“The Passionate Shepherd to His Love,” comprising six stanzas of four lines each, is an intellectual’s vision of pastoral life, in a tradition going back to the Roman poets Theocritus and Vergil. Its undoubted emotional power hinges on its yearning evocation of an idyll that never was and can never be. The wistful invitation of the poet to his love to live with him in this impossibly perfect place evokes the pathos of unfulfilled desire and longing.
The work is rich with images chosen to delight the senses. There is the visual feast of the pastoral landscape and of the belt with coral clasps and amber studs, the soft touch of the gown made from wool pulled from lambs, the sounds of the birds singing melodious madrigals and of the shepherds’ songs, the smell of the beds of roses and of the thousand fragrant posies.
The regular rhyme scheme, of two pairs of rhyming couplets per stanza, the smooth iambic rhythm, and the use of alliteration add to the songlike quality of the poem, and indeed, an adapted version of one of its stanzas appears as a song in Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor (pr. 1597, revised, c. 1600-1601, pb. 1602).