Writing as Cultivation: Pastoral and the Local in A.R. Ammons
What use is pastoral in contemporary criticism? In the lengthening perspective of our distance (cultural and temporal) from the classical worlds of Theocritus and Virgil, has pastoral become synonymous with nature writing, or any other writing that praises a life in the country over that lived
in the city? Or does the term today suggest something else, something looser: pastoral not as a set of motifs and conventions, but as a particular way of thinking through or structuring human experience—a “take” on life, rather in the way that tragedy and comedy represent certain takes on life
and on those factors deemed most important in it: love, death, our capacity for freedom, and so on. If the latter is true, then pastoral is much broader in scope than might once have been imagined; yet it is also perhaps finer, keener in its insights and offerings than its traditional trappings—shepherds, mournful love songs, idyllic landscapes—might suggest. The answer, of course, is that pastoral is whatever you make of it. If such a
statement rings true of all literary genres, it seems particularly pertinent to this one. As this article will show, pastoral is a mode that has continually meditated on the question of what we, as human beings, “make of things”; how we negotiate the conditions of our finitude, certainly, but also the question of the importance to this process of that other form of making: poesis, poetry.