Institute for the Classical Tradition
International Journal of the Classical Tradition

Roxanne M. Gentilcore, “Ann Eliza Bleecker’s Wilderness Pastoral: Reading Vergil in Colonial America,” IJCT 1.4 (1994-1995), pp. 86-98.

This study concerns the pastoral poetry of Ann Eliza Bleecker who lived from 1752 to 1783 in the wilderness area of New York. Her brief but tumultuous life there in the midst of the Revolutionary War led her to respond closely to Vergil’s poetry and to write in the pastoral tradition not only of the beauty of the countryside but also of the impingement of war, death, and suffering upon that milieu. The conflict between peace and war, natural beauty and its destruction gives her pastoral poetry a depth of meaning and a voice unique among writers of American neoclassical verse. Unlike most of the American poets of the time, Bleecker’s pastorals are set in an identifiably local environment and feature women as the poet/shepherdesses. Most significantly, they concern themselves with some of the dichotomies and tensions so characteristic of Vergil’s Eclogues. Bleecker’s close reading of Vergil is also evident in a moving poem entitled “On reading Dryden’s Vergil.” Here, Bleecker compares her nocturnal flight from Indians and the death of her baby daughter to Aeneas’ flight from Troy and loss of Creusa in the Aeneid. In addition, Bleecker’s poetry is in some ways representative of a new American poetry which, in response to the political crisis, begins to express the rising sense of a national identity.

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