The Rural Muse: Studies in the Peasant Poetry of England

The Rural Muse: Studies in the Peasant Poetry of England

The Rural Muse: Studies in the Peasant Poetry of England

The Rural Muse: Studies in the Peasant Poetry of England

Excerpt

The subject of this book is the studied attempts in verse of the English landworker; only indirectly is it concerned with the ballads, catches and songs circulated orally and by broadsheet up to this day.

Compared with the vigorous poetic output of the peasantry of Scotland and Wales the English peasant-poet sings in a distinctly minor key: the music is faintly heard and for long periods the words have been lost. There has been no consecutive tradition, little public recognition or encouragement, and no sturdy spirit to walk

in glory and in joy
Following his plough, along the mountain-side.

Yet the peasants and labourers of England have not, throughout the centuries, been a clod-bound, inexpressive race. Their occupation has been recognized since the earliest days as one dearly loved by the Muses, and poverty and hardship has never staunched the flow of poetry from inspired pens.

The pursuit of poetry is seldom easy. In the case of the majority of the writers mentioned in these pages it was intolerably hard. They struggled against insufficient education, lack of leisure, and of the necessities of life, to achieve transitory, and in a few cases a deserved and lasting, fame. Few of these writers have been memorialized, and the meandering stream of poetry that sprang from the land itself has never before been mapped. For many years its course was indistinguishable amongst the general flow of vernacular writing. Not until the early eighteenth century did the poetry of the uneducated landsman become detached from the strong, turbulent currents of more sophisticated verse. Throughout that century, when poetic expression was a well-disseminated but stylized medium of expression, the factual, realistic voice of the peasant-poet could occasionally be heard amongst the obstinate lovers of the town. With the coming of the industrial revolution and the completion of the process of enclosure that, over the centuries, brought prosperity to the country but extinction to the . . .

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