The Shepherd's Week opens with a singing contest based on Virgil's Eclogues III and VII. The poems are published with an apparatus imitating that by E. K. in Shepheardes Calender, which permits Gay and his collaborators to direct burlesque shafts in several directions, including the annotations of classical texts by learned Moderns such as Richard Bentley. The relationship of poems to annotations to illustrations (the original is beautifully illustrated) is unstable, and the verse itself is delightfully equivocal in tone — John Gay pays a back-handed homage to most of what he ridicules, including Ambrose Philips himself.
John Campbell: "By this specimen [of Philips's Pastorals] we see, that even in some places where this poet can't be charged with want of simplicity, though the character of the country is retained, yet it is evident, the true manner of the rustical folk therein is not merely copied. In the former every thing is not only in character, but beautifully so. Thus Vandyke painted, every copying nature with the most religious exactness, and ever shewing it beautiful" "John Gay" Biographia Britannica 4 (1757) 2183.
Edward Burnaby Greene: "These Pastorals of Gay seem to have been designed, as burlesque representations of scenes altogether rustic, and particularly as a ridicule of preceding authors, of whom many, it must be confessed, deserved such a treatment. I have on this account omitted his name as a Pastoral writer, though his genius sufficiently qualified him for the task of Eclogue" Essay on Pastoral Poetry in Idylliums of Theocritus (1767) p. lv n.
Oliver Goldsmith: "They were originally intended, I suppose, as a burlesque on those of Mr. Philips; but, perhaps, without designing it, he has hit the true spirit of pastoral poetry. In fact, he more resembles Theocritus than any other English pastoral writer whatsoever. There runs through the whole a strain of rustic pleasantry which should ever distinguish this species of composition; but how far the antiquated expressions used here may contribute to the humour, I will not determine; for my own part, I could wish the simplicity were preserved, without recurring to such obsolete antiquity for the manner of expressing it" Beauties of English Poesy (1767) 1:133.
William Hazlitt: "Gay was sometimes grosser than Prior, not systematically, but inadvertently — from not being so well aware of what he was about; nor was there the same necessity for caution, for his grossness is by no means so seductive or inviting" Lectures on the English Poets (1818, 1909) 142.
William Howitt: "The origin of his Shepherd's Week, which, though coarse, has much nature in it, is also curious. Steele, in some papers in the Guardian, had praised Ambrose Philips, as the Pastoral writer who was second only to Theocritus, Virgil, and Spenser. Pope, who had also published pastorals, not pleased to be overlooked, drew up a comparison of his own compositions with those of Philips's, in which he civilly gave himself the preference, while he seemed to disown it.; So enraged was Philips, that he brought a sturdy cudgel to Button's coffee-house, and put it over the mantel-piece, saying, 'That was for Pope when he could catch him there.' Pope, on his part again, is supposed to have incited Gay to write The Shepherd's Week, to show that, if it be necessary to copy nature with minuteness, rural life must be exhibited such as grossness and ignorance have made it. But intended only to burlesque Philips, these pastorals became popular, and were eagerly read for their truth to country life, by those who took no interest in the literary squabble" Homes and Haunts (1847) 1:144.
John Gay's notes:
3. "Welkin" the same as "welken," an old Saxon word signifying a Cloud, by poetical licence it is frequently taken for the Element or Sky, as may appear by this verse in the Dream of Chaucer. "Ne in all the Welkin was no Cloud."
"Sheen" or Shine, an old word for shining or bright.
5. "Scant," used in the ancient British authors for scarce.
6. "Rear," an expression in several counties of England, for early in the Morning.
7. "To ween," derived from the Saxon, to think or conceive.
25. "Erst," a contraction of ere this, it signifies sometime ago or formerly.
56. "Deft," an old Word signifying brisk or nimble.
69. "Eftsoons," from eft an ancient British Word signifying soon. So that eftsoons is a doubling of the Word soon, which is, as it were, to say twice soon, or very soon.
79. "Queint" has various Significations in the ancient English Authors. I have used it in this Place in the same Sense as Chaucer hath done in his Miller's Tale. "As Clerkes been full subtil and queint," (by which he means Arch or Waggish) and not in that obscene Sense wherein he useth it in the Line immediately following.
83. Populus Alcidae gratissima, vitis Iaccho, | Formosae Myrtus Veneri, sua Laurea Phoebo. | Phillis amat Corylos. Illas dum Phillis amabit, | Nec Myrtus vincet Corylos nec Laurea Phoebi. &c. Virg. [Ec. VII].
117. Dic quibus in terris inscripti nomina Regum | Narcantur Flores. Virg.
120. Et vitula tu dignus & hic. Virg. Marygold. Rosemary.
LOBBIN CLOUT, CUDDY, CLODDIPOLE.
Thy Younglings, Cuddy, are but just awake;
No Thrustles shrill the Bramble-Bush forsake,
No chirping Lark the Welkin sheen invokes;
No Damsel yet the swelling Udder strokes;
O'er yonder Hill does scant the Dawn appear,
Then why does Cuddy leave his Cott so rear?
Ah Lobbin Clout! I ween, my Plight is guest,
For he that loves, a Stranger is to Rest;
If Swains belye not, thou hast prov'd the Smart,
And Blouzelinda's Mistress of thy Heart.
This rising rear betokeneth well thy Mind,
Those Arms are folded for thy Blouzelind.
And well, I trow, our piteous Plights agree,
Thee Blouselinda smites, Buxoma me.
Ah Blouzelind! I love thee more by half,
Than Does their Fawns, or Cows the new-fall'n Calf:
Woe worth the Tongue! may Blisters sore it gall,
That names Buxoma, Blouzelind withal.
Hold, witless Lobbin Clout, I thee advise,
Lest Blisters sore on thy own Tongue arise.
Lo yonder Cloddipole, the blithesome Swain,
The wisest Lout of all the neighbouring Plain.
From Cloddipole we learnt to read the Skies,
To know when Hail will fall, or Winds arise.
He taught us erst the Heifers Tails to view,
When stuck aloft, that Show'rs would strait ensue;
He first that useful Secret did explain,
That pricking Corns foretold the gath'ring Rain.
When Swallows fleet soar high and sport in Air,
He told us that the Welkin would be clear.
Let Cloddipole then hear us twain rehearse,
And praise his Sweetheart in alternate Verse.
I'll wager this same Oaken Staff with thee,
That Cloddipole shall give the Prize to me.
See this Tobacco Pouch that's lin'd with Hair,
Made of the Skin of sleekest fallow Deer.
This Pouch, that's ty'd with Tape of reddest Hue,
I'll wager, that the Prize shall be my due.
Begin thy Carrols then, thou vaunting Slouch,
Be thine the Oaken Staff, or mine the Pouch.
My Blouzelinda is the blithest Lass,
Than Primrose sweeter, or the Clover-Grass.
Fair is the King-Cup that in Meadow blows,
Fair is the Daisie that beside her grows,
Fair is the Gillyflow'r, of Gardens sweet,
Fair is the Mary-Gold, for Pottage meet.
But Blouzelind's than Gillyflow'r more fair,
Than Daisie, Mary-Gold, or King-Cup rare.
My brown Buxoma is the featest Maid,
That e'er at Wake delightsome Gambol play'd.
Clean as young Lambkins or the Goose's Down,
And like the Goldfinch in her Sunday Gown.
The witless Lambs may sport upon the Plain,
The frisking Kid delight the gaping Swain,
The wanton Calf may skip with many a Bound,
And my Cur Tray play deftest Feats around;
But neither Lamb nor Kid, nor Calf nor Tray,
Dance like Buxoma on the first of May.
Sweet is my Toil when Blouzelind is near,
Of her bereft 'tis Winter all the Year.
With her no sultry Summer's Heat I know;
In Winter, when she's nigh, with Love I glow.
Come Blouzelinda, ease thy Swain's Desire,
My Summer's Shadow and my Winter's Fire!
As with Buxoma once I work'd at Hay,
Ev'n Noon-tide Labour seem'd an Holiday;
And Holidays, if haply she were gone,
Like Worky-days I wish'd would soon be done.
Eftsoons, O Sweet-heart kind, my Love repay,
And all the Year shall then be Holiday.
As Blouzelinda in a gamesome Mood,
Behind a Haycock loudly laughing stood,
I slily ran, and snatch'd a hasty Kiss,
She wip'd her Lips, nor took it much amiss.
Believe me, Cuddy, while I'm bold to say,
Her Breath was sweeter than the ripen'd Hay.
As my Buxoma in a Morning fair,
With gentle Finger stroak'd her milky Care,
I queintly stole a Kiss; at first, 'tis true,
She frown'd, yet after granted one or two.
Lobbin, I swear, believe who will my Vows,
Her Breath by far excell'd the breathing Cows.
Leek to the Welch, to Dutchmen Butter's dear,
Of Irish Swains Potatoe is the Chear;
Oats for their Feasts, the Scottish Shepherds grind,
Sweet Turnips are the Food of Blouzelind.
While she loves Turnips, Butter I'll despise,
Nor Leeks nor Oatmeal nor Potatoe prize.
In good Roast Beef my Landlord sticks his Knife,
The Capon fat delights his dainty Wife,
Pudding our Parson eats, the Squire loves Hare,
But White-pot thick is my Buxoma's Fare.
While she loves White-pot, Capon ne'er shall be,
Nor Hare, nor Beef, nor Pudding, Food for me.
As once I play'd at Blindman's-buff, it hapt
About my Eyes the Towel thick was wrapt.
I miss'd the Swains, and seiz'd on Blouzelind.
True speaks that ancient Proverb, Love is blind.
As at Hot-Cockles once I laid me down,
And felt the weighty Hand of many a Clown;
Buxoma gave a gentle Tap, and I
Quick rose, and read soft Mischief in her Eye.
On two near Elms, the slacken'd Cord I hung,
Now high, now low my Blouzelinda swung.
With the rude Wind her rumpled Garment rose,
And show'd her taper Leg, and scarlet Hose.
Across the fallen Oak the Plank I laid,
And my self pois'd against the tott'ring Maid,
High leapt the Plank; adown Buxoma fell;
I spy'd — but faithful Sweethearts never tell. — (added in third edition)]
This Riddle, Cuddy, if thou can'st, explain,
This wily Riddle puzzles ev'ry Swain.
What Flower is that which bears the Virgin's Name,
The richest Metal joined with the same?
Answer, thou Carle, and judge this Riddle right,
I'll frankly own thee for a cunning Wight.
What Flower is that which Royal Honour craves,
Adjoin the Virgin, and 'tis strown on Graves.
Forbear, contending Louts, give o'er your Strains,
An Oaken Staff each merits for his Pains.
But see the Sun-Beams bright to Labour warn,
And gild the Thatch of Goodman Hodges' barn.
Your Herds for want of Water stand adry,
They're weary of your Songs — and so am I.