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‘The Passionate Shepherd to His Love’: Analysis of a Pastoral Poem by Christopher Marlowe

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

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.

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?

A Brief Analysis of ‘The Passionate Shepherd to his Love’

  • The form of the poem is six four-line stanzas of rhyming couplets 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

A Swing Version of ‘Come Live With me and be my Love’ in the Film Adaptation of Shakespeare's Richard III

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.

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

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.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: What is the theme of "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love" by Christopher Marlowe?

Answer: The theme of The Passionate Shepherd to his Love is a perceived idyllic life in the countryside.

Question: What is the purpose of the poem "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love" by Christopher Marlowe?

Answer: The apparent purpose of the poem ‘The Passionate Shepherd to His Love’ is seduction. At least that is the purpose of the voice in the poem, who is entreating the person addressed to become his lover, promising all manner of wonderful things. However, a further purpose of the poem is to present an idealized view of rural life

Question: how is the courtship expressed in the poem "Courtship in The Passionate Shepherd to His Love" by Christopher Marlowe?

Answer: The poem is about seduction/enticement. These are the strategies that the voice in the poem is employing to lure his beloved to an erotic lifestyle in the countryside. He creates an idyllic image of country life and makes unrealistic but enticing promises about how he will use the bounty of nature to create for her wonderful items of clothing.

Question: How should an essay about the poem "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love" begin?

Answer: This question is really related to a general convention about how to structure an essay. A structured essay has a brief introductory paragraph that tells the reader what he can expect to be reading about in the main body of the work. This is followed by the main body of the essay and then a short conclusion.

In other words

1. Briefly tell the reader what you intend to write about

2. Write about your main points, following each one with an example that illustrates the point

3. Conclude you have fulfilled the intention of the essay

With regard to an essay about this poem, you must first familiarise yourself with the poem. You are then in a position to decide which specific aspects of it you will write about.

The introduction that you write, in no more than a few sentences, might include the name of the poem and the poet, and the date it was written, followed by a brief summary of the aspects of the poem you will address in the main body of the essay.

Give examples in your essay with an analysis of how these have contributed to the impression that the poem has made upon you.

Question: Who is speaking and who is spoken to in the poem "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love" by Christopher Marlowe?

Answer: We are not told who the voice in the poem belongs to, neither do we know who the voice is speaking to. However, the promised garments suggest that the person addressed is a female. Homosexuality was a serious crime at the time when the poem was written, so on that basis, we can assume that the voice is male.

Question: From which anthology is the poem "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love" by Christopher Marlowe taken?

Answer: Try the Penguin Classics Edition, The Complete Poems and Translations, Christopher Marlowe:

ISBN 978 0-14-310495-7.

Question: What is the poem 'Come Live With Me And Be My Love' about?

Answer: Come Live With Me And Be My Love is a poem in the pastoral tradition, a mode of writing which idealizes country life and invariably includes references to shepherds.

The prominent literary theorist Terry Gifford defines three different categories of pastoral literature, one of which is that of contrasting urban life with country life. Come Live With Me and Be My Love seems to fit into this category. The contrast is implicit as opposed to explicit. It lies in naming material goods that would have been found in wealthy 17th century homes. To seduce his love, the speaker idealizes these urban material pleasures in pastoral terms, rather than promoting simple pastoral pleasures. For example, consider: "lined slippers," "purest gold," "silver dishes," and "ivory table" (lines 13, 15, 16, 21, 23).

Question: What is the ‘coral clasp’ mentioned in ‘The Passionate Shepherd To His Love’?

Answer: Coral is a shade of orange, first recorded in the English language in 1513. A clasp, in the context of the poem, is a means of securing a belt on the waist - a buckle, for example.

Question: What do the materials that are mentioned by the speaker in the "Passionate Shepherd to His Love" have in common?

Answer: The Passionate Shepherd to His Love is a pastoral poem. Reflecting the genre, most of the materials mentioned are plants - roses, flowers, myrtle, straw ivy, wool. All are promised as materials to make garments for the person addressed by the speaker.

The exceptions, which are not plants, are gold, coral and amber - but all of these are also materials that the speaker promises will be materials to make items of clothing to adorn his beloved.

© 2018 Glen Rix

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