Day: a Pastoral.

Day and other Pastorals by J. Cunningham, histrio.

John Cunningham

John Cunningham's "Day" makes a number of departures from eighteenth-century pastoral: The descriptive scene-painting which opens the traditional eclogue becomes the substance of the poem; the short lines and rhythmic variations constitute an innovation that Blake and Wordsworth would later develop. Cunningham's precise natural imagery is more akin to georgic, though the diction retains the simplicity appropriate to pastoral. "Day" was widely reprinted in the periodicals and first brought the poet to general attention. The "times of day" had been used by Pope in his Pastorals and (more to the point) by Charles Cotton in his times-of-day Quatrains in Poems on Several Occasions (1689). Cunningham takes his epigraph from Horace: "carpe diem." Not seen.

Critical Review: "This piece, which abounds with agreeable imagery, is sufficient to shew that the author possesses a lively imagination, and deserves a place among the first descriptive poets of the present age" Review of Poems, chiefly Pastoral; 21 (March 1766) 229.

In the barn the tenant Cock,
Close to partlet perch'd on high,
Briskly crows, (the shepherd's clock!)
Jocund that the morning's nigh.

Swiftly from the mountain's brow,
Shadows, nurs'd by night, retire:
And the peeping sun-beam, now,
Paints with gold the village spire.

Philomel forsakes the thorn,
Plaintive where she prates at night;
And the Lark, to meet the morn,
Soars beyond the shepherd's sight.

From the low-roof'd cottage ridge,
See the chatt'ring Swallow spring;
Darting through the one-arch'd bridge,
Quick she dips her dappled wing.

Now the pine-tree's waving top,
Gently greets the morning gale:
Kidlings, now, begin to crop
Daisies, on the dewey dale.

From the balmy sweets, uncloy'd,
(Restless till her task be done)
Now the busy Bee's employ'd
Sipping dew before the sun.

Trickling through the crevic'd rock,
Where the limpid stream distills,
Sweet refreshment waits the flock
When 'tis sun-drove from the hills.

COLIN'S for the promis'd corn
(E're the harvest hopes are ripe)
Anxious; — whilst the huntsman's horn,
Boldly sounding, drowns his pipe.

Sweet, — O sweet, the warbling throng,
On the white emblossom'd spray!
Nature's universal song
Echos to the rising day.

Fervid on the glitt'ring flood,
Now the noontide radiance glows:
Drooping o'er its infant bud,
Not a dew-drop's left the rose.

By the brook the shepherd dines,
From the fierce meridian heat,
Shelter'd, by the branching pines,
Pendant o'er his grassy seat.

Now the flock forsakes the glade,
Where uncheck'd the sun-beams fall;
Sure to find a pleasing shade
By the ivy'd abbey wall.

Echo in her airy round,
O'er the river, rock and hill,
Cannot catch a single sound,
Save the clack of yonder mill.

Cattle court the zephirs bland,
Where the streamlet wanders cool;
Or with languid silence stand
Midway in the marshy pool.

But from mountain, dell, or stream,
Not a flutt'ring zephir springs:
Fearful lest the noontide beam
Scorch its soft, its silken wings.

Not a leaf has leave to stir,
Nature's lull'd — serene — and still!
Quiet e'en the shepherd's cur,
Sleeping on the heath-clad hill.

Languid is the landscape round,
Till the fresh descending shower,
Grateful to the thirsty ground,
Raises ev'ry fainting flower.

Now the hill — the hedge — is green,
Now the warblers' throats in tune;
Blithesome is the verdant scene,
Brighten'd by the beams of Noon!

O'er the heath the heifer strays
Free; — (the furrow'd task is done)
Now the village windows blaze,
Burnish'd by the setting sun.

Now he sets behind a hill,
Sinking from a golden sky:
Can the pencil's mimic skill,
Copy the refulgent dye?

Trudging as the plowmen go,
(To the smoaking hamlet bound)
Giant-like their shadows grow,
Lengthen'd o'er the level ground.

Where the rising forest spreads,
Shelter, for the lordly dome!
To their high-built airy beds,
See the rooks returning home!

As the Lark with vary'd tune,
Carrols to the eveningl loud;
Mark the mild resplendent moon,
Breaking through a parted cloud!

Now the hermit Howlet peeps
From the barn, or twisted brake;
And the blue mist slowly creeps,
Curling on the silver lake.

As the Trout in speckled pride,
Playful from its bosom springs;
To the banks, a ruffled tide
Verges in successive rings.

Tripping through the silken grass,
O'er the path-divided dale,
Mark the rose-complexion'd lass
With her well-pois'd milking pail.

Linnets with unnumber'd notes,
And the Cuckow bird with two,
Tuning sweet their mellow throats,
Bid the setting sun adieu.

[Poems (1766) 1-9]