Dicky the plowboy, addressing his horse Dobbin, bemoans the plow-boy's estate. In the first eclogue he imagines that he has died, and his beloved animal has fallen into the hands of a cruel master; Dickey will return to haunt the rogue: "all in white my ghost shall rise, | With visage wan and saucer eyes. | What shrieks and howlings shall he hear! | Or, with long claws, his flesh I'll tear."
The second relates Dickey's love for Kitty, a gold-digging lass. Modeling his complaint on Theocritus, Evans develops a particularly detailed dramatic scenario. Speaking of the Parson (one of the Kitty's friends), Dicky (described as a milksop in Pastoral III) declares: "Mean and unletter'd though we be, | Rusticks are men, as well as he." The emphasis on moiling labor throughout this pastoral is deliberately contrary to Arcadian tradition. He asks, "And what, Thalia, dost thou mean, | To raise up such a joyless scene?" and concludes with the suggestion that his plaintive tale is autobiographical.
Robert Southey: "He wrote a volume of Pastorals, six of which, or rather twelve, were preserved by Isaac Reed, and by him communicated to Nichols's Collection. They have more merit than is usual to be found in such poems; but are by no means equal to Gay's, who succeeded better in sport than his serious predecessors Phillips and Dr. Evans" Common-Place Book (1849-51) 4:349.
Hail to the solitary groves!
Enlarg'd, where sportive Fancy roves.
What brightness glitters through the glade!
Thalia, soul-alluring maid!
Deign'st thou to visit me again?
Why point'st thou so to yonder swain?
Methinks I hear the stripling wail—
And dwell there sorrows in the dale?
From scenes of peace can woes arise?
A while let's listen to his sighs.
"Gee, Dobbin, gee! the sun grows low,
And we have yet much land to plow.
Though this a loose and sandy soil,
With one poor beast yet hard's the toil.
Hard is the toil, when, with a mind
Unquiet, feeble limbs are join'd!
Alack, alack! with little heart
I hold the plow, or drive the cart!
Listless in whatsoe'er I do,
No wonder 'tis we loiter so.
Untoward Love hath turn'd my brain.
Whoe, Dobbin, whoe! we drudge in vain.
Who live at ease may work for bread;
No ease have I to hope till dead.
Fair, false, forgetful Kitty, she
That charms my heart, forsaketh me!
Die Dicky, die! and end thy care:
Who life with loss of love would bear?
With flagging ears and head hung down,
Thou, Dobbin, seem'st to share my moan.
Mehap thou fear'st, when I am gone,
To miss thy driver. Ten to one
But some rude rustic, void of grace,
May hold the plow in Dicky's place;
May hold the plow, but lean thereon,
And waste thy strength to save his own.
Mehap it good to him may seem
To make thee lag-horse of the teem,
While Ball or Whitefoot lead the way,
With tinkling bells, and trappings gay.
Yet Ball is but a drone at best,
And Whitefoot's an ill-natur'd beast.
Mehap, because he finds thee free,
He'll lay the stress of all on thee.
Till, harrass'd out beyond that strength,
Jaded, he drives thee home, at length;
And gives thee strum, instead of hay,
Or, careless, steals abroad to play,
And leaves thee starving all the while;
A bad reward for daily toil.
Ah, Dobbin! what a change were this!
Poor Dobbin then will Dicky miss.
But Dicky, to the cold grave gone,
No more must feed or rub thee down.
No more his well-known voice must chear!
Dobbin another's weight must bear,
Sparing of words, but free of blows.
Then thou, instead of hey-gee-whoes,
Shalt hear the whip, or feel its lash,
While cruel stripes poor Dobbin slash.
Beshrew the churl, whoe'er he be,
That thus, my nag, misuseth thee!
Dead though I am, my vengeful spright
Shall hover o'er him every night,
Me, worse than Fairies, let him dread;
Nor hope for quiet in his bed;
While all in white my ghost shall rise,
With visage wan and saucer eyes.
What shrieks and howlings shall he hear!
Or, with long claws, his flesh I'll tear:
At least, each stripe he lends to thee,
Shall back be paid with usury.
Through care of what may be my lot,
I my own woes had nigh forgot.
Chear up, my nag! and thou, fond heart,
At length forego thy fruitless smart
Ah! cease to pain a lovesome oaf.
Gee, Dobbin, gee! let's work it off.
With lazy lads Love likes to stay:
Gee, Dobbin, gee! fond Love, away!"
What sudden shades enwrap my head!
O! whither, whither art thou fled,
Illusive Muse! without thee, here,
Nor groves, nor dale, nor swain, appear.
DICKY, ECLOGUE II.
Soft deceiver! cease to smile!
Still would'st thou every sense beguile?
At thy return, dear Muse, again
I view the groves, and hear the swain.
"Ah, Dicky, Dicky! luckless lad!
How blithe the morn, yet thou how sad!
The birds with one another vie,
And all things joyous seem but I.
Gee, Dobbin, gee! 'tis all in vain!
Nor work, nor rest, can ease my pain.
Our labour, with the day, returns;
Yet still thy hopeless driver moans.
Restless, I trow, I pass'd the night,
Restless again behold the light.
Nor know I how to cure my care!
Ah, cruel Love! at length forbear.
Whatever man could do, I've done;
She is not to be wrought upon.
How hard is iron! how soft is clay!
Yet Time the plowshare wears away.
Whitefoot, the wildest colt alive,
Now, broken, in the team I drive.
An acorn, when a child, I took
And buried, now 'tis grown an oak.
But Kitty for my ruin born,
No time can wear away her scorn,
No art a madding mind can tame,
Or raise in her cold breast a flame.
The thirsty earth drinks up the rain,
But pays it back in fruits again;
She, all as alabaster tombs,
Still, as I weep, more fair becomes,
But bears no love, as they no green;
All gay without, all dead within.
O! that my tears, which never rest,
Might mollify her marble breast!
O! that her stony heart would bear
Some love at last to cure her care!
In vain I wish! in vain I strive!
In vain, whate'er she asks, I give!
Nor gifts, nor prayers, nor tears, persuade
A thankless, ruthless, loveless maid!
Once, plowing on new-broken ground,
A little shining stone I found;
Which, having wash'd within the brook,
Did well repay the pains I took.
With such a ruddy light it glow'd,
It seem'd a drop of frozen blood.
A stripling, fairly carv'd thereon,
Bespoke it not a common stone:
A dart he held, prepar'd to strike,
Like Death; in all things else unlike
And on his shoulders wings appear'd,
Like Time without his scythe or beard.
Mehap, thought I, some secret spell
This uncouth figure may conceal.
Mehap, though useless to behold,
It may be worth its weight in gold.
Forthwith I to the Vicar's went,
To learn its price, and what it meant:
Who told me, Love was grav'd thereon,
And, for my bargain, bad a crown.
'Ah! no; if Love it be, quoth I,
Fair Kitty's right no gold shall buy:
And now, methinks, I ken it plain;
Love gives at once both joy and pain.
These leering looks; that piercing dart;
Those wings spread ready to depart;
This childish form, and naked hue;
The lore of lovers speak too true.'
While so I spoke, the Scholar gaz'd,
As seeming at my wit amaz'd.
The simple Sage, though read in books,
And wise in garb as well as looks,
Wist not how clearly lovers see.
Mean and unletter'd though we be,
Rusticks are men, as well as he.
Proud of my prize, away I went,
And to my love, did Love present.
But mark how ill my pains she paid:
As soon as to the thankless maid
The value of the gift was known,
She hies and takes the parson's crown!
God! how it gall'd my heart, to find
Such beauty with such baseness join'd.
No wonder she who so could do,
More kindness should to others shew.
Nor is the damsel over-nice,
Though proud, and pride's a deadly vice.
Rude, rustic, red-hair'd Ralph! the jest
Of all the town, can move her breast.
Who would have thought that jolter-head
Should e'er pretend to Kitty's bed?
Fortune still favours fools, we find!
Yet well I bear the day in mind
When out at heels the lubber came,
Ere wedded to his doating dame;
Who, dying, left him heir of all.
So goes the world! some rise, some fall!
Now Ralph, forsooth! is Gaffer grown!
Hath kine and cattle of his own!
Doth, every Sunday, spruce appear,
And rents full fifty pounds a year!
Yet, should I speak it, 'twere no lie,
He loves but for conveniency.
The farmer wants an household drudge,
Who daily must to market trudge;
But, ere she go, must milk her kine,
The poultry feed, and serve the swine.
Nor so shall end her constant toil,
The fire must blaze, the pot must boil,
Or ovens smoaking plenty yield
Against the folk return from field.
Thus, up the first, in bed the last,
My dame her painful life must waste.
Too true a help-mate shall she prove,
And share much care with little love.
Ah, Kitty, silly girl! beware!
Nor buy a little state too dear.
What boots the husbandman's turmoil?
He does but for his landlord toil.
The ground may fail in its increase;
And quarter-days come on apace.
Far happier lives we plowmen lead;
No mildews we, or murrain dread:
And enough but little we possess,
It serves their turn whose wants are less.
Ah, Kitty! 'tis not so with me:
I'm wanting all, in wanting thee!
But, lo! when the too losely lass
Doth cross the furrows nimbly pass,
Unmindful of poor Dicky here!
Gee, Dobbin, gee! let's draw more near.
Ah me! ah me! what do I spy?
Whoe, Dobbin, whoe! we're all too nigh,
Yon leafless brake her fondling shews:
Their meeting-place, as I suppose.
They join! he grasps her lily hands!
Yet, gentle, as a lamb, she stands!
Good God! can I look on and live?
Such sights an heart of oak might rive.
Lord! Lord! behold! she pats his face!
And now they clip in close embrace!
Clip on; no tales shall Dicky tell!
To love and life farewell! — farewell!"
And what, Thalia, dost thou mean,
To raise up such a joyless scene?
Would thou my forward dames reprove?
In vain, like Dicky, must I love?
But, to whom talk I? thou art fled,
My Muse! and left me — where? — in bed?