What metaphors are used in "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love" by Christopher Marlowe?

One extended metaphor used in "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love" by Christopher Marlowe is the shepherd himself, who comes to represent the traditionally recognized male role in relationships.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

For all the poetic devices used in "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love," metaphor is one of the least utilized. The shepherd's descriptions of the many pleasures of living simply in the natural world are literal descriptions of concrete objects, after all. However, some features of the poem...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

For all the poetic devices used in "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love," metaphor is one of the least utilized. The shepherd's descriptions of the many pleasures of living simply in the natural world are literal descriptions of concrete objects, after all. However, some features of the poem could be viewed in a metaphorical light, such as the "beds of Roses" the shepherd promises to make for his beloved.

While many of the objects the shepherd describes are literal objects one could see being given to a person, such as gold-buckled shoes with warm lining or a gown made from sheep's wool, a bed of roses is not likely to be a literal gift. Roses are the traditional symbol for love, particularly romantic love, and the bed is a piece of furniture with sexual connotations since that is where the act of love is generally performed. So the beds of roses could, therefore, be a sexual metaphor, the promise of erotic fulfillment in a picturesque setting.

On the whole, the poem could be seen as an extended metaphor for living simply. The shepherd may not intend to actually create all he promises. He might be simply making the argument that a life outside of the conveniences of the city will still provide all essentials for the two of them, and that love will take care of the rest.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The shepherd who narrates this poem could be considered an extended metaphor. Consider a shepherd's traditional role. He is charged with protecting his sheep and is deeply rooted to his natural environment as he cares for his sheep, protecting them from danger. He also ultimately uses the sheep as a source of nourishment and/or personal gain through shearing their wool. Sheep aren't known as being the smartest animals, often blindly following a leader even to their own deaths. This is why they need a shepherd to guide them.

The shepherd wants to seduce his "love" by convincing her to follow him to enjoy all of the innocent pleasures found in nature. Yet ultimately, he desires to make his "love" a bed covered in roses and thousands of posies. The sexual undertones of his desires stand in contrast to the superficially innocent setting he describes to the woman whom he wants to be his lover.

Therefore, the shepherd is a metaphorical representation of the traditionally recognized male role in relationships, particularly in this era. He guides his "sheep" by attempting to sway her through appeals to her appreciation of innocence and beauty. He places himself in a position of protection and leadership, hoping to "delight" her mind in order to further his own desires with her body.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In this poem, the titular "passionate shepherd" is describing to his love how he will deck her in glorious array made only from nature. The shepherd is not a wealthy man, and, as such, the riches he offers to his love are drawn from the beauty of the nature which surrounds him.

The "melodious birds" in his natural world "sing Madrigals" to serenade the "falls"—but, as a madrigal is a very complex polyphonic type of choral music, we can understand that this is a metaphor indicating that the birds sing beautifully. They are not really singing madrigals, although the image of them serenading the falls is an example of personification. Likewise, the "kirtle" he offers will not really be "embroidered" with "leaves of myrtle"—the embroidery is metaphorical; the suggestion is that myrtle leaves will form some kind of decoration for the kirtle.

This poem is heavily laden with imagery, but I'm not sure whether there are many more outright metaphors in it. When the shepherd says that he will make his love a "belt of straw and Ivy buds," he may be making the belt out of unconventional materials, but will it still be a real, rather than a metaphorical, belt? Arguably, yes, as there is no requirement that a belt be made of leather or cloth. It is perfectly possible to make a belt out of these materials which would span the lover's waist, just as a crown of thorns is still a crown, albeit not one made of gold. It isn't metaphorical, like saying that someone is "crowned in glory." The same could also be argued of "beds of Roses." In this instance, the speaker is saying he will make a bed for his love out of roses; it will not literally be a bed as we might understand it, with mattress and pillows, but will serve the same function. So, isn't it really, rather than metaphorically, a bed? In large part, it seems that the shepherd's attempts to lure his love are not based in offering metaphorical delights, but in explaining how comfort can be provided to her through the bounty of nature; not, perhaps, in the ways she has been used to, but in ways which will serve just as well.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Christopher Marlowe's "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love" is full of figurative language, especially the metaphor. In contrast to a simile, which uses "like" or "as" to compare two different things, the metaphor uses an implicit (implied but not explicitly stated) analogy to equate two different things. Marlowe's "Shepherd" abounds with examples of metaphor. For example, at the end of the second stanza, Marlowe's shepherd describes a scene in which "Melodious birds sing Madrigals" (8). The birds aren't actually singing madrigals (a style of song sung by humans); rather, Marlowe's using a metaphor to compare the musical nature of the birds' songs to a madrigal. By doing so, he idealizes the birds' singing and paints a vivid image of natural beauty for his audience. Likewise, in the next line, the shepherd says, "I will make thee beds of Roses" (9), and here he's using a metaphor to idealize the comfort with which he and his love will be sleeping in his idyllic, pastoral paradise. There are other examples of metaphor in the poem, and they're pretty easy to spot once you get the hang of it, so I'd encourage you to search Marlowe's verse for more examples. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team