WSJ Historically Speaking: Even Poets Get Spring Fever



Spring is finally dispelling the cheerless gray of winter. In a few more weeks, city dwellers will begin the time-­‐honored practice of heading to the countryside in search of pristine nature, tranquility and cooler climes.

In the third century B.C., Theocritus of Syracuse became one of the earliest poets to celebrate nature for its own sake. His deceptively simple poems about shepherds and farmers inspired a new poetic form, the pastoral elegy.

Almost two centuries later, the great Roman poet Virgil (70-19 B.C.) freed the genre from its literal underpinnings to give it a certain philosophical bent. His pastoral poetry was more than just an elegant commentary on the countryside; fundamental to its purpose was the exploration of our relationship with nature. “Let me love the rivers and the woods,” Virgil declares in “The Georgics,” before going on to ponder whether he should spend his life contemplating rural delights.

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