Christopher Marlowe wrote The Passionate Shepherd to His Love in traditional iambic tetrameter and published it in 1599. The Elizabethan political context is referenced in The Passionate Shepherd. The poem is written in the pastoral style. The pastoral tradition poems are characterized by romantic passion, a state of innocence, and contentment. The poem depicts rural country people in an idealized natural environment as they imagine their quiet and beautiful future free of the problems and worries of a crowded urban existence. Traditionally, shepherding is not a profitable work, and according to history, shepherds used to work hard throughout their lives, but they were relatively poor. That being said, Marlowe intended to counter that by developing an image of natural wealth and beauty of a woman he loves.
The fanciful imagery and musical language of the poem develop an idyll love. The shepherd persona communicates to his beloved woman, suggesting the pleasures of a quiet spring period nature. The shepherd promises her courtly attention and delights of nature. The poem considers all the senses such as sound, sight, touch, and smell. In this case, the poem starts with an invitation. The shepherd invites his love to come and live with him “come live with me” (Bullen 283, line 1). The shepherd is only requesting the woman to live with him. The use steep mountains, hills, groves, and valleys are metaphorical. He uses these images to indicate that any problematic issue in their lives will come to an end. The imagery of the bounteous world is a regular theme in the pastoral poem.
The second stanza reflects the whole world of a shepherd, where he spends all the time “will sit upon the rocks” (Bullen 283). It suggests a particular period of the year for the couple’s activity. 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. 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 (Bullen 283). 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. 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 first and the second stanza indicate what nature can offer regarding pleasures.
The next three stanzas outline what a shepherd can offer to his lover while the last two stanzas develop a picture of a luxurious life that is beyond the normal life of a shepherd. The “finest wool” would be used to make her a “gown” (Bullen 284, line 13). He promises the woman the “fair lined’ slippers made of “purest gold” (Bullen 284, line 16). He adds “ivy-buds” and straw belt to a dress that is beautified with “amber studs,” and “coral claps” (Bullen 284, line 17-18). 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 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 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. 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). 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.
These promises develop a nature that is simple, pure, blooming, and kind to humble and innocent creatures. All these promises of not demanding fancy material wealth seem to be very solemn, but the shepherd is not coherent throughout the poem. Amongst these simple promises, he still suggests lavish promises of ivory tables, sippers with gold buckles, and silver serving plates. In this sense, precious materials are somewhat beyond the capability of a normal shepherd’s riches. Thus, all these promises are meant to create a picture of natural beauty and wealth. Furthermore, the shepherd offers his world, which in this case is the whole world to his love.
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.