written by sophisticated artists who assume the persona of a simple character. The New Kingdom in Egypt (1570-1085 B. C.) was a highly sophisticated period marked by the last great flowering of ancient Egyptian culture. It was a time of expansion abroad – the Egyptian Empire reached to the Euphrates River – and increased opportunity at home. Women enjoyed a greater prestige in New Kingdom society than they did in perhaps any other culture. With a legal status equal to that of men, they could will property, initiate a law suit, and probably divorce a husband. It is not surprising that such an advanced culture might want to enjoy a vicarious simplicity.
Use the information to give your own interpretation of the term «pastoral poetry». Consult an encyclopedia.
Your love, dear man, is as lovely to me
As sweet soothing oil to the limbs of the restless,
As clean ritual robes to the flesh of gods,
As fragrance of incense to one coming home
Hot from the smells of the street.
It is like nipple-berries ripe in the hand,
Like the tang of grainmeal mingled with beer,
Like wine to the palate when taken with white bread.
Like unhurried days come and go,
Let us turn to each other with quiet affection,
Walk in peace to the edge of old age.
And I shall be with you each unhurried day,
A woman given her one wish: to see
For a lifetime the face of her lord.
2. Recite any of the three verses, supplying your recital with a short introduction about its subject matter and mood.
3.John Foster, the translator of these lyrics, made the following statement about his choice of words: «The diction should be unpretentiously colloquial, simple, except when elevated by the power of strong feeling or slipping over into the sometimes slangy verbal patterns of irony or humor. The language should be conversational, quiet, the usages of personal and private speech, for these are the kinds of words for lovers.» Do you agree with J. Foster’s statement about the correct diction for such poems? Has he followed his own guidelines?
4.In what ways are these poems timeless? In what ways are they rooted in a specific time and place? E.g., the speaker in the last poem is a bird catcher; she captures and tames wild birds. How does the poet weave this occupation into almost every line of the poem? How does the poet play with the themes of wildness and tameness?
5.Egyptian poetry was often sung to the accompaniment of harps, lutes and other string instruments. What is songlike about these poems? If you were setting this or that one to music, what instrument would you use?
6.Give a comparative analysis of the lyrics above and one of the chapters of the Song of Solomon from the Bible (the tone, the chief devices, the reflection of everyday culture). Give the necessary quotations.
7.A critic once declared that «to achieve simplicity in poetry requires a great deal of skill». Using these verses, argue in favor of this observation.
I think I’ll go home and lie very still,
Feigning terminal illness.
Then the neighbors will all troop over to stare,
My love, perhaps, among them.
How she’ll smile while the specialists snarl
in their teeth! –
She perfectly well knows what ails me.
The voice of the swallow, flittering, calls to me:
«Land’s alight! Whither away?»
No, little bird, you cannot entice me,
I follow you to the fields no more.
Like you, in the dawn mist I rose,
At sunrise discovered my lover abed
(his voice is sweeter).
«Wake,» I said, «or I fly with the swallow.»
And my heart smiled back
When he, smiling, said:
«You shall not fly, nor shall I, bright bird.
But hand in hand
We shall walk the Nileside pathways,
Under cool of branches, hidden
(only the swallows watching) –
Wide-eyed girl, I shall be with you in all glad places.»
Can you match the notes of this song, little swallow?
I am first in his field of girls!
My heart, dear sister, sings in his hand –
Love never harmed a winged creature.