An eclogue is a short, pastoral poem in which, traditionally, shepherds converse over rural life. It has evolved into a poem that is in dialogue with the climate and environmental issues derived from civilization. 

From A Poet’s Glossary

The following definition of the term ecologue is reprinted from A Poet’s Glossary by Edward Hirsch.

The word eclogue, which derives from the Greek word eklegein, “to choose,” originally suggested “a choice poem,” the title given to choose collections of extracts from longer works. An eclogue is a short dialogue or soliloquy. The term defines the structure and not the content of this type of poem, thou almost all eclogues turn out to be pastorals. The name was first applied to Virgil’s Bucolica, which dates from the mid-30s BC, and later became known as the Eclogues. These formal pastoral poems extend a pattern, first established by Theocritus in his idylls (third century BC), in which urban poets turn to the rural countryside for sustenance.

In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, the term eclogue was often misconstrued as “goat song,” falsely derived from aix, “goat,” and logos, “speech.” As a genre, the eclogue was revived by Dante (1265–1321), Petrarch (1304–1377), and Boccaccio (1313–1375), and flourished throughout the early modern era. One aspect of the eclogue is an often coded or allegorical dimension. In The Art of English Poesie (1589), George Puttenham recognized that the eclogue was devised not of purpose to counterfeit or represent the rustical manner of loves or communications, but under the veil of homely persons and in rude speeches, to insinuate and glance at great matters, and such as perchance had not been safe to have been disclosed of any other sort.

He thus contended that the eclogue makes it possible for writers to consider “great matters” that would otherwise be unacceptable for them to take on more directly. For example, in the course of his pastoral dialogues, Virgil could also address political subjects, and attitudes toward power, specifically toward the house of Julius Caesar and Octavian (Augustus).

Some of the English poems that explicitly descend from Virgil’s Eclogues: Edmund Spenser’s The Shepheardes Calender (1579), Philip Sidney’s double sestina “Ye Goatherd Gods” (1593), Christopher Marlowe’s “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” (1599, 1600), Andrew Marvell’s “Mower” poems [e.g. “The Mower Against Gardens” and “The Mower's Song”] (1681), John Milton’s “Lycidas” (1638), Alexander Pope’s “Pastorals” (1709), Book Eight of William Wordsworth’s The Prelude (1805, 1850), Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Adonais” [e.g. “Adonais, 49-52” (1821), and Matthew Arnold’s “Thyrsis” (1866). Robert Frost’s “Build Soil –– A Political Pastoral” (1936) [discussed in “From the Archive: Robert Frost’s 1935 letter”] illustrates the artistic difficulty of reviving the eclogue in modern poetry. Jonathan Swift probably wrote the greatest non-pastoral eclogue in A Town Eclogue. 1710. Scene, The Royal Exchange (1710).

See also nature poetry, pastoral.

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