Crawford, Charles. "Greenes Funeralls, 1594, and Nicholas Breton." Studies in Philology, May 1929, 1-39.
BRITANNIA'S PASTORAL William Browne (1613, 1616, and 1852) William Browne wrote Britannia's Pastoral by adopting an approach practiced since the third century B.C. when Theocritus wrote his Idylls, featuring the romance and laments of shepherds and shepherdesses. Their rural existence symbolized the ideal life and formed the basis for Virgil's later Eclogues, the earliest Roman example of the pastoral. The term pastoral became interchangeable with idyll and eclogue. Both terms derived from the Greek: idyll meaning "little picture," and eclogue meaning "selec tion," referring to a brief poem or a portion of a longer poem. Eventually in the 18th century the pastoral provided more of a context, while eclogue signified a specific poetic form. Although many critics feel Browne's Pastoral fails as a narrative, forcing the reader to move in hundreds of lines from the trials and tribulations of one fair shepherdess to those of another with little to distinguish them, it bears some fine pastoral characteristics. Browne might be excused for occasionally addressing his readers as "swaines" in an attempt to promote the pastoral pastiche because of his obvious and justified admiration of his native Devonshire, to which his references remain abundant. His love for water becomes apparent in his use of various streams for charming sensory imagery, their music imitated through metaphor. In addition, his use of models, such as Edmund Spenser and Sir Philip Sidney, proves of interest. His blend of fact and tradition creates a pleasant world appreciated by readers willing to imagine themselves a part of it. The First Book and the Second Book each contain five songs, while the Third Book is brief and fragmentary.
The plot of Book 1 derived from the playwright John Fletcher's The Faithful Shepherdess (1609). Its focus is a shepherdess named Marina who pines for a faithless lover named Celandine, who abandoned her. She twice attempts suicide, leaping from cliffs into water below, the natural scene an appropriately pastoral environment in which to end her life. A water god falls in love with her, rescues her during her second attempt to kill herself, and succeeds in administering a type of potion that allows her to forget Celandine. Her adventures continue as she travels with a Nymph and meets a shepherd named Doridon. Later wounded, Doridon is transported to his mother's house by the Nymph, and a Hermit heals him. Some of these details parallel those in Edmund Spenser's epic pastoral The Fairie Queene (1590, 1596, 1609). Doridon searches for Marina, encountering other shepherds and shepherdesses, along with pastoral dances and magical occurrences, including the appearance of the beautiful Aletheia (Truth). Aletheia springs forth from the mangled body of the shepherdess Fida's favorite hind, or deer, killed by the figure Riot, further featured in an allegory along with Truth and Time.
In the concluding Song to Book 1, popularly labeled "The poet's ambition," Browne departs from the story to reflect upon his debt to other pastoral writers. The plea to a Muse for aid may be found in much traditional poetry; Browne expands that tradition to pay homage to his models as well as to the mystical power of inspiration. Browne begins,
A truer love the Muses never sung, Nor happier names e'er graced a golden tongue: O! they are better fitting his sweet strip, Who on the banks of ancor tuned his pipe.
The speaker claims his lack of worthiness to be inspired by the same Muse as his contemporary and friend Michael Drayton, the "Who" referred to in the fourth line. He continues,
Or rather for that learned swain, whose lays Divinest Homer crowned with deathless bays; Or any one sent from the sacred well Inheriting the soul of Astrophell, where the "swain" who gained immortality through his verse represents George Chapman and the one who inherited Astrophell's soul is Sir Philip Sidney. That poem concludes with the poetic appeal,
My Muse may one day make the courtly swains Enamoured on the music of the plains, And as upon a hill she bravely sings Teach humble dales to weep in crystal springs.
The Muse is viewed as a teacher, and her association with Browne's models for the pastoral form proves appropriate.
In Book 2, readers again follow Marina's story as she is carried out to sea to the Isle of Auglesey by the rav-isher, who leaves her sleeping under a bush. When Marina awakes and attempts to help an ugly young girl, the allegorical creature Limos (Hunger) captures Marina and carries her to his monster cave. Limos raids shepherds' flocks and will later be caught and tied to a rock, where he will perish from hunger. Browne's introduction of the ugly female character follows precedent in pastoral where a malevolent or unattractive creature or person may be introduced in order to emphasize the beauty of the main characters. Thetis, a sea goddess, appears, allowing Browne to make a moral point as the goddess ensures the welfare of the oppressed who live along the sea. Thetis meets various Nymphs and introduces the story of the nymph Walla.
In a portion of Song 3 from Book 2, aptly titled "The Description of Walla," Browne includes many lines of detail regarding the Nymph. He employs various classical allusions, including to Venus; the Zephyr, or breeze; and Cupid, and uses the popular reference to Cynthia as the sun. Most of his figurative language helps the reader picture Walla's clothing, including a "green silk frock [which] her comely shoulder clad"; a "love-knot girdle," which threatens "willing bondage"; the entire dress "lined with rich carnation silk, / And in the midst of both lawn white as milk," "a deep fringe hung of rich and twisted gold." He places her on the "green marge of a crystal brook," where "A thousand yellow flowers at fishes look," describing her "mantle, stitch'd with gold and green," adding "A silver quiver at her back she wore, / With darts and arrows for the stag and boar." The imagery of Walla as a hunter evokes the goddess of the hunt and protector of women, Diana. He concludes strongly, leaving no doubt in his readers' minds of Walla's potency, especially for one shepherd, or swain, named Tavy:
Walla, the fairest nymph that haunts the woods Walla, beloved of shepherds, fauns, and floods, Walla, for whom the frolic satyrs pine, Walla, with whose fine foot the flowerets twine, Walla, of whom sweet birds their ditties move, Walla, the earth's delight and Tavy's love.
Tavy was in actuality the name of a river with which Browne was closely associated, with his ties to Tavis-tock, and Walla was a tributary. The conceit of two rivers or bodies of water loving one another represented another inherited aspect of pastoral for Browne, a tradition with its roots in Ovid. Browne's makes obvious his love for the countryside where he was raised in his repeated praise of nature, while other songs emphasize his broader love for his country.
Song 3 continues with "The Song of Tavy," in which Browne departs from his dreamy presentation of Walla to adopt a new format supporting a more earthy style. While the description of Walla used 44 consecutive lines of rhyming couplets in iambic pentameter, Tavy's thoughts of her assume a less-formal format of seven iambic pentameter rhyming couplets in four-line stanzas and a concluding couplet. By dividing Tavy's fantasy into stanzas, Browne allows momentum to build, supporting the increase in Tavy's passion. Browne skillfully rendered Walla as a silent object, while Tavy's voice is strong, declaring,
As careful merchants do expecting stand (After long time and merry gales of wind) Upon the place where their brave ship must land,
Browne may have intended no double meaning in the use of the term vessel applied to the sensuous Walla. However, the long-popular conception of the female as a vessel shaped to accommodate the male remains one psychoanalytic critics might later note as indicative of gender stereotypes. In addition feminist and Marxist critics would immediately note the commodification of Tavy's love object as material goods, available for barter by merchants.
Browne extends the maritime metaphor, as Tavy dreams of the vessel's "great adventure" and "the East jewels of wealth she brings," followed with hyperbolic descriptions of that wealth, including "The sapphires ringed on her panting breast / Run as rich veins of ore about the mould" and the melting rubies on her cherry lip Are of such power to hold; that as one day Cupid flew thirsty by, he stooped to sip, And fastened there could never get away.
The melodrama fits the pastoral, in which all players, despite their obvious awareness of earthly delights and erotic thoughts, remain innocently caught up in passion and pining. The book continues with the exploits of Thetis and a return of the shepherd Remond, who believes his love, Fida, to be dead. In addition Wallas pursuit by a lustful Satyr results in her cries in vain to Diana for help, then to Ina. In Ovidian tradition, she pleads for transformation into a stone or tree—any metamorphosis in order to preserve her chastity. Her wish granted, Walla becomes a spring and is mourned by Tavy.
Browne repeats many of his motifs of pursuit, capture, and release throughout the pastorals. Pan enters the scene and helps introduce readers to another pair of lovers, Philocel and Caelia, in Song 5. Thetis rescues them and leaves the island but hears a lamenting voice, which belongs to Marina, still trapped by Limos in his hideous cave. She will be freed by Triton and join the lovers at "Thetis Court."
Readers quickly understand that pastoral does not emphasize character development. Reality had no relationship to the pastoral, which was created for its own sake to celebrate an idealistic manner of existence. The only realistic aspects exist in Browne's description of places, as he accurately paints his familiar countryside. In that respect he prefigured later poets such as SIR John Denham and his Cooper's Hill and Alexander Pope and his Windsor Forest.
While Tavy's song discussed here shares his hopeful expectations, in a later song from the fragmentary Book 3, Celadyne relates his grief when expectations are not fulfilled. He mourns the loss of Marina, who had, ironically, attempted suicide in Book 1 after Celadyne's abandonment of her. In one of Browne's more skillful and less precious poems, he references the pitiful figure of Philomela, who in Ovid's Metamorphosis is raped and mutilated, her tongue cut out. Philomela eventually regained self-expression through art, which Celadyne considers as a way to help him deal with his grief but ultimately declines. He says of his lost love,
Marina's gone and now sit I As Philomela on a thorn, Turned out of nature's livery, Mirthless, alone, and all forlorn.
In two additional verses, Celadyne offers mournful comparisons of his loss to "a dying swan," the closing of marigolds, "the departure of the sun," the bee at the end of the day, and birds that suffer through winter after having enjoyed summer. The reference to art as a possible cure occurs in the fourth stanza, but Celadyne rejects its healing possibilities:
I oft have heard men say there be Some, that with confidence profess The helpful Art of Memory.
He refers to the loss of a painful remembrance, noting that through "forgetfulness, / I'd learn, and try what further art could do / To make me love her and forget her too." Browne next employs personification of the emotion of melancholy and repetition of both sound and word to help underscore Celadyne's constant thought about his loss:
Sad melancholy, that persuades Men from themselves, to think they be Headless, or other body's shades, Hath long and bootless dwelt with me. For could I think she some idea were I still might love, forget, and have her here.
Representing for modern readers one of the most thought-provoking and beautiful of Browne's verses, it leads into the song's conclusion, which advances the idea that even the way time passes has been influenced by Celadyne's relationship with Marina.
Browne's Britannia's Pastoral remains an excellent representative of the pastoral form. Although not as stylishly executed as those by his models, it contains all the required elements, enthusiastically and intensely executed. And when Browne focuses on the power of melancholy to alter human perceptions, he produces verse worthy of the age that fostered similar considerations by William Shakespeare and Ben Jonson.
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