The Passionate Shepherd to His Love

by Christopher Marlowe

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What does the shepherd leave out that his love might want to hear about?

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In Christopher Marlowe's poem “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love,” the shepherd is passionate indeed, but he is not especially practical. He invites his beloved to come and live with him, focusing on all the beautiful scenes they can enjoy together and all the pleasures they will have. He speaks of beds of roses and caps of flowers and gowns of wool. He appeals to his beloved with promises of gold buckles and coral clasps, and he entices with images of song and dance.

This all sounds very good, but the passionate shepherd leaves out some important details that his beloved might like to know. He does not, for instance, tell her how they are to make their living out there in the meadows. Certainly he is a shepherd, but that doesn't necessarily put food on the table. What's more, he doesn't talk about a table or other furniture or a house. He makes no mention of where they will live or how they will protect themselves from the elements.

The passionate shepherd also fails to bring up the subject of marriage and commitment. He wants his beloved to live with him, but he doesn't propose to her. She cannot be sure that he means to be faithful to her for life. She might wonder what would happen if another lady catches his eye. He might start making pretty promises to her instead. Finally, the passionate shepherd does not even say, “I love you,” and this makes us wonder if he is in love or if his emotions tend more toward lust.

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