Christopher Marlowe wrote and published The Passionate Shepherd to His Love in 1599. The Elizabethan political context is referenced in The Passionate Shepherd. The poem was composed in the traditional iambic tetrameter. It is a poetic form, a pastoral lyric, that is used to create an imagery picture of a rural way of life within the context of personal emotion.
The poem begins with a formal invitation. The shepherd extends an invitation to his love to live with him. The unnamed shepherd tells the unnamed woman all the pleasures if he agrees to live with him, saying, “Come live with me” (Bullen 283, line 1). The overt reference to enjoyment lends this poem a sexual undertone. The reader is inclined to assume that invitation was not well articulated because the shepherd continues with his promises. He promises the woman to experience pleasure in different locations which imply that the happiness for the couple is primarily sexual. The shepherd is only requesting the woman to live with him. Steepy mountains, hills, groves, and valleys are some of the locations he thinks the woman may submit to him. The imagery of the bounteous world is a regular theme in the pastoral poem. The overt sexual expression of the first stanza deviates from romanticist love poem and traditional pastoral composition by Marlowe’s contemporaries.
The second stanza insinuates that the lovers will enjoy themselves not at a banquet or in a theatre, but they will sit upon the rocks (Bullen 283). It suggests a particular period of the year for the couple’s activity which is probably summer or spring. But the mention of the birds singing implies the spring period. He indicates that the other shepherds will take up the responsibility of feeding his flock because he will be having good moments with his mistress. The activities in the second stanza will occur after the lovers have made love because the first stanza is apparently clear that the shepherd wants the woman as his lover. If the second stanza can be analyzed by itself, it reflects the traditional pastoral objective of a shepherd looking after his flock in a quiet place where one can only hear birds singing. The shepherd brings up “madrigals” in the last line of stanza two which symbolizes romantic experience that fills out the image of light romance and gaiety the woman will relish if she accedes to shepherd request (Bullen 283).
The shepherd indicates one of the promises he intends to uphold in the third stanza. He promises her “bed of roses” and “a thousand fragrant posies” (Bullen 284, line 9). In this sense, he is promising things that are not possible but resembles promises of an eager lover who exaggerate to entice a person. The shepherd mentions that he will bury the woman in posies. This develops an awkward image rather than a romantic picture. The myrtle flower that the shepherd promises was regarded as an allegory of love and a unique flower for the goddess Venus. He also promises a kirtle which was the outmost dress that Elizabethan woman would put on.
The shepherd goes on or proceeds with his promises in the fourth stanza. The “finest wool” would be used to make her a “gown” (Bullen 284, line 13). Instead of using the common procedure of shearing the sheep, the shepherd would opt to pull the wool from the lamb. Pulling the wool from the “pretty lamb” creates a romantic and a more graceful activity opposed to the difficult labor of sheering (Bullen 284, line 14). He promises the woman the “fair lined’ slippers, and since the woman deserves all the riches the shepherd can afford, the buckles of the slippers would be made of “purest gold” (Bullen 284, line 16).
The image of shepherd’s adorned woman starts to develop in the fifth stanza. He adds “ivy-buds” and straw belt to a dress that is beautified with “amber studs,” and “coral claps” (Bullen 284, line 17-18). The woman is plunged in flowers and fully dressed from head to foot. If the woman takes or accepts what shepherd assures literally, she would appear like a huge flowered bush that shines with amber, coral, and gold. He uses the last two sentences to persuade the woman to put his offer into consideration. He asks her to remember all the pleasures he has promised her. He hopes that these promises will convince her to accede to his desires. In the last line of the fifth stanza, he repeats the first line of the poem to indicate how simple and easy the woman’s choice would be to agree with shepherd wishes.
The shepherd uses the last stanza to convince the woman and seal the deal. The perfect image that the shepherd has developed is more enhanced by visualizing swains singing and dancing every morning to entertain his lover (Bullen 284). He set the time during spring, in May, which is the traditional nature mating time. The last stance of the poem is a repetition of the first stanza of the poem, emphasizing that the woman is faced with a simple choice. The decision is as simple as monosyllabic phrases of shepherd “live with me and be my love” (Bullen 284, line 1).
If the woman agrees to live with him, every moment will be characterized by dance, song, and laughter. All images created in this romantic poem are for a hopeful lover. The shepherd hopes to appeal to woman’s mind rather than her heart. He has apparently explicated an imaginary world that he believes will convince the woman to live with him through the application of reason, if not via her heart.
Abcarian, Richard, Marvin Klotz and Samuel Cohen. Literature : the human experience. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2016.
Bullen, Arthur Henry. The Works of Christopher Marlowe: Hero and Leander. Ovid’s elegies. Epigrams by J.D. The 1st book of Lucan. The passionate shepherd to his love. Fragment. Dialogue in verse. Appendices. Index to the notes. London: J.C. Nimmo, 1885.