Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?

 The Good, The Bad, and The UglyA Fistful of Dollars. A Few Dollars More. To some people, these may just seem like disjointed, poorly constructed sentences, but to me, they represent one of the best movie trilogies of all time, the saga of The Man With No Name. These iconic Clint Eastwood movies are some of his best work, the rugged hard-mouthed no nonsense cowboy who is in complete control of the Wild Western landscape and society around him. The distinctive music, with the loud whistles and sweeping orchestral instrumentals composed by Ennio Morricone, gets to me every time I hear it, reminding me of the appeal the recently untamed West held for Americans. Even in recent film memory, with hits such as 3:10 to Yuma and the more modern No Country for Old Men, the idea of a man against the wild captivated millions of people, a “modern” day shepherd, seeking his destiny in the rough rural landscape of the Wild West.

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The Multivalence of Pastoral

“Is all that we see or seem but a dream within a dream?”

-Edgar Allen Poe

The pastoral genre is one which simultaneously praises and elates in the simplistic Eden-like landscape of the surrounding countryside while condemning those things “cultivated”. The most obvious commonality amongst all things pastoral would be the adherence to and a lamenting for a previous utopia, one not riddled with the corruption and denigration of present circumstances. However, the most pertinent aspect of these poems is their evocative nature. Emotions play a central role to Virgil’s Eclogues, and with good reason. Historical backdrop aside, the thing that makes the works of Virgil’s Eclogues and Shakespeare’s The Tempest transcend time are the commonplace feelings of loss and nostalgia.

Beyond these elements, there seems to be, whether by design or by chance, dualistic approaches to the readings. Paul Alper refers to this concept as  “representative”, where there is a two-tiered level of what might be called the “reality” of the poem/s. Alper offers this as a clarification of his use of “representative” in his article entitled “What is Pastoral?”: Continue reading

Man vs. Wild-erness

“It’s so hard to forget pain, but it’s even harder to remember sweetness. We have no scar to show for happiness. We learn so little from peace.”
-Chuck Palahniuk

Human beings are shaped by their experiences, yet no two people perceive the same circumstance with equal result. Differences in perception lead in turn to differences in thought, action, and behavior; when two  personalities are brought together, conflict results. Conflict does not necessitate strife and discord, but can merely represent a summit of minds, a collusion of varying opinions. As Chuck Palahniuk states, “We learn so little from peace.” It is  when stressful situations strike that one can learn about themself, mature, and return the better for it. 

In pastoral literature, this developmental truth is no less ubiquitous. Despite the idyllic countryside setting that is typically associated with classical pastoral poems, such as in Virgil’s Eclogues, struggles abound. The standard ‘man vs. man’ conflict that typifies the rise of a hero or maturation of a protagonist in a literary epic is still present, but the calm quietude of nature adds another character to any pastoral scene. Continue reading

Continuity of Pastoral

From the “Eclogues” of Virgil, to the Elizabethan writings of Shakespeare, to modern day, the false security that stems from giving multifaceted problems a single simple solution has remained continuous. An escape to the natural world has been seen as the simple solution to any present day discord.  In both the “Eclogues” and “The Tempest” the characters are caused strife and grief by their relevant governments, have trouble relinquishing their powers or ownership of their assets and seek an escape to the simplistic landscape of the natural world. Continue reading