Summary of Ye Goatherd Gods
“Ye Goatherd Gods” is written by Sir Sidney Philip. In this poem, Strephon speaks the first stanza. In Sidney’s larger work Arcadia, in which this poem originally appeared, he and Klaius are shepherds. Strephon invokes the gods, nymphs, and satyrs in this stanza, all of whom are common figures in pastoral poetry. The setting is established by these characters and the landscape—valleys, meadows, and trees. Strephon then appeals to the gods, nymphs, and satyrs for the favour of listening to his lamenting song. He claims that his troubles begin in the morning and continue into the evening.
Klaius makes an appeal to the skies in the second stanza. He addresses Mercury first (which is visible in the evening), Diana the huntress second (which is the moon), and finally the morning star third (or Venus). As with the preceding stanza, this stanza denotes time through the passage of the day. Klaius, like Strephon, incorporates landscape into his stanza, stressing the outdoors and pastoral. Klaius’ fifth verse precisely parallels Strephon’s fourth line; in both, the shepherds implore their addressees to devote their ears to the sound of lamentation. Klaius reveals in the final phrase that his pitiful melody causes Echo to tyre in the trees.
Strephon recalls his carefree days in the woodlands, enjoying the shade and playing games, in the third stanza. He was well-known and beloved for his music but has been exiled due to his misery. Rather of composing delightful music, he has become a screech owl to himself. His days of pleasure and joy in music are over, snuffed out by his sorrows.
Klaius also recalls a simpler time of woodland hunting and personifying valley music in the fourth stanza. Now that his melancholy has overcome him, the entire day is so black and devoid of light that he has the distinct impression that it is evening time. His view of the world is that it has become overwhelming and unconquerable. He compares a molehill to a mountain and asserts that his sobbing has displaced music as the means of filling the vales.
Strephon refers to his music in the fifth stanza as a swan’s song; the swan allegedly sang only before dying. Only his wails, he claims, welcome the morning, and they are powerful enough to scale mountains. His thoughts have become barren deserts, in contrast to the trees he previously adored. It is also been a long time, he claims, since he is felt delight or held a position of respect in society.
Klaius states in the sixth stanza that it has been a long time since the other people in the valley — those who are content — requested him to cease interfering with their lives with his music. He has developed an aversion to both dusk and dawn, as well as to having his thoughts chase him like wild beasts. He considers whether he might not be better off beneath a mountain, presumably dead and buried.
In the seventh stanza, Strephon describes his altered impressions of the world as a result of his sorrow. He now views breathtaking peaks as foreboding valleys. Strephon anthropomorphizes nature by transferring his own past and present feelings onto it. He used to see the mountains as a reflection of himself, and now he sees them as flattened and forlorn, exactly as he sees himself. He hears nightingales and owls in the forest, but their singing is jumbled. Where he had found solace in the morning, he now feels only the calm that arrives in the evening; serene here does not relate to peacefulness, but to the damp evening air that was once considered to make people ill.
Klaius follows Strephon’s examination of the evening air in the ninth stanza, discovering trash in it. He adds that he feels a horrible odour at sunrise; this is the scent of the flowers, but his view of the world has shifted as abruptly as Strephon’s. He discovers ugliness and offence in the sight and aroma of the flowers, rather than beauty. His perception is so changed that he compares the morning’s wonderful melodies to the horrible cries of men being murdered in the forest.
In the ninth stanza, Strephon expresses his desire to set fire to the woodlands and wish the sun goodnight each night. He curses those who discover music. He covets mountains and despises valleys. His hatred encompasses every aspect of daily life—night, evening, day, and morning.
Klaius also delivers a curse in the ninth stanza, but it is directed towards himself. He refers to himself as being lower than the valley’s lowest point. He expresses no desire to see another nightfall and expresses his own self-loathing. He even covers his ears with his hands to drown out the sound of music.
Finally, in the eleventh stanza, Strephon addresses the woman he and Klaius adore directly. After reading more of The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia, the reader will discover that the shepherds’ object of affection is Urania. Urania was a Greek muses whose domain included astronomy and astrology. Urania was accepted as the muse of Christian writers during the Renaissance.
According to Strephon, the woman generates flawless music. Her beauty outshines the dawn, and her majesty surpasses the peaks of the Alps. The scenery is presented as beautiful and stately, yet it pales in comparison to the woman the shepherds adore. Despite their complaints about the terrain, they must find it lovely in order to compare their affection to it. Strephon claims that after she went, he was plunged into complete darkness.
Klaius opens the twelfth stanza with the same two words Strephon did in the eleventh. This analogy not only maintains the reader’s focus on the new subject of the woman, but also demonstrates that Klaius is continuing Strephon’s manner of articulation. According to Klaius, the Alps are nothing more than valleys in comparison to the woman they love. He continues by stating that her smallest speech creates song, and her acts control the movements of the heavens and the lushness of the meadows. The shepherds, in their adoration, use hyperbole to describe Urania.
In contrast to the preceding six-line stanzas, the ending stanza is a tristich. A tristich is a three-line stanza that does not necessarily rhyme (unlike a tercet, which is a three-lined rhyming stanza). Strephon and Klaius converse in the tristich. They stress that the natural world will bear witness to their anguish. They assert that their music genuinely wreaks havoc on nature. They conclude by declaring that they sing the same sorrowful melody in the morning and evening.