Examining the author’s use of words in "The Passionate Shepherd to his Love," would they be described as harsh or soft? Give examples.

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jmj616 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The sounds of the English language have been divided into two categories: harsh-sounding, and soothing.

The harsh-sounding consonants are: K,T,P,B.  These sounds are sometimes referred to as plosives, because in order to produce them one must emit a small "explosion" of air from one's mouth.

The "soothing" sounds are S (or soft C), SH, L, OO, M.  Linguists have pointed out that the phrase "cellar door" is extremely soothing to the ear.

Christopher Marlowe, in "The  Passionate Shepherd to his Love," clearly favors words that have a soothing sound.  Consider the first stanza:

COME live with me, and be my love;
And we will all the pleasures prove
That hills and valleys, dales and fields,
Woods or steepy mountain yields.

According to my count,  16  words contain soothing sounds: live, with, me, my, love, we, will, all, pleasures, hills, valleys, dales, fields, woods (2), mountain, yields.  By contrast, only 5  words contain harsh sounds: come, be, pleasures, prove, steepy.

In addition, consider the words "love" and "prove."   Since the poet rhymes theses words, it is probable that he pronounced both of them with a sound that we would probably represent with "oo"--something like the sound in "wood."

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The Passionate Shepherd to His Love

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