Sheep have been closely associated with humans for at least 10,000 years, but despite their ubiquity and association with agro-pastoral cultural landscapes, they are poorly represented in both poetry and in critical readings of pastoral texts. This book addresses that omission by applying concepts from the still emerging field of animal studies to an ecologically focused reading of poetry referencing sheep. The distinction between wild and domesticated species is called into question, with particular attention to Tim Ingold’s ideas about how hunters and pastoralists differ in the relations they have with animals. Pastoral literature is compared with what pastoralism means in agriculture and how it can produce landscapes with a high nature value. Poetry from the upland sheep-farming areas of western Britain is read from the viewpoint of the animal turn. The sheep-breeding practices of Dorset and Devon are explored through the poetry of Ted Hughes and Kay Syrad. Sheep and sheep keeping have been heavily involved in emigration of people, sheep and agricultural practice to the settler colonies, so readings of a small selection of poems from the USA and New Zealand are included to open the important topic of postcolonial reading of sheep poetry. The final chapter opens the question of whether sheep and poets have a future as the crisis deepens. The book makes a contribution to the literature of animal studies and ends with the question of whether the ethical case for a vegan lifestyle and low emissions means that the whole species is destined for extinction.
While domesticated sheep have had a close association with humans for around 10,000 years, literaryanimalstudies is a relatively new discipline that has gained momentum in the current millennium, and is based on ways of reading that place a new focus on animals. This new emphasis does however build on a growing understanding that humans are not as exceptional in the animal kingdom as had been thought, but above all on ways of looking at animals that have developed over at least two centuries. This chapter considers some of these foundations
paper that could hush those alarms’ (Bilgrami 2020 : 68; original emphasis). In a cross-disciplinary study as proposed in this book, there is, then, a need to be aware that it will be impossible to arrive at a general theory backed by a moral realist suite of values. The task here is to use one discursive practice to confront the assumptions of another.
Meeting the gaze of sheep in the environment and in literary works can bring into focus ideas that might challenge the established consensus in both ecocriticism and literaryanimalstudies. Sheep
uplands, is associated with distinctive landscapes and rural communities and is championed by some as maintaining a ‘cultural landscape’. Despite its political pedigree, I have taken ‘naturalistic grazing’ to stand for agricultural pastoralism throughout this book. The potential for such non-intensive sheep farming to produce landscapes that have both high nature value and a distinct cultural identity adds to its significance in literaryanimalstudies.
Sheep are social animals and, in many places, key actors in the production of cultural landscapes