The Passionate Shepherd to His Love Summary
by Christopher Marlowe

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The Passionate Shepherd to His Love Summary

"The Passionate Shepherd to His Love" is a poem by Christopher Marlowe in which a shepherd  entreats the woman he loves to come live with him. If she does so, he promises to treat her like a queen

  • In the opening stanza, the shepherd speaks to his love, asking her to come live with him.

  • In subsequent stanzas, he lists all the things he will do for her if she does as he asks. He draws on nature imagery to emphasize his lover's beauty.

  • He tells her that if she desires the gifts he's promised, then she should live with him.

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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

“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).


(Poetry for Students)

Stanza 1: Lines 1–4

In the first stanza of “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love,” Marlowe’s speaker, an unidentified shepherd, pleads with an unidentified woman that if she will come and live with him, then all pleasures will be theirs for the taking. The shepherd opens with the invitation: “Come live with me, and be my love.” He is not asking her to marry him but only to live with him. The offer is simply put, and his ease in offering it implies that the woman should just as easily agree. However, since the shepherd is forced to continue with a succession of promises, the reader can assume that the shepherd’s initial offer was not well received.

The shepherd promises the woman pleasures they will experience in all of the pastoral settings that nature can supply. Since he promises that the couple will experience these pleasures in a variety of locations, it appears his expectation is that the pleasures of the world are principally sexual. He is asking the woman to live with him, and for the Elizabethan poet, “Come live with me, and be my love” has the same connotations it would have for a twenty-first-century reader: the female is being invited to come and make love. “Valleys, groves, hills and fields, / Woods, or steepy mountains” are some of the places the shepherd suggests where the woman might yield to him, and where they might both find pleasure. The overt sexuality of this stanza is a departure from the traditional pastoral writings and romantic love poems of Marlowe’s contemporaries, which were not so bold.

Stanza 2: Lines 5–8

The second stanza suggests a time of year for the lovers’ activity, which is likely spring or summer, since they would be outdoors and the shepherd imagines it is pleasant enough to sit and watch the flocks being fed. He proposes that other shepherds will feed his flocks, since with his mistress by his side, he will now be an observer. The shepherd mentions listening to the “Melodious birds sing madrigals.” The singing of birds is often suggestive of spring, since the return of singing birds signals the advent of the new season. Because the first stanza makes clear that the shepherd wants the woman to become his lover, the shift in the second stanza to sitting upon rocks—“And we...

(The entire section is 1,824 words.)