While reading Journey to the West, Chapter10 this morning, my mind drifted into an echo chamber of Theocritus’ Idyll V and Idyll VI, Virgil’s Eclgogue 3 and Eclogue 7, and Edmund Spenser’s The Shepheardes Calender, “August“.
Theocritus’ Idylls (“I”) are the fountain head of the western tradition of pastoral poetry; Virgil’s Eclogues (“E”) the most influential single text in that tradition; and Spenser’s Shepheardes Calendar (“SC”) the the most influential text for English-language pastoral poetry.
Fortunately, all of these texts are available online in one version or another. The translation of Chapter 10 of Journey to the West (“JTW”) that I was reading this morning is the same translation as that linked above.
The similarities between Chapter 10 of JTW on one hand (“East”) and the specified poems from I, E, and SC on the other (“West”) are very interesting. But the differences within the similarities intrigue me even more. This is a topic that I intend to revisit in detail at some future time, though a real study may require more than a single blog post. For now, a single glance will suffice to get anyone interested started toward investigating this further for him or her self.
Similarities: the subject matter is the rural environment; poems are sent back and forth in a kind of dialog; poets are competing with each other.
Differences: the West competitions are competitions for who is the better poet-singer while the East competition is for who has a better life.West are all in verse, East shifts back and forth between prose and verse.
The similarities and differences above are oversimplifications. West includes elements of “life competition” ane East has elements of “poetry competition” but they split in general tendency.
Examples for comparison:
Journey to the West, Chapter 10
We shall not discuss how Chen Guangrui performed his duties or Xuanzang cultivated his conduct. Instead we shall talk about two wise men who lived beside the banks of the River Jing outside the city of Chang’an. One was an old fisherman called Zhang Shao and the other was a woodcutter called Li Ding. They were both advanced scholars who had never taken the official examination, lettered men of the mountains. One day, when Li Ding had sold his load of firewood and Zhang Shao had sold his basketful of carp in Chang’an city, they went into a tavern, drank till they were half tipsy, and strolled slowly home along the banks of the Jing, each holding a bottle in his hand.
“Brother Li,” said Zhang Shao, “it seems to me that people who struggle for fame kill themselves for it; those who compete for profit die for it; those who accept honors sleep with a tiger in their arms; and those who receive imperial favours walk around with snakes in their sleeves. Taking all in all, we are much better off living free among our clear waters and blue hills: we delight in our poverty and follow our destinies.”
“You are right, Brother Zhang,” said Li Ding, “but your clear waters have nothing on my blue hills.”
“Your blue hills are not a patch on my clear waters,” retorted Zhang Shao, “and here is a lyric to the tune of The Butterfly Loves the Flowers to prove it:
The skiff is tiny amid the misty expanse of waves;
Calmly I lean against the single sail,
Listening to the voice of Xishi the beauty.
My thoughts and mind are cleared; I have no wealth or fame
As I toy with the waterweed and the rushes.
“To count a few gulls makes the journey happy.
In the reedy bend, under the willow bank,
My wife and children smile with me.
The moment I fall asleep, wind and waves are quiet;
No glory, no disgrace, and not a single worry.”
“Your clear waters are no match for my blue hills,” said Li Ding, “and there is another lyric to the same tune to prove it. It goes:
The cloudy woods are covered with pine blossom.
Hush! Hear the oriole sing,
As if it played a pipe with its cunning tongue.
With touches of red and ample green the spring is warm;
Suddenly the summer’s here as the seasons turn.
“When autumn comes the look of things is changed;
The scented chrysanthemum
Is enough for my pleasure.
Soon the cruel winter plucks all off.
I am free through four seasons, at nobody’s beck and call.“
[And so forth for many pages...]
Theocritus, Idyll 5
 Beware, good my goats, of yonder shepherd from Sybaris, beware of Lacon; he stole my skin-coat yesterday.
 Hey up! my pretty lambkins; away from the spring. See you not Comatas that stole my pipe two days agone?
 Pipe? Sibyrtas’ bondman possessed of a pipe? he that was content to sit with Corydon and too t upon a parcel o’ straws?
 Yes, master freeman, the pipe Lycon gave me. And as for your skin-coat, what skin-coat and when has ever Lacon carried off o’ yours? Tell me that, Comatas; why, your lord Eumaras, let alone his bondman, never had one even to sleep in.
 ‘Tis that Crocylus gave me, the dapple skin, after that he sacrificed that she-goat to the Nymphs. And as your foul envious eyes watered for it then, so your foul envious hands have bid me go henceforth naked now.
 Nay, nay by Pan o’ the Shore; Lacon son of Calaethis never filched coat of thine, fellow, may I run raving mad else and leap into the Crathis from yonder rock.
 No, no, by these Nymphs o’ the lake, man; so surely as I wish ‘em kind and propitious, Comatas never laid sneaking hand on pipe o’ thine.
 Heaven send me the affliction of Daphnis if e’er I believe that tale. But enough of this; if thou’lt wage me a kid – ‘tis not worth the candle, but nevertheless come on; I’ll have a contention o’ song with thee till thou cry hold.
[and so forth]
Theocritus, Idyll 6
 Damoetas and neatherd Daphnis, Aratus, half-bearded one, the other’s chin ruddy with the down, had driven each his herd together to a single spot at noon of a summer’s day, and sitting them down side by side at a water-spring began to sing. Daphnis sang first, for from hi came the challenge:
 See Cyclops! Galatéa’s at thy flock with apples, see!
The apples1 fly, and she doth cry ‘A fool’s-in-love are ye’;
But with never a look to the maid, poor heart, thou sit’st and pipest so fine.
Lo yonder again she flings them amain at that good flock-dog o’ thine!
See how he looks to seaward and bays her from the land!
See how he’s glassed2 where he runs so fast i’ the pretty wee waves o’ the strand!
Beware of he’ll leap as she comes from the deep, leap on her legs so bonny,
And towse her sweet pretty flesh – But lo where e’en now she wantons upon ye!
O the high thistle-down and the dry thistle-down i’ the heat o’the pretty summer O! –
She’ll fly ye and deny ye if ye’ll a-wooing go,
But cease to woo and she’ll pursue, aye, then the king’s3 the move;
For oft the foul, good Polypheme, is fair i’ the eyes of love.
 Then Damoetas in answer lifted up his voice, singing:
 I saw, I saw her fling them, Lord Pan my witness be;
I was not blind, I vow, by this my one sweet – this
Wherewith Heav’n send I see to the end, and Télemus4 when he
Foretells me woe, then be it so, but woe for him and his! – ;
‘Tis tit for tat, to tease her on I look not on the jade
And say there’s other wives to wed, and lo! she’s jealous made,
Jealous for me, Lord save us! and ‘gins to pine for me
And glowers from the deep on the cave and the sheep like a want-wit lass o’ the sea
And the dog that bayed, I hissed him on; for when ‘twas I to woo
He’ld lay his snout to her lap, her lap, and whine her friendly to.
Maybe she’ll send me messages if long I go this gate;
But I’ll bar the door till she swear o’ this shore to be my wedded mate.
Ill-favoured? nay, for all they say; I have looked i’ the glassy sea,
And, for aught I could spy, both beard and eye were pretty as well could be,
And the teeth all a-row5 like marble below, – and that none should o’erlook me6 of it,
As Goody Cotyttaris taught me, thrice in my breast I spit.
[and so forth]
Virgil, Eclogue III
O every way
Unhappy sheep, unhappy flock! while he
Still courts Neaera, fearing lest her choice
Should fall on me, this hireling shepherd here
Wrings hourly twice their udders, from the flock
Filching the life-juice, from the lambs their milk.
Or here by these old beeches, when you broke
The bow and arrows of Damon; for you chafed
When first you saw them given to the boy,
Cross-grained Menalcas, ay, and had you not
Done him some mischief, would have chafed to death.
With thieves so daring, what can masters do?
Did I not see you, rogue, in ambush lie
For Damon’s goat, while loud Lycisca barked?
And when I cried, “Where is he off to now?
Gather your flock together, Tityrus,”
You hid behind the sedges.
[and so forth]
Virgil, Eclogue VII
Daphnis beneath a rustling ilex-tree
Had sat him down; Thyrsis and Corydon
Had gathered in the flock, Thyrsis the sheep,
And Corydon the she-goats swollen with milk-
Both in the flower of age, Arcadians both,
Ready to sing, and in like strain reply.
Hither had strayed, while from the frost I fend
My tender myrtles, the he-goat himself,
Lord of the flock; when Daphnis I espy!
Soon as he saw me, “Hither haste,” he cried,
“O Meliboeus! goat and kids are safe;
And, if you have an idle hour to spare,
Rest here beneath the shade. Hither the steers
Will through the meadows, of their own free will,
Untended come to drink. Here Mincius hath
With tender rushes rimmed his verdant banks,
And from yon sacred oak with busy hum
The bees are swarming.” What was I to do?
No Phyllis or Alcippe left at home
Had I, to shelter my new-weaned lambs,
And no slight matter was a singing-bout
‘Twixt Corydon and Thyrsis. Howsoe’er,
I let my business wait upon their sport.
So they began to sing, voice answering voice
In strains alternate- for alternate strains
The Muses then were minded to recall-
First Corydon, then Thyrsis in reply.
“Libethrian Nymphs, who are my heart’s delight,
Grant me, as doth my Codrus, so to sing-
Next to Apollo he- or if to this
We may not all attain, my tuneful pipe
Here on this sacred pine shall silent hang.”
“Arcadian shepherds, wreathe with ivy-spray
Your budding poet, so that Codrus burst
With envy: if he praise beyond my due,
Then bind my brow with foxglove, lest his tongue
With evil omen blight the coming bard.”
“This bristling boar’s head, Delian Maid, to thee,
With branching antlers of a sprightly stag,
Young Micon offers: if his luck but hold,
Full-length in polished marble, ankle-bound
With purple buskin, shall thy statue stand.”
“A bowl of milk, Priapus, and these cakes,
Yearly, it is enough for thee to claim;
Thou art the guardian of a poor man’s plot.
Wrought for a while in marble, if the flock
At lambing time be filled,stand there in gold.”
[and so forth]
Spenser, Shepheardes Calendar, “August”
IN this Æglogue is set forth a delectable controuersie, made in imitation of that in Theocritus: whereto also Virgile fashioned his third & seuenth Æglogue. They choose for vmpere of their strife, Cuddie a neatherds boye, who hauing ended their cause, reciteth also himsefe a proper song, whereof Colin he sayth was Authour.
Willye. Perigot. Cuddie.Ell me Perigot, what shalbe the game,
Wherefore with myne thou dare thy musick matche?
Or bene thy Bagpypes renne farre out of frame?
Or hath the Crampe thy ioynts benomd with ache?
Perigot.Ah Willye, when the hart is ill assayde,
How can Bagpipe, or ioynts be well apayd?
Perigot.Ah Willye now I haue learnd a newe daunce:
My old musick mard by a newe mischaunce.
Perigot.Loue hath misled both my younglings, and mee:
I pyne for payne, and they my payne to see.
Willye.Perdie and wellawaye: ill may they thriue:
Neuer knewe I louers sheepe in good plight.
But and if rymes with me thou dare striue,
Such fond fantsies shall soone be put to flight.
Perigot.That shall I doe, though mochell worse I fared:
Neuer shall be sayde that Perigot was dared.
[and so forth]