1763
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Content. A Pastoral.

St. James's Chronicle or British Evening Post (20 August 1763).

John Cunningham


Four double-quatrain stanzas in a long-lined variation of the anapestic measure of William Shenstone's Pastoral Ballad. The poet, after ranging mountain and moor, encounters a willing maid, though somewhat mysterious: "I told my soft wishes; she sweetly reply'd, | (Ye virgins, her voice was divine!) | I've rich ones rejected, and great ones deny'd, | But take me, fond shepherd — I'm thine." All is made clear in the last quatrain. In this quasi-allegory John Cunningham cleverly reinvents the Horatian retirement ode for the age of Sensibility. Of the scores of poets imitating Shenstone's manner, Cunningham was the best and most original.

Gentleman's Magazine: "A specimen of these poems [Content] may be seen in our poetical article; they are, in general, excellent in their kind; the descriptions are natural and striking, and the versification remarkably harmonious" Review of Cunningham, Poems; 36 (April 1766) 193.

John S. Gallaher: "The following soft and descriptive Song is from the pen of Cunningham, the pastoral poet, and a more beautiful description cannot be found in the works of Theocritus or Virgil" Ladies' Garland [Harper's Ferry] 2 (2 April 1825) 32.

The conceit of this poem is imitated in "Health, a Pastoral, in imitation of Mr. Cunningham" by an anonymous writer, published in Edinburgh Weekly Magazine 57 (24 July 1783) 111.



O'er Moorlands and Mountains rude, barren, and bare,
As wilder'd and wearied I roam,
A gentle young Shepherdess sees my Despair,
And leads me o'er Lawns to her home.
Yellow Sheafs from rich Ceres her Cottage had crown'd,
Green Rushes were strew'd on her Floor,
Her Casement sweet Woodbines crept wantonly round,
And deck'd the Sod Seats at her Door.

We sate ourselves down to a cooling Repast:
Fresh Fruits! and she cull'd me the best:
Whilst, thrown from my Guard by some Glances she cast,
Love slily stole into my Breast.
I told my soft Wishes — she sweetly reply'd,
(Ye Virgins her Voice was divine!)
I've rich ones rejected, and great ones deny'd,
Yet take me, fond Shepherd — I'm thine.

Her Air was so modest, her Aspect so meek,
So simple, yet sweet were her Charms,
I kiss'd the ripe Roses that glow'd on her Cheek,
And lock'd the lov'd Maid in my Arms.
Now jocund together we tend a few Sheep;
And if — on the Banks by the Stream,
Reclin'd on her Bosom I sink into Sleep,
Her Image still softens my Dream.

Together we range o'er the slow-rising Hills,
Delighted with pastoral Views,
Or rest on the Rock whence the Streamlet distills,
And mark out new Themes for my Muse.
To Pomp or proud Titles she ne'er did aspire;
The Damsel's of humble Descent!
The Cottager PEACE is well known for her Sire,
And Shepherds have nam'd her CONTENT.

[unpaginated]