An Analysis of " The Passionate Shepherd to His Love" by Christopher Marlowe

Updated on March 16, 2018
Glenis Rix profile image

Glenis studied for a B. A. (Hons) in English literature after taking early retirement. She was awarded her degree at the age of 67.

'Come live with me and be my love'

The Muse of Poetry (1891), Marlowe Memorial nr Marlowe Theatre, The Friars, Canterbury, UK
The Muse of Poetry (1891), Marlowe Memorial nr Marlowe Theatre, The Friars, Canterbury, UK

The Characteristics of a Pastoral Poem

As the name of the genre suggests, a pastoral poem is about pastures ie. the countryside where shepherds tend their sheep on pasture land.

A pastoral poem promotes the characteristics of the countryside over those of the town or city, presenting an idealized image of country life that may have been quite at odds with the reality of a hard life in harsh conditions. Shepherds are presented as living an idyllic and innocent life in a delightful environment. In fact, imminent starvation during harsh winter conditions or when the harvest had failed was a reality of everyday life in past centuries. Nevertheless, the vivid imagery in The Passionate Shepherd to His Love has ensured that it has remained one of the most-loved poems in the English language.

The Passionate Shepherd to His Love (1599)

Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove,
That Valleys, groves, hills, and fields,
Woods, or steepy mountain yields.

And we will sit upon the Rocks,
Seeing the Shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow Rivers to whose falls
Melodious birds sing Madrigals.

And I will make thee beds of Roses
And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroidered all with leaves of Myrtle;

A gown made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty Lambs we pull;
Fair lined slippers for the cold,
With buckles of the purest gold;

A belt of straw and Ivy buds,
With Coral clasps and Amber studs:
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me, and be my love.

The Shepherds’ Swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May-morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me, and be my love.

Les charmes de la vie champetre (Charms of the country life) 1737, by Francois Boucher (1703-1770)
Les charmes de la vie champetre (Charms of the country life) 1737, by Francois Boucher (1703-1770)

A Summary of The Passionate Shepherd to His Love

The speaker in The Passionate Shepherd to His Love is urging his beloved, who presumably dwells in an urban environment, to join him in a life in the countryside. He attempts to seduce her by presenting an enticing image of delightful and varied vistas with a background of sweet birdsong. The voice claims that, so many are the flower blooms in the countryside, he will make flower beds of roses, a thousand fragrant posies, a bonnet and petticoat bedecked for the loved one. The beloved one's gown will be made of finest wool spun from lambswool and her slippers will be wool-lined. Also, there is the promise of riches in the form of golden buckles, and adornments made from semi-precious coral and amber. And to add to these physical pleasures there will be dancing and singing on May Day. Who could resist such enticements?

What is a Madrigal?

A madrigal is a song for several unaccompanied voices, or a poem, usually about love, that is suitable for being set to music. At the time that Marlowe wrote The Passionate Shepherd to His Love the popular form of madrigal in England was a polyphonic song in the vernacular language, written for four to six voices.

Definition of Swain

Swain is an archaic literary term for a young lover or suitor. A wider, older, use is as a word to describe a country youth.

A Swing Version of Come Live With Me and Be My Love in the Film Adaptation of Shakespeare's Richard III

There is quite a long opening sequence before Come Live With Me and Be My Love in this film clip but it's worth the wait to see a modern take on this wonderful Elizabethan poem.

A Portrait, thought to be of Christopher Marlowe, in Corpus Christi College Cambridge

There is actually no evidence that the anonymous sitter is Marlowe, but the clues point in that direction. Marlowe was 21 years old in 1585, when the painting was made. He was also the only 21-year old student
There is actually no evidence that the anonymous sitter is Marlowe, but the clues point in that direction. Marlowe was 21 years old in 1585, when the painting was made. He was also the only 21-year old student | Source

A Brief Biography of Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593)

  • Christopher Marlowe's adult life is shrouded in mystery. There has been much speculation that he was recruited whilst at Cambridge to act as a government spy. Certainly, he had long unexplained absenses from university and had a life-style that exceeded the means of a student from a fairly lowly background.
  • Born in Canterbury, England to a shoemaker John and his wife Katherine
  • Attended the Kings School in Canterbury ( a house in the school is now named after him)
  • Received his Bachelor of Arts Degree from Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, in 1584
  • 1587 a Master of Arts Degree was conferred on Marlowe on schedule after initial hesitations on the grounds of his religious leanings resulted in the intervention of the Queen's Privy Council
  • Marlowe was a dramatist, poet and translator. He became the pre-eminent Elizabethan tragedian of his day. His work was a great influence on that of his contemporary playwright William Shakespeare
  • 18th May 1593 a warrant was issued for the arrest of Marlowe on the grounds of heresy after his denunciation by a colleague, John Fry
  • 30th May 1593 Marlowe was stabbed to death by Ingram Frizer at a house in Deptford

Why Analyse a Poem?

Readers who are not students of literature or themselves poets may feel that it is superfluous to analyse a poem. After all, s/he has either enjoyed or not enjoyed the experience of reading the lines. But many would argue that analysis deepens appreciation of the poem and of the level of skill that is involved in crafting a successful poem. Lines do not spring in a stream of inspired consciousness from the mind of a successful poet. A toolbox of poetic devices is available for the writer, and much drafting and re-drafting has been necessary before a poem is judged ready to face the world. Read on for a selection of some of the poetic devices used in The Passionate Shepherd to His Love -

A Brief Analysis of The Passionate Shepherd to His Love

  • The form of the poem is six four-line stanzas written in an iambic tetrameter rhythm (four feet of two syllables with the stress on the second syllable).
  • The rhyme pattern (allowing for and including consonance at the end of lines 1,2,23,24) is AABB CCDD EEFF GGHH IIJJ KKAA
  • You may feel that tone of the poem is seductive (though Walter Raleigh in his poetic response to it,The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd, chastised Marlowe for what he regarded as naivety and a juvenile tone.
  • The most striking aspect of The Passionate Shepherd to His Love is the imagery. Marlowe evokes in the readers' mind a picture of a delightful and varied landscape, filled with rivers and the song of numerous birds; of thousands of flowers that can be used in a variety of ways to adorn the beloved - a cap, embroidered petticoats, a belt.
  • Note the repetition - the insistent and positive we will, I will, and the repetition of the opening abjuration Come live with me and be my love in line 20 and at the end of the poem in line 24. Also, note there repeated consonance at the end of lines 1 and 2 in lines 23 and 24.
  • Alliteration has been employed throughout the poem - eg. live, love, we will, pleasures prove, seeing the shepherds, pretty lambs we pull, Coral clasps

References

https://en.oxforddictionaries.com Accessed 16th February 2018

Herbert, W.N., 2006. Writing Poetry. In: Anderson, L.ed.2006. Creative Writing, A Workbook with Reading., Abingdon, Oxon., Routledge Part 3.


Questions & Answers

    © 2018 GlenR

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    • Glenis Rix profile image
      Author

      GlenR 8 weeks ago from UK

      Yes, parts of England’s ‘green and pleasant land’ are still beautiful, despite the scars on the landscape created by modern life. But life for the common man back in the sixteenth-Century could not have been the idyll that Marlowe suggests. But it is nice to dream.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 2 months ago from Houston, Texas

      What an enticing poem he wrote. It definitely elicits images of the beauty of the countryside and what could make for a blissful life shared together.

    • Glenis Rix profile image
      Author

      GlenR 2 months ago from UK

      Hi Rose. Thanks for reading and responding .

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 2 months ago from Riga, Latvia

      Thank you for this in-depth and most fascinating analysis.

    • Glenis Rix profile image
      Author

      GlenR 2 months ago from UK

      Thank you, Dora

    • CaribTales profile image

      Dora Weithers 2 months ago from The Caribbean

      I do agree that "analysis deepens appreciation of the poem and of the level of skill that is involved in crafting a successful poem." Your analysis does justice to the craft.

    • RobinReenters profile image

      Robin Carretti 2 months ago from Hightstown

      The words are romantic so candle scent A bloom of words to love to compliment. I deeply enjoyed it was so refreshing I could smell the words through the poem like a rose

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