The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” is a love poem that contains six quatrains of rhyming couplets in iambic tetrameter. In marked contrast to Christopher Marlowe’s plays about heroes and kings, this lyric poem purports to be the words of a shepherd speaking to his beloved. Its simple, musical language and fanciful imagery create an idyll of innocent love. The version of the poem that was printed in 1599 contained four stanzas attributed to William Shakespeare; the poem was printed again in 1600, in Englands Helicon, with only the six stanzas attributed to Marlowe.

In this poem, the shepherd persona speaks to his beloved, evoking “all the pleasures” of a peaceful springtime nature. He promises her the delights of nature and his courtly attention. The first quatrain is the invitation to “Come live with me and be my love.” Next, the speaker describes the pleasant natural setting in which he plans that they will live. Their life will be one of leisure; they will “sit upon the rocks,” watch the shepherds, and listen to the birds.

The shepherd does not refer to the cold winter, when herding sheep becomes difficult. He does not suggest that his work requires effort or that he may need to go off into the hills away from his beloved to herd his flock. Instead, he imagines their life together as a game enjoyed in an eternal spring. He promises to make clothes and furnishings for his beloved from nature’s abundant harvest: wool gowns from the sheep, beds and caps of flowers, dresses embroidered with leaves. Even the other shepherds seem to be there only to entertain the beloved, to “dance and sing/ for thy delight.” The poem ends by summing up the “delights” of the pastoral idyll and repeating the opening invitation.