The Passionate Shepherd to His Love

by Christopher Marlowe

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What does the Shepherd offer to his love in "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love"?

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This poem fits into a group of poems classed as "carpe diem" poems - where the audience of the poem is urged to "seize the day" and make a decision to commit to a relationship now before time and death make such a decision impossible. Based on this scenario, the words that the shepherd uses in his appeal are designed to be soft and appealing. The speaker of the poem describes some of the simple, pastoral pleasures of the countryside, but without making any reference to the hardships of life in the countryside.

For example the shepherd promises his love that he will "make thee beds of roses, / And a thousand fragrant posies" and other such items as tokens of his love. The shepherd paints an attractive and beautiful image of the life that he and his love will have together:

And we will sit upon the rocks,

Seeing the shepherds feed their flocks

By shallow rivers, to whose falls

Melodious birds sing madrigals.

The speaker concludes his appeal, having listed these delights, by saying:

If these delights thy mind may move,

Then live with me, and be my love.

Thus the speaker envisions a life of carefree pleasure and joy. He will make his love clothes from countryside materials, such as wool and flowers, and they will spend their time indulging in pastoral pursuits, such as watching shepherds dance and sing. A perfect unending summer world is created where the shepherd and his love can dwell for all eternity. Of course, critics are right in identifying the limitations of this view, and Sir Walter Raleigh´s famous poem, "The Nymph´s Reply to the Shepherd" is a more cynical response to these claims.

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

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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