An eclogue is a poem in a classical style on a pastoral subject. Poems in the genre are sometimes also called bucolics.


The form of the word "eclogue" in contemporary English developed from Middle English eclog, which came from Latin ecloga, which came from Greek eklogē (ἐκλογή) in the sense "selection, literary product" (which was only one of the meanings it had in Greek).[1] The term was applied metaphorically to short writings in any genre, including parts of a poetic sequence or poetry book. The ancients referred to individual pieces in Virgil's Bucolica[2] as eclogae, and the term was used by later Latin poets to refer to their own pastoral poetry, often in imitation of Virgil. The combination of Virgil's influence and the persistence of pastoral poetry through the Renaissance imposed "eclogues" as the accepted term for the genre. Later Roman poets who wrote eclogues include Calpurnius and Nemesianus.

Variations on a theme

In 1526, the Italian Renaissance poet Jacopo Sannazaro published his Eclogae Piscatoriae, replacing the traditional Virgilian shepherds with fishermen from the Bay of Naples. He was imitated by the English poet Phineas Fletcher in his Piscatorie Eclogs (1633). Another English poet, William Diaper, produced Nereides: or Sea-Eclogues in 1712. The speakers are sea-gods and sea-nymphs. By the early 18th century, the whole pastoral genre was ripe for parody. John Gay ridiculed the eclogues of Ambrose Philips in his Shepherd's Week and Mary Wortley Montagu wrote six "Town Eclogues", substituting the fashionable society of contemporary London for Virgil's rural Arcadia.

Modern eclogues

The first English language eclogues were written by Alexander Barclay, in 1514. In English literature, Edmund Spenser's The Shepheardes Calendar (1579) also belongs to the genre (twelve eclogues, one for each month of the year). Alexander Pope produced a series of four eclogues (one for each season of the year) in imitation of Virgil in 1709. A pre-Romantic poet, Thomas Chatterton, composed, towards the end of his writing career (1770), four African eclogues that have been highly praised by modern scholars, such as Marilyn Butler. The Spanish poet Garcilaso de la Vega also wrote eclogues in the Virgilian style. In French, Pierre de Ronsard wrote a series of eclogues under the title Les Bucoliques, and Clément Marot also wrote in the genre. In the seventeenth century, collections of eclogues were published by the Polish poets Szymon Szymonowic and Józef Bartłomiej Zimorowic. W. H. Auden called his book-length The Age of Anxiety (1944–1946) a "Baroque Eclogue". Miklós Radnóti, the Hungarian Jewish poet, wrote eclogues about the Holocaust. Seamus Heaney's collection Electric Light (2001) includes "Bann Valley Eclogue", "Glanmore Eclogue", and an English version of Virgil's ninth eclogue. The Puerto Rican poet Giannina Braschi wrote both a poetic treatise on Garcilaso de la Vega's Eclogues, as well as a book of poems in homage to the Spanish master, entitled Empire of Dreams. The most prolific modern poet writing eclogues was Louis MacNeice. His eclogues included "Eclogue by a five barred gate", "Eclogue for the motherless", "An eclogue for Christmas", and "Eclogue from Iceland". Lisa Robertson wrote a book of poems called XEclogue. Derek Walcott in The Bounty included "Italian Eclogues" (for Joseph Brodsky). Brodsky's translator, Melissa Green, has written The Squanicook Eclogues.

In music

The term has also been applied to pastoral music, with the first significant examples being piano works by the Czech composer Václav Tomášek. Jan Václav Voříšek, César Franck, Franz Liszt (in the first book of Années de Pèlerinage), Antonín Dvořák, Jean Sibelius, Gerald Finzi, Vítězslav Novák, and Egon Wellesz are among other composers who used the title in their work. Claude Debussy based his "Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune" on a famous eclogue by Stéphane Mallarmé. Igor Stravinsky titled the second and third movements of his Duo Concertant (1932) "Eclogue I" and "Eclogue II". The middle movement of his three-movement Ode (1943) is also titled "Eclogue". A work that is believed to be an unfinished piano concerto by Gerald Finzi was posthumously titled "Eclogue" by the publisher. Additionally, a composition with the title 'Eclogue' is a work by Maurice Blower for horn and strings, dating from the 1950s. CD label Cameo Classics recorded it in 2011, after the score had been discovered by the late composer's son, Thomas. Another more recent application of the term is a 2006 composition for violin and piano using the Italian spelling 'Egloga' in a work by American composer Justin Rubin and recorded by Erin Aldridge (violin) in 2011.[3]


  1. American Heritage Dictionary
  2. Van Sickle; John B (2005). The Design of Virgil's Bucolics. Duckworth. ISBN 1-85399-676-9.
  3. "Justin Henry Rubin: Constellations".

Further reading

  • Hornblower, Simon; Antony Spawforth (1999). The Oxford Classical Dictionary: Third Edition. Oxford University Press. 019866172X.
  • Theocritus (1999). Theocritus: A Selection. Cambridge University Press. 052157420X.
  • Virgil (comm. by W. V. Clausen) (1994). Virgil: Eclogues. Clarendon, Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-815035-0.
  • Van Sickle; John B. (2011). Virgil’s Book of Bucolics, the Ten Eclogues in English Verse. Framed by Cues for Reading Out-Loud & Clues for Threading Texts & Themes. Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-9799-8.|
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