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Poetic Genre

Poetic Genre

What's your favourite kind of poetry? Do you like poetry that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, poetry that brings a tear to your eye, or poetry that makes you want to take action in society? Usually, we pick out poetry based on our mood or how we want to feel while reading it. But how do we know what to expect from a poem? We check out its genre.

Understanding genre is not only helpful for us when we are trying to choose what poetry we want to read; it is also key to being able to analyse it. Let's look at poetic genre, its definition, and examples so that we have a solid foundation from which to begin exploring poetry in more depth.

Elements of poetry

If we want to analyse a poem, we first need to identify its elements, starting with the bigger picture before moving on to the smaller details.

The main poetic elements include:

  • Genre
  • Form
  • Sound and sound effects
  • Poetic devices
  • Themes

Genre is one of the broadest poetic elements, which is why it is at the top of our list. A poem's genre depends on the other poetic elements and how they come together in the poem.

If a poem explores themes of heroism, is told from a third-person perspective, follows a formal structure, and is very, very long, then it is likely an epic poem, one of the oldest genres in poetry.

Poetry genre definition

Getting comfortable with genre is vital to honing your poetry analysis skills. Here is a simple definition to get us started:

Genre: a label used to group works of art or literature that have similar features.

Genre was introduced as a way of classifying works of ancient Greek literature. The Greek philosopher Aristotle (384–322 BCE) identified poetic genres in Poetics (c. 350 BCE), including lyric poetry and epic poetry.

Lyric poetry: a genre of poetry that is emotional, expressive, and has a musical quality.

Today, genre remains the primary way of identifying different types of literature. Think of how difficult it would be to find your way around a library that wasn't organised by genre!

Having a solid understanding of genre is helpful when analysing poetry because it gives you starting points for what to look for.

If you already know that a poem is a lyric poem, you know that it will contain poetic elements that give it a musical quality.

We can use genre to:

  • Predict certain features in a poem
  • Draw comparisons and contrasts between different poems
  • Understand the context in which the poem was written
  • Interpret meanings in poetry

Remember! The accepted features of genres can change over time, and the boundaries between genres are not always clear. Poems can share features with one or multiple genres, challenge genre traditions, or even defy traditional genre conventions altogether.

Poetic genre, an organised library, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Understanding genre can help us find, write, and analyse works of poetry.

Poetic genre and form

Because both poetic genre and poetic form have a lot to do with how we expect poems to be presented, there are overlaps between the terms. However, they are not exactly the same.

Poetic genre describes how a poem can be categorised according to various shared features. Poetic form, on the other hand, specifically refers to a poem's structure and arrangement on the page.

Poetic form: the overall structure of a poem determined by factors such as its length, rhyme scheme, meter, and number of stanzas.

Because some poetic genres follow stricter structural rules, they may also be referred to as poetic forms, but this is not the case for all poetic genres.

Epic poetry may refer to both a poetic genre and a poetic form because epic poetry often follows strict structural rules.

Lyric poetry, on the other hand, does not follow a single traditional structure. It is a poetic genre, not a poetic form.

Poetry genres examples

We've already taken a brief look at two poetic genres: epic poetry and lyric poetry. Let's take a look at some more examples of poetic genres that you will likely come across in your studies. We will also take a look at some others that may be a little off the beaten track, such as the emblem poetic genre.

Satirical poetry

Satirical poetry is another classical genre that uses satire to critique and ridicule human behaviour, thought, and society.

Satire: a method of using humour and wit to critique and ridicule human behaviour, thought, and society.

Satirical poetry can range from subtle and lighthearted to scathingly critical and often focuses on topics such as religion, politics, the economy, and culture.

Examples of satirical poetry include:

  • 'The Rape of the Lock' (1712) by Alexander Pope (1688–1744).
  • 'London' (1738) by Samuel Johnson (1709–84).
  • 'Interview' (1926) by Dorothy Parker (1893–1967).
  • 'Thank You for Waiting' (2017) by Simon Armitage (1963–present).

Elegy

An elegy is a more melancholy poetic genre. Dating back to Ancient Greece, elegies began as a poetic form written in elegiac couplets.

Elegiac couplet: two lines of poetry containing a line of dactylic hexameter followed by a line of pentameter.

Dactylic hexameter: a line of poetry containing six 'dactyls' (a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables).

Pentameter: a line of poetry containing five stressed syllables.

Today, poems do not have to follow a specific structure to be considered elegies. Elegies are characterised by their exploration of themes of death and grief. Sometimes elegies end on a more positive note as they come to terms with their sorrow. Elegies are often written in the first person, adding to their personal and expressive nature.

Examples of elegies include:

  • 'Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard' (1751) by Thomas Gray (1716–71).
  • 'In Memoriam A.H.H' (1850) by Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809–92).
  • 'O Captain! My Captain!' (1865) by Walt Whitman (1819–1892).
  • 'Because I could not stop for Death' (1890) by Emily Dickinson (1830–1886).

Poetic genre, a bunch of memorial flowers, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Elegies reflect on the passing of loved ones and the concept of death itself.

Aubade

You have probably heard of a serenade before – a song or poem performed to a loved one during the night. If the serenade successfully wooed its audience, an aubade might be on the cards.

The less familiar aubade is a song or poem that laments the speaker's separation from their lover, often symbolised by the rising sun putting an end to a night of passion.

Examples of aubade poems include:

The aubades by Philip Larkin and Ocean Vuong are examples of how authors can play with traditional genre features to create new meanings. Philip Larkin's aubade explores the restless mind of someone who can't sleep and is waiting for the sun to rise. Ocean Vuong's aubade is about two lovers during the Vietnam war in 1975 having a moment of intimacy despite the violence and destruction surrounding them.

Pastoral poetry

The genre of pastoral poetry emerged from ancient Greece when poets such as Theocritus, who lived in the third century BCE, wrote romanticised descriptions of the lives of shepherds in the mountains.

Although the popularity of the genre has waxed and waned, pastoral poetry has remained a significant genre. Pastoral poetry commonly deals with themes of life, death, love, and nature's beauty, which is often compared to urban life.

Examples of pastoral poetry include:

Remember! Poems may belong to multiple genres. Percy Bysshe Shelley's 'Adonais' is a pastoral elegy, a poetic subgenre that combines features of two genres, pastoral poetry and elegies.

Emblem poetry

Emblem poetry combines an illustration (or 'emblem') with text exploring moral and religious themes.

The genre originated in sixteenth-century Italy when a publisher added woodcut prints to the poems of Andrea Alciato (1492–1550) in his Book of Emblems (1531) collection.

Woodcut prints: printed images made with the painted surfaces of carved wooden blocks.

The only emblem poetry book written in English is Emblemes (1866) by Francis Quarles (1592–1644), an English poet who combined religious poems with pictures.

Poetic Genre - Key takeaways

  • A poetic genre is a label used to group works of poetry with similar features.
  • Genre was introduced as a way of classifying works of literature in Aristotle's (384–322 BCE) Poetics (c. 350 BCE).
  • We can use genre to predict certain features in a poem, draw comparisons and contrasts between poems, understand the context in which the poem was written, and interpret meanings in poetry.
  • Poems can share features with one or multiple genres, challenge genre traditions, or try to defy them altogether.
  • Poetic genres include satirical poetry, elegy, aubade, pastoral poetry, and emblem poetry.

Frequently Asked Questions about Poetic Genre

Some poetic genres include satirical poetry, elegy, aubade, pastoral poetry, epic poetry, and lyric poetry.

Examples of poetic genres include satirical poetry, elegy, aubade, pastoral poetry, epic poetry, and lyric poetry.

A poetic genre is a label used to group together poems with similar features. 

A poetic type describes the form of a poem, which is how a poem is structured and organised on the page. 

In poetry, genre is used to identify poetry that shares similar features. 

Final Poetic Genre Quiz

Question

What does epic mean in poetry?

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Answer

Epic means a poem that is long and has a narrative.

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What is the purpose of repetition in epic poetry?

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Answer

Repetition is used to help poets retell the poems

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What is the oldest known epic poem?

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Answer

The oldest known epic poem is The Epic of Gilgamesh, which is over 4,000 years old.

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What is the meaning of the Greek word 'Epos'?

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Answer

The Greek word 'epos' means word or song.

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Question

The Iliad tells the story of which war?


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Answer

The Iliad tells the story of the Trojan War.

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What is the common narrative in epic poetry?

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Answer

The common narrative in epic poetry is that of a hero going on a journey.

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Who is the hero of the epic poem The Odyssey?

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Answer

Odysseus is the hero of the epic poem The Odyssey.

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What kind of narration is used in epic poetry?

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Answer

Third-person narration is used in epic poetry

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What is a muse?

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Answer

A muse is a goddess of the arts. Such as music or dance.

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Question

Beowulf visits which modern-day country to defeat Grendel?

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Answer

Beowulf travels to modern-day Denmark to defeat the monster Grendel.

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Before epic poems were written, how were the stories told?

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Answer

Epic poetry was originally told orally by poets known as bards.

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What is the history of narrative poetry?

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Narrative poetry has its origins in oral traditions. These tales were recounted and passed down orally through memory before they were documented in written language.

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What is the difference between lyric and narrative poetry? 

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Answer

The difference between lyric poetry and narrative poetry is that narrative poetry recalls a series of events, so its purpose is to tell a story. Lyric poetry tells the poet’s/narrator’s emotions and thoughts, and this is not the focus of narrative poetry.  

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What is a characteristic of narrative poetry? 

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Answer

A characteristic of narrative poetry is that it has developed characters. 

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What is narrative poetry in literature? 


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Narrative poetry in literature is poetry that tells a story. It often has a typical story structure of a beginning, middle and end. It typically had one narrator who chronicles the events.

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How do you start writing narrative poetry?


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To start writing narrative poetry, think about how to build the narrator who is telling the story- what characteristics do you want them to have? Think of how you want the beginning, middle and end of a character’s plot to play out. Think about the obstacles and conflicts you want to add.  

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Question

What are the types of narrative poetry?

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Answer

The types of narrative poetry are ballads, epics and Arthurian romances.

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Question

What is a ballad? Give a definition and example. 

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Answer

A ballad is a type of narrative poetry that tells a story set to music. These popular ballads narrated tales of heroes, love, tragedy and challenges, all typically set to music. The poetic metre of ballads traditionally alternated between iambic tetrameter (four-stress lines) and iambic trimeter (three-stress lines). 


An example of a ballad with lyrical qualities is Samuel Taylor Coleridge's 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner' (1798). 

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What is an epic? Give a definition and an example.

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Answer

An epic is a long narrative poem, which tells the tales of heroes. Typical characteristics of epics are that they involve myths, heroic legends and moral tales. Epics often include formidable heroes with legendary narratives of their actions.  


An example of an epic is Homer's 'Illiad' (8th century BC) or Homer's 'Odyssey' (8th century BC). 

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What is an Arthurian romance? 

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Answer

An Arthurian Romance is about the adventures and romances in King Arthur’s court during his reign in the 5th and 6th Centuries.  

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Question

What is a famous example of narrative poetry featuring an American patriot?

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Answer

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's ‘Paul Revere’s Ride’ (1860). This poem is a commemoration piece for real-life American patriot Paul Revere, but the story detailed is partly fictional. 

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Question

What is the purpose of lyric poetry?

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The purpose of lyric poetry is for the speaker to express their emotions and feelings.

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What does lyric poetry mean?

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Traditionally lyric poetry means poems that are accompanied by music.

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What is lyric poetry in literature?

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Answer

Lyric poetry in literature is short, expressive and song-like poems. 

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Question

What are the 3 types of poems?



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Answer

Traditionally the three types of poems were lyric, epic and dramatic verse.

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Question

What are the characteristics of lyric poetry?


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Answer

The characteristics of lyric poetry are;

short in length

first person

song-like

have a meter

emotive

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Where does the word 'lyric' come from?

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Answer

The word 'lyric' comes from the ancient Greek instrument the lyre.

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Lyric poetry is told from which point of view?

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Lyric poetry is told from the first-person point of view.

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Can you name three types of lyric poetry?

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Answer

Some of the types of lyric poetry are;

  • sonnet
  • villanelle
  • ode
  • elegy
  • dramatic monolgue

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How many lines are contained in a sonnet?

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Answer

There are 14 lines contained in a sonnet.

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How many stanzas in a villanelle?

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Answer

There a 6 stanzas in a villanelle, five tercets and one quatrain

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Question

What is the aubade?

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Answer

The aubade is a genre of poetry that expresses the frustration, sadness, and longing that comes with leaving a partner behind after a night of romance.

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Question

How does aubade relate to serenade?

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Answer

The 'aubade' is the opposite of the more familiar 'serenade' genre, which is a love song performed at night instead of at dawn.

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Describe the origin of the word aubade. 

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Answer

The word 'aubade' originated from the Old Occitan word 'alba', which translates to 'sunrise'.

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Where did aubade originate?

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Answer

It originated in the South of France in the High Middle Ages (AD 1000-1300).

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Question

Who were the Troubadours?

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Answer

The Troubadours were a school of poets that reached their peak between the eleventh and thirteenth century.

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What was the importance of the Troubadours in relation to aubade?

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Answer

Aubade poems were historically performed by the Troubadours.

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Question

What is courtly love?

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Answer

Courtly love is a traditional, conventionalised form of love between a knight and a married noblewoman.

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Question

Describe the typical alba poem. 

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Answer

The typical alba poem centres around the dialogue between a man and a woman after they have spent the night together. Usually, they are forced to separate at sunrise because their love is forbidden, and they cannot afford to be discovered.


Often times, a 'sentry' (l a ookout) keeps watch, and attempts to alert the lovers when it is time for them to wake up.

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When did the traditional alba poem go into decline?

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Answer

After the decline of the Troubadours in the mid-1300s.

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When did the aubade poems arise?

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Answer

They began to arise in the seventeenth century as they resurged alongside the metaphysical poets

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What is the most famous example of the metaphysical aubade?

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Answer

John Donne's, 'The Sun Rising' (1633).

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Question

What is the difference between modern-day aubades and olden-day aubades?

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Answer

Modern-day aubades frequently ignore the 'courtly love' focus of the traditional genre, and instead pay particular attention to the feelings of frustration, despair, contemplation, or solitude that occur either when parting from someone, or being alone in one's thoughts just before dawn.

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How can an aubade be recognised?

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Answer

It can be recognised through its content, and the themes it deals with, like sunrise, love, and human emotion.

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Question

What does pastoral mean in poetry?


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Answer

The word 'pastoral' comes from the Latin for 'shepherd', and pastoral poetry is often about shepherds, their flocks, and the beautiful world they live in.

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Question

What was the difference between Virgil's Eclogues (42 BCE) and his Georgics (c.32 BCE)?

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Answer

The Eclogues were a collection of ten poems in a typical non didactic style, and featured a range of subject matters such as love, singing contests and debates. The Georgics were four longer books of poetry and were much more didactic, giving instructions on various farm activities.

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Which Italian poet wrote The Divine Comedy (1320), featuring Virgil as a character?

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Answer

Dante

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Question

What is the significance of Arcadia in pastoral poetry?

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Answer

Taken by Virgil from a historical region of ancient Greece, Arcadia has come to be a general term for a place of great natural and undisturbed beauty - a paradise.

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Question

What is anti-pastoral?

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Answer

Anti-pastoral is a literary technique that goes against the ideas of pastoral poetry in various ways, for example being more realistic than idealistic.

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Question

What is the relationship between the rural and the urban in pastoral poetry?

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Answer

Pastoral poetry condemns urban environments in favour of rural ones, because urban areas are unnatural and spoiled by human intervention.

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