This work is primarily a genre study, aiming both at enlarging the canon of pastoral texts and at theorizing generical development in a comparative context. Addressed to a general audience of poetry enthusiasts as well as students of genre theory and specialists in the field, the book takes as its examples the twin pastoral genres of funeral elegy and marriage hymns. Schenck establishes in her introduction that the strategies she isolates in elegies and epithalamia govern lyric processes more generally; that in fact every poem might be an epitaph if it pronounces an elegy upon a former poetic self and announces rebirth of the artist as a poet.
All poems are genuinely epitaphic in their attempt to record verbally and lastingly the death and implied rebirth of the poet as poet each time he lifts his pen to begin a new poem. The specific forms explored in this book, elegy and epithalamium, serve precisely as model initiatory scenarios. Elegies tend to gesture toward the past, pronouncing an epitaph upon poetic apprenticeship and recovery voice by means of symbolic burial of a forebear. Marriage poems, alternatively, are future-directed, celebrating (as do elegies) passage from virgin to mature state. Both forms aim at circumventing mortality, by apotheosis and deification in the case of the elegy, and by the projection forth of "issue" at the end of the marriage poem. Investigation of the symbolic reciprocity of these seemingly distinct forms yields a surprising range of variant forms, extends provocatively Claudio Guillen's theory of genre and counter-genre, and initiates a poetics of pastoral ceremony that has implications for the general study of lyric modes.