Idyll Thoughts: Tuesday Tryouts

10 Jan

7:33 a.m. — Atlanta

Hello all.Yes, it is a form: the Idyll. Rare, nowadays, but I say let’s invent a contemporary idyll poem. The idyllic form has something for everyone. I promise. For those who hear quatrains and rhyme and say “Yippee!” and hear metre and say “Whoo hoo!” the idyll is for you. For those who prefer free verse, thank you all the same, there is something for you. And for those who feel a little out of sorts and don’t want to write about nature [which they are pretty sure this deals with] there is something for you.

Etymology: 17c: from Latin idyllium, from Greek eidyllion, diminutive of eidos an image, or little picture.

Definition of idyllic poetry:
Poetry that either depicts a peaceful, idealized country scene, or a poem telling a story about heroes from a time past [see above, those who don’t want to write about nature].

Idyll: refers to short poems of a pastoral, or rural, character in which something of the element of landscape is depicted or suggested… brief poems on simple subjects in which the description of natural objects is introduced, scenes from everyday life, with a rural edge. The contemporary might focus on a garden.

Eclogue:  considered a form of idyllic poetry, a short pastoral poem, usually in dialogue, on the subject of rural life and the society of shepherds [something we can probably leave out or modernise]. Where the strictly idyllic is concerned, the poem can focus on simple things, but the eclogue takes the idyllic a step further when it uses the rural to depict a life free of the complexity and corruption of a more urban life.

Mt. Diablo

Note that nowhere does the definition state the structure we should endeavour to employ. The idyllic is more a question of focus and mood than anything structural.

Synonyms for idyll: charming, picturesque, idealized, pastoral, peaceful, rustic, delightful, happy, heavenly, innocent, picturesque, unspoiled.

Sorry for the long set-up, but for this form you need to know what it’s about, to know how to write it. The first thing to do is to list all the things you consider idyllic for you — and now we are talking contemporary, so that the synonyms above might take you to a different place than past poets. My list takes me to the shore, by an ocean, sandy beach, shells, no people, tranquil, climbable rocks, tide pools, hills in the background…I might simply describe it and set a serene mood, or I might use it as metaphor.

Next, choose what you want to do. Do you wish to describe your idyllic spot? Do so. Do you wish to set your idyllic spot up as a contrast to the problems of towns and cities? Do so. Do you wish to make a statement about idyllic spots in general? Do so. Do you want to write about a hero from the far past, or not so far past, portraying the hero as an idyll, of sorts [idol, ideal — same root, all three words]? Do so.

Now, choose a form: sonnet, quatrains, free verse, dialogue… something else.

Waiting for an Answer Winslow Homer

If you wish to read  an idyllic, or pastoral, poem, Christopher Marlowe has a dandy: “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love“. If you enjoy reading the shepherd’s attempt at seduction, scroll further down the page to read “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd,” by Sir Walter Raleigh. Robert Frost, a little more contemporary, wrote several pastoral poems, portraying the countryside as a better place to be than the city, even with the occasional human caused problem. Check “Birches“. For an intriguing dialogue that has pastoral elements as a positive thing, read Housman’s “Is My Team Ploughing?”

There is no wrong. Unless I say [and even then!], the form and content choice is always yours. Write the poem that wants to be written. That is far more important than writing to the prompt. Think of prompts as tinder looking for a spark.

I shall see you Thursday for the first official announcements; Friday, for the roundup; and, next Tuesday, for a prompt to do with place.

I am curious to see people’s idyllic spots and how they approach them. Happy writing.


Posted by on 10/01/2012 in exercises, poetry, writing


Tags: , , , , , , ,

40 responses to “Idyll Thoughts: Tuesday Tryouts

  1. markwindham

    10/01/2012 at 10:25 am

    In the interest of cheating (and buying some time while I am forced to actually earn my paycheck), would what I already posted this morning qualify?

    Be back later.

    • margo roby

      10/01/2012 at 11:00 am

      Oh well, if it’s in the interest of cheating…and, yes, it would qualify, sort of. I had to read it a number of times, you understand, to reach that specific conclusion. I would still love to see something, eventually, that does show your idyllic vision, although, I admit, I love fog. I am going back over to make a couple of comments.

      Don’t work too hard, or do, if it keeps you in a job.


      • markwindham

        10/01/2012 at 1:51 pm

        Thanks for the comments ‘Teach’! 1st revision done and posted, still needs some work. Noodled this one out in the car this morning after my daughter made the statement about it looking like the clouds fell. Then just spit it onto paper when I got to the office. And the blog is messing with the formatting….errgghh.’clouds’ is supposed to indented, then ‘fell’ indented more. Oh well.

        All good points, thank you.

        • margo roby

          10/01/2012 at 1:56 pm

          Been there, commented…

          How do you transfer your poems to the blog, or do you write directly onto the post? I write in a word document and then reopen it in wordpad. That seems to keep hold of the formatting.

          Children are wonderful resources because nothing is telling their brains that something isn’t possible.

          • markwindham

            10/01/2012 at 2:08 pm

            Have not tried wordpad, just straight from word. Will do that next time.

  2. viv blake

    10/01/2012 at 12:29 pm

    What a gorgeous prompt, Margo. Right up my street. I’m really looking forward to having a go at this. It won’t be quick though, I have a zillion things to do.

    • margo roby

      10/01/2012 at 12:34 pm

      I knew you would like this, ViV. You wouldn’t believe how thrilled I was anticipating this! And, you know, time is never a problem.

      By the way, my mother is ten years older than you: she says it doesn’t get any better. She still has a zillion things. I’m fighting it.


  3. wordsandthoughtspjs

    10/01/2012 at 12:39 pm

    Margo, I am so happy this can be free verse (and not a sonnet :)). I will see what I can come up with in a day or two. Now, I am off to read the examples.

    Have a good day!

    • margo roby

      10/01/2012 at 12:49 pm

      Don’t panic when you see the examples. They are to give you an idea of content and focus. See you when you come back 🙂

      Have a good day, yourself 🙂


  4. Janet

    10/01/2012 at 2:31 pm

    Can’t wait to have a go at this prompt! hopefully tonight…

    • margo roby

      10/01/2012 at 2:33 pm

      I do look forward to the responses to this, Janet.


  5. The Happy Amateur

    10/01/2012 at 3:03 pm

    Hi Margo, I remembered a particular place, and came up with this.

    A pathway in the rye,
    A forest in the distance,
    Above – the endless sky.
    My idyll of existence.

    Thank you for the prompt! Look forward to reading the poems.

    • margo roby

      10/01/2012 at 3:43 pm

      That’s lovely, Alexandra. Your idyll is one of my idylls! It doesn’t take many words to paint an entire scene, does it?


      • The Happy Amateur

        10/01/2012 at 3:54 pm

        I’m so glad! I always carry that place with me, maybe that’s why it didn’t take me long to write this (besides the fact that my poem is really short.) 🙂

    • markwindham

      10/01/2012 at 5:16 pm

      Love the scene and love big accomplishments with few words

  6. Ruth

    10/01/2012 at 3:46 pm

    A wonderful prompt, here’s my response:


  7. julespaige

    10/01/2012 at 4:18 pm

    Falling In…

    Early autumn outside the back porch door I take a few steps
    Maybe more, between the pines, maples and butterfly bushes
    Just yards to the creek that flows by the willow

    There is a stone bench residing at the end of an
    Invisible road under my willow where rabbits
    And squirrels play hide and seek

    If I sit just right I can loose the image of homes
    Both to my right and left – blocked by tree leaves
    With closed eyes I can hear the different song birds chatter

    Even in my yard where shade is dominant
    A variety of green life grows in a variety of shades
    Berries, ivy and black walnut trees display their leaves too

    Sitting in the stillness or slight warm breeze
    Dragon, Damsel and various butterflies flutter
    The hard working carpenter bees dance with lightening bugs

    This is my enchanted place, my space
    Far enough from roads to dull traffic noise, but still close enough
    To hear the melancholy whistle of a passing freight train

    If the sun set is just right I can peer into the creek
    And imagine a fresh water mermaid preparing mud nests for ducks
    Instead of pearls and sea shells she’ll have feathers in her auburn hair…

    Jan 10, 2012 JP/davh

    • margo roby

      10/01/2012 at 5:37 pm

      I remember when you first described your place, Jules. Yours, too, is the kind of place I like. I wonder how many of us like each others different idylls. If many, then they must all share similar qualities, despite being such different places.

      Love the first stanza which sets the rest up for us.


  8. Irene

    10/01/2012 at 6:50 pm

    Nice prompt, Margo. Here’s my quick take, in free verse.

    Idyll thoughts on a pastoral

  9. purplepeninportland

    10/01/2012 at 11:13 pm

    Well, I don’t believe this is my cup of tea, but I did brew it.


  10. pmwanken

    10/01/2012 at 11:27 pm


    …with the pace of my week (I still have yet to write the wordle that’s banging around in my brain), I instantly saw an image when I read your prompt/teaching…and dashed off a quick shadorma. I will revisit this prompt when I have more “idyll” time!


    • margo roby

      11/01/2012 at 7:51 am

      Paula, I have been resisting all week [except in my blog title] the urge to pun with idol and idle but have not succeeded. There is a lot of giggling going on here. Not that I giggle, but you know what I mean.

      I love the poem you have, but won’t say no to a second 🙂


  11. Walt Wojtanik

    11/01/2012 at 6:12 am

    Margo, the thought of “resurrecting” the idyll is stroke of genius. We need toe return to the classics to rejuvenate our thought process. Know where we’ve been to give all we do a future. And it makes for some pleasing poems. Here’s my attempt:

    • margo roby

      11/01/2012 at 7:54 am

      Walt, I figure between our blogs and dVerse, we should be able to go through all the forms, at least twice, and that can only be good for our writing. And, I’ll take ‘stroke of genius,’ thank you!


  12. markwindham

    11/01/2012 at 4:38 pm

    you know…I write ‘nature’ on occasion, enjoy it, comes easy. But, tell me to and it fights coming out. errgg!

    Mountain stream dancing over rocks,
    racing anything but the clock –
    finding time to breathe and take stock.
    Fall’s fire hanging from trees,
    paths and dogs waiting for a walk,
    camp fire smoke on the breeze.

    • margo roby

      11/01/2012 at 5:03 pm

      I know what you mean, Mark. So consider this a stab at an idyll complete with rhyme. Then, remind yourself I said in the post that we could invent an idyll for the 21st century and that your on the fly poem, is just that.

      Try one thing with the above: change all those -ings to active verbs. You will be surprised at the effect.


  13. markwindham

    11/01/2012 at 5:14 pm

    wow, that is a lot of ‘ings’… 🙂 really need to let these breathe before posting. Off to shuttle kids to church and dinner with wife. revision later (I was cheating again…trying to combine with the Poetic bloomings form prompt)

    • margo roby

      11/01/2012 at 5:38 pm

      No such thing as cheating…it’s doing double-duty 😉 I find it miraculous that those of you who work other jobs [than writing], have the energy to write, never mind the time. Anything that works to get your poetry out there is fair game.


      • markwindham

        11/01/2012 at 10:09 pm

        You could have just said ‘um, no. Put it out with the garbage.’

        Mountain stream races past flat rocks,
        quiet replaces urgent clocks –
        time taken to breathe life, take stock.
        Fall’s fire hangs loose from trees,
        forest paths and dogs wait for walks,
        campfire smoke on the breeze.

        Sometimes we rush through work, to rush through a write; not usually a good result. Need to take that time to breathe.

        • margo roby

          12/01/2012 at 7:48 am

          Mark, I am shocked, shocked, you think I would ever say something like that. Here’s what I would say instead: Okay, well, be sure you don’t trash it. Everything is good for the resource pool.

          Interesting what you say about rushing and the need to get the write down anyway. I think it’s valuable that we give into the need, because even if the poem is enhh, there might be a great phrase in it, or another idea might spark from it. Or the write might be a good poem start.



  14. wordsandthoughtspjs

    11/01/2012 at 8:14 pm

    Hi Margo, here is my small offering of where I long to live. Thanks for the prompt.


    “Summer’s Rest”

    • margo roby

      11/01/2012 at 9:38 pm

      Thank you, Pamela. I look forward to seeing where you long to live.


  15. Janet

    12/01/2012 at 1:13 am

    Hi Margo,
    At last I had some time to try an idyll. I’m unsure of its success but it was thrilling to try. I think it is much too long, but it was fun to write. If its all wrong I would love to give it another try on some other night.

    Thank-you for your time and teaching.

    • margo roby

      12/01/2012 at 7:50 am

      It has been terrific fun for me, Janet, to read all the different poems. If yours is long, then you are in the tradition of Tennyson! I will let you know when I read it if I think it fits in an idyll spectrum or not, but if you enjoyed it, try the form again anyway.



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