“A Ramble in St. James’s Park”: An Urban Influence on a Pastoral Escape
In the poem “A Ramble in St. James’s Park,” by John Wilmot, second Earl of Rochester, the urban ideals of London have a profound effect on the pastoral qualities St. James’s Park is supposed to offer. The purpose of St James’s Park is to provide a place of escape from the city for people to embrace a pure, simple, private lifestyle. But since the park is surrounded by a sprawling city, the urban concept of living a complex and public life full of sexuality defiantly alters such a pastoral existence. Within the poem, Rochester constantly alludes to how the pastoral aspects of easy joys and purity are tainted by the vulgarity and fast-paced sex drive of urban influences.
The intertwining of both urban and pastoral qualities can be witnessed immediately in the title of the poem. A “ramble” can be construed as a leisurely, aimless wander which is evident in a simple life. Choosing a more pastoral, or rural, lifestyle coincides with enjoyment of subtle actions such as taking a slow stroll without a care in the world. When undertaking a pastoral way of life, one has pure intentions and truly enjoys the methodical pace of a private and simple existence. On the other end of the spectrum is the fulfillment of urban ideologies. The word “ramble” also means to talk in an aimless manner which can be labeled as gossip. If one lives on a farm, gossip is not a daily function due to a lack of people, but an urban area contains a much denser population that allows a quicker exchange of speech among individuals and groups. With
accelerated communication comes a more complex melting pot of beliefs which creates more complexity in one’s life as a whole.
Elaborating on the idea of “ramble” in pastoral and urban societies, the first eight lines of the poem demonstrate the effects of ongoing conversation: