Having just mentioned Virgil’s Eclogues, it occurred to me to read them anew. Come to think of it, I’m not sure I’ve ever read them in their entirety. I’ll save the first for another time, but wanted to share an observation on the second of these pastoral poems as being perhaps more instructive regarding literature in general than on this particular work.
As I read this poem, I’m quickly confused. The shepherd Corydon longs for Alexis. And who is Alexis? We discover several things as the verses progress. Alexis is “fair” and Corydon’s “own master’s joy.” So Alexis is unattainable. Later, we discover more about this object of desire, as Corydon refers to Alexis as “beauteous boy.” Oh.
Having gotten past that realization, I bent my attention to the matter of the poem and came up with very little. This is a rather long complaint by a lover spurned. Perhaps it is due to my membership in a short-attention-span generation, but I do not care to listen as Corydon gripes of the unattainable nature of this boy. I find, however, that I am in good company as I think this.
The second, though we should forget the great charge against it, which I am afraid can never be refuted, might, I think, have perished, without any diminution of the praise of its author; for I know not that it contains one affecting sentiment or pleasing description, or one passage that strikes the imagination or awakens the passions.
In short, this poem, besides being immoral, is not particularly good. I feel as if I have read it many times before. Granted, many of those who I’ve already heard wrote after Virgil, but there were others who wrote this poem before (and better).
In the end, sometimes poems are simply lacking in substance. That Virgil could technically craft the verse is one thing, but when the verse does nothing to excite the reader’s spirit, then the poet is like technically adept musician endlessly playing scales.