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The Passionate Shepherd to His Love -- Christopher Marlowe

This week's theme: obviously, love poetry:
(Poem #997) The Passionate Shepherd to His Love
 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 th 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,
-- Christopher Marlowe
The first pastoral verse in English was written during the reign of Queen
Elizabeth the First. Edmund Spenser, Christopher Marlowe and their
contemporaries at court discarded the elaborate framework of convention that
governed the masques and morality plays of medieval times to create a new
genre that was light-hearted, direct and unpretentious. "The Passionate
Shepherd" is an excellent example of the type: it's not a poem that demands
a great deal of analysis or explication, yet that very simplicity is its
strength, and the source of its lasting popularity.


[Minstrels Links]

Marlowe is capable of both beauty and bombast, often in quick succession. I
have to confess that I prefer the energy of his plays to the often vapid
sentiments of his poetry (but then, I'm not a big fan of pastoral verse in
the first place; give me the metaphysicals any day :)). By way of contrast
to today's poem, check out:
        Poem #75, The face that launch'd a thousand ships
        Poem #506, Lament for Zenocrate
both of which are actually verse extracts from his plays (Faustus and
Tamerlane, respectively).

[Britannica on the Pastoral]

Pastoral literature: a class of literature that presents the society of
shepherds as free from the complexity and corruption of city life. Many of
the idylls written in its name are far remote from the realities of any
life, rustic or urban. Among the writers who have used the pastoral
convention with striking success and vitality are the classical poets
Theocritus and Virgil and the English poets Edmund Spenser, Robert Herrick,
John Milton, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Matthew Arnold.

The pastoral convention sometimes uses the device of "singing matches"
between two or more shepherds, and it often presents the poet and his
friends in the (usually thin) disguises of shepherds and shepherdesses.
Themes include, notably, love and death. Both tradition and themes were
largely established by Theocritus, whose Bucolics are the first examples of
pastoral poetry. The tradition was passed on, through Bion, Moschus, and
Longus, from Greece to Rome, where Virgil (who transferred the setting from
Sicily to Arcadia, in the Greek Peloponnese, now the symbol of a pastoral
paradise) used the device of alluding to contemporary problems--agrarian,
political, and personal--in the rustic society he portrayed. His Eclogues
exerted a powerful effect on poets of the Renaissance, including Dante,
Petrarch, and Giovanni Boccaccio in Italy; Pierre de Ronsard in France; and
Garcilaso de la Vega in Spain. These were further influenced by medieval
Christian commentators on Virgil and by the pastoral scenes of the Old and
New Testaments (Cain and Abel, David, the Bethlehem shepherds, and the
figure of Christ the good shepherd). During the 16th and 17th centuries,
too, pastoral romance novels (by Jacopo Sannazzaro, Jorge de Montemayor,
Miguel de Cervantes, and Honoré d'Urfé) appeared, as did in the 15th and
16th centuries the pastoral drama (by Torquato Tasso and Battista Guarini).

In English poetry there had been some examples of pastoral literature in the
earlier 16th century, but the appearance in 1579 of Edmund Spenser's
Shepheardes Calender, which imitated not only classical models but also the
Renaissance poets of France and Italy, brought about a vogue for the
pastoral. Sir Philip Sidney, Robert Greene, Thomas Nash, Christopher
Marlowe, Michael Drayton, Thomas Dekker, John Donne, Sir Walter Raleigh,
Thomas Heywood, Thomas Campion, William Browne, William Drummond, and
Phineas Fletcher all wrote pastoral poetry. (This vogue was subjected to
some satirical comment in William Shakespeare's As You Like It--itself a
pastoral play.) The first English novels, by Robert Greene and Thomas Lodge,
were written in the pastoral mode. Apart from Shakespeare, playwrights who
attempted pastoral drama included John Lyly, George Peele, John Fletcher,
Ben Jonson, John Day, and James Shirley.

The climax of this phase of the pastoral tradition was reached in the unique
blend of freshness and learned imitation achieved by the poetry of Herrick
and of Andrew Marvell. Later 17th-century work, apart from that of Milton,
was more pedantic. The 18th-century revival of the pastoral mode is chiefly
remarkable for its place in a larger quarrel between those Neoclassical
critics who preferred "ancient" poetry and those others who supported the
"modern." This dispute raged in France, where the "ancient" sympathy was
represented in the pastoral convention by René Rapin, whose shepherds were
figures of uncomplicated virtue in a simple scene. The "modern" pastoral,
deriving from Bernard de Fontenelle, dwelled on the innocence of the
contemporary rustic (though not on his miseries). In England the controversy
was reflected in a quarrel between Alexander Pope and Ambrose Philips,
though the liveliest pastorals of the period were by John Gay, whose mode
was burlesque (and whose Beggar's Opera is ironically subtitled "A Newgate
Pastoral"--Newgate being one of London's prisons).

A growing reaction against the artificialities of the genre, combined with
new attitudes to the natural man and the natural scene, resulted in a
sometimes bitter injection of reality into the rustic scenes of such poets
and novelists as Robert Burns, George Crabbe, William Wordsworth, John
Clare, George Eliot, Thomas Hardy, George Sand, Émile Zola, B.M. Bjørnson,
and Knut Hamsun. Only the pastoral elegy survived, through Shelley and
Matthew Arnold.

In the time since Wordsworth, poets have sometimes revived the pastoral
mode, though usually for some special purpose of their own--often ironic, as
in the eclogues of Louis MacNeice, or obscure, as when W.H. Auden called his
long poem The Age of Anxiety "a baroque eclogue."

        -- EB

35 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

David Wright said...

I just presume that you're going to run Sir Walter Raleigh's response poem to this tomorrow, and John Donne's further response poem: 'The Bait' the next day, yes?

mamaliga said...


By happy coincidence, I was just recently wondering what today's poetic
equivalant of the shepardess and shephard might be? The lowly office
clerk? The dreamy-eyed cashier at the 7-11? A lusty gas station attendent?
A student?

Any ideas?



djdmoz said...


My favorite literary critic, a professor named Somebody-or-Other,
cast a few lines about this into the Net somewhere. He pointed out
that just as shepherds and shepherdesses have always written
songs about their wanting to be kings and queens, kings, queens
and their hangers-on have always written about their longing to be

The courtiers these days are the CEOs and their hangers-on. They
certainly don't dream about the simple life they'd like to live as gas-
station attendants or cashiers. Who wants to be a cashier? They
may dream about being bohemian artists living on bread and
cheese with naked models, or being a nineteenth-century
Polynesian living on fermented coconut milk with a teenager in a
grass skirt, or something of the sort.

Good luck.

ellinor brenning said...

I am in love with a boy called Christopher, that's why I like this poem


MIddle of 20th Century, Known as a poet of Leftist leaning, Cecil Day-Lewis in the aftermath of industrial revolution, quite rightly produced the following parody depicting his feelings as to life and love .. to be practical to the girl .. Not to expect all the Comfort, but to be with him in the struggle for daily bread ...

Come, live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
Of peace and plenty, bed and board,
That chance employment may afford.

I handle dainties on the docks
And thou shalt read of summer frocks:
At evening by the sour canals
We hope to hear some madrigals.

Care on thy maiden brow shall put
A wreath of wrinkles, and thy foot
Be shod with pain: not silken dress
But toil shall tire thy loveliness.

Hunger shall make thy modest zone
And cheat fond death of all but bone -
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me and be my love.
------ Cecil Day-Lewis

Bringing out the current day troubles and tribulations when "Making a living" has become a difficult exercise ... Compared to the Lovely "Be my Love" as offered by one of the Greatest poets Christopher Marlowe (16th Century) ...

It is apparant that the heart of every poet is influenced by the environment he faces on his Day ... He is no Exception... For this specific parody probably he was denied a plaque in "Poet's Corner".

Great effort by Cecil to carve out a parody after THREE Centuries... This does not take away the importance of Flowery and gorgeous thoughts and the beauty of Christopher Marlowe's Work...

Mouli NR

*** Sarveh Janaah ssukhinO bhavantu ***

Ellinor Brenning said...

Could you please take away the post I wrote on The shepherd to his love, it
was a long otme ago and I dont like the fact that you can see it when you
google my name...It would really really appreciate it.

ellinor brenning said...

ignore that. I like it because it's good...?

Poorvi Sultania said...

we r recreating the poem in our english language just thought maybe would get sone ideas from here..


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Imperfectly beheld.
The lady dare not lift her veil
For fear it be dispelled.

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