What does Marlowe want to teach us in "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love"?

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When we think of the message of this poem we need to consider how it fits in to the literature of its day. This poem above all is a powerful "invitation to love" that has an old poetic tradition. Of course, Marlowe is also writing this poem in the carpe diem, or seize the day, school of poetry and also the Pastoral poetic tradition, in that it focuses on an idealised countryside populated by handsome shepherds and beautiful women, focussing on the beauty of the countryside and downplaying the hardships of the country life.

Given this background, the poem strongly urges his listener (the object of his affections) to comply with his request to be his love and live with him in the countryside. Consider the use of the imperative "Come" to start the poem. He then goes on to create a sensitive and passionate vision of the life they will have together, including many beautiful pictures of what this life with him in the countryside will give her:

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.

Such attractive images are clearly persuasive in their pastoral beauty and cement the initial request of the speaker to "seize the day" and accept his invitation to love. Of course, critics have pointed out that this poem presents a highly idealised image of country life, ignoring the hardships and dangers of such a life, yet perhaps the mastery of Marlowe in this poem is to create such a convincing panorama that these issues are downplayed, if not forgotten, at least for a moment, as we, like the woman addressed, are swept away by the sheer beauty of what is said and promised.

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The Passionate Shepherd to His Love

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