An idyll or idyl, is a short poem, descriptive of rustic life, written in the style of Theocritus’ short pastoral poems, the Idylls.
The idyll is a literary subgenre of the Greek lyrical poetry of Hellenism, the most characteristic of the bucolic, created by the Sicilian poet Theocritus and followed later by Mosco and Bión of Smyrna, of a loving theme, dialogue among pastors and developed in a pleasant or paradisiacal nature, which its creator identifies with the landscape of Arcadia. Its equivalent in later Latin or Roman literature is the eclogue. The idyll is written in Doric dialect and in dactyl hexameter, a verse associated however with the most prestigious form of Greek poetry, the epic.
The scenarios of idyll are country, the protagonists are shepherds, cowboys or goatherds, there are cattle that graze and a multitude of pastoral terms. The theme is often erotic and the songs and music are continuously present. In many of them the dialogue, the monologue or the story is alternated with songs or singing competitions, an element that makes music intervene and that will remain for posterity as one of the typical signs of the pastoral. The themes of these songs are often erotic or mythical.
In general terms, the word idyll also describes a hassle-free world, usually unaffected or undisturbed by industrialization. Rural idyll denotes the opposite of city life and urban life, or in the sense of village or small life.
idyll originally applied to a poetic genre of antiquity. These poems are inspired by the pastoral poetry of Theocritus, considered the founder of the genre. Short form and bucolic inspiration, close to eclogue, the idyll is about rustic life or loves shepherds. Nevertheless, it can also relate to other subjects: certain Idylls of Theocritus are thus songs of praise in honor of sovereigns. The genre was popularized by Latin authors, who gave it its name: Ausone, Calpurnius, Virgil or Catullus.
Unlike Homer, Theocritus did not engage in heroes and warfare. His idylls are limited to a small intimate world, and describe scenes from everyday life. Later imitators include the Roman poets Virgil and Catullus, Italian poets Torquato Tasso, Sannazaro and Leopardi, the English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson (Idylls of the King), and Nietzsche’s Idylls from Messina. Goethe called his poem Hermann and Dorothea—which Schiller considered the very climax in Goethe’s production—an idyll.
By extension, after Antiquity, an idyll is a contemplative work of bucolic inspiration, whether in literature, painting or music. For example, George Sand’s romances (La Mare au devil or Les Maîtres sonneurs, for example) are idylls, as well as the idylls of Alfred Tennyson’s king, about King Arthur. Painting idylls developed in the eighteenth century after the Rococo.
The term is passed in everyday language, an idyll indicating a tender and naive love lived affectively by two beings in the freshness of an idealized feeling.
The term is used in music to refer generally to a work evocative of pastoral or rural life such as Edward MacDowell’s Forest Idylls, and more specifically to a kind of French courtly entertainment (divertissement) of the baroque era where a pastoral poem was set to music, accompanied by ballet and singing. Examples of the latter are Lully’s L’Idylle sur la Paix set to a text by Racine and Desmarets’ Idylle sur la naissance du duc de Bourgogne set to a text by Antoinette Deshoulières.
In the visual arts, an idyll is a painting depicting the same sort of subject matter to be found in idyllic poetry, often with rural or peasant life as its central theme. One of the earliest examples is the early 15th century Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry. The genre was particularly popular in English paintings of the Victorian era.
Idyll usually means a picture or a state that looks contemplative and peaceful to the viewer. Placed scenic landscape shots that often represent castles, palaces and memorable natural objects or cultural landscapes figuratively or graphically and in which disturbing objects remain hidden, are referred to as postcard idyll.
Idyll can be said to be a kind of painting, and usually draws shepherds and animals kept as shepherds in the countryside. It is spoken in an unpretentious way, with three elements of human beings, animals, and the natural environment as constituent elements so as not to become harmonious consistency, landscape paintings, genre paintings and animals. In this combination nature is drawn in a simple and realistic way.
The subject of idle is usually the net people who live in a situation not civilized, taking up that naive way of thinking, still living a happy and cheerful life. On the contrary, ignore the real misery associated with rural poverty. That approach is not humorous, it is emotional and sometimes sentimental.
Roman poets such as Vergil and Catull or the English poet Tennyson have imitated this poetry. In the German literature, the idyll in the 18th century had a heyday. Salomon Gessner was particularly influential. At the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century, the reinterpretation of the idyll began, partly with socio-critical intentions as in Johann Heinrich Voss, partly as an end in a bourgeois idyl as in Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s Hermann and Dorothea (1797) or even completely in one urban environment transplanted as in Johann Martin Usteris De Herr Heiri or in Jonas Breitenstein’s Der Ehrli. The literary idyll of the topos of the locus amoenus, the lovely place, often located on a remote spring or in a quiet grove. Closely connected is the idyll – at least in modern imagination – with the idea of a mythical Arcadia, a place beyond all social constraints.
Johann Heinrich Voss solved the concept of the attachment to the country life and above all the mood content of the “perfect world” and the harmonious coexistence. His idylls represent basic human attitudes such as love, contentment, but also superstition or striving for freedom in easily manageable scenes. With his “rural poem in three idylls” Luise he paved the way to the mini epic, which began with Goethe’s and Dorothea and immediately the Peak reached. In contrast to the static idyll, the epic describes a happening in which an unforeseen event leads to new developments.
Within American literature, the idyll with the Amish Romance Novel has found a certain revival since the 2000s.