Rhetorical Energies

It is necessary to stress georgic's structural orderliness because its more eye- and ear-catching qualities often give an impression of unresisted rhetorical energies. Georgic's associative procedure certainly enables an extraordinary freedom of topical and scenic movement. New readers of The Fleece may struggle to get their bearings as Dyer sweeps them panoramically through a series of regions and landscapes, pointing out landmarks, country houses, and centers of industry, all the while observing the suitability of different terrains and natural habitats for raising sheep. Inspired by his friend Thomson, Dyer brings the remotest parts of the world before the reader and recalls scenes from antiquity even as he describes local English and Welsh conditions and occupations. All is movement and energy. Though it may be going a bit too far to claim that georgic is "polyphonic," the mode has been plausibly described as "symphonic" (Wilkinson 1969: 74).

Georgic is famously a "mixed" genre, and prospered in a period that cultivated impurity of genre as a condition of aesthetic fertility. Committed to diversity, georgic easily incorporates elements of other kinds of verse, for instance topographical verse and the country-house poem, just as georgic elements are contained in many long poems of composite genre, such as Richard Jago's prospect poem Edge-Hill (1767). Georgic even incorporates its own alternative, pastoral, with confident self-awareness. Dyer's shepherding advice in Book I culminates in a formal eclogue finale, and Philips's "swains" sing pastoral lyrics by Phineas Fletcher (Cyder, ii. 108). Yet georgic is distinct from pastoral, as Addison tells us, in that the georgic poet does not imitate the simplicity of the rural characters he represents, but writes "with the Address of a Poet" (Addison 1987: 145). While pastoral reveals poetic craft by appearing to conceal it, georgic glories in poetic device. "Now, of the sever'd lock begin the song," Dyer announces, "With various numbers, thro' the simple theme / To win attention: this, ye shepherd swains, / This is a labour" (The Fleece, ii. 1—4). The challenge to the poet in elevating a "low" topic (cf. Georgics, iii. 289—90) is wittily acknowledged in Dyer's echo of the Sibyl's words in Aeneid, vi. 129: "hoc opus, hic labor est" — "the descent to the underworld is easy; the hard task is to rise." The pleasures of georgic lie precisely in appreciating the poet's "Address," his readiness and fertility of expression, as well as the ideas and images he conveys.

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