The Passionate Shepherd to His Love: Summary, Theme & Analysis

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  • 0:01 Overview
  • 1:40 Themes & Analysis
  • 3:04 Historical Context
  • 4:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Benjamin Gaines

Benjamin has his master's degree in literature and has taught writing in and out of academia.

'The Passionate Shepherd to His Love' is a pastoral love poem written by Christopher Marlowe. It presents the pleas of a love-struck shepherd calling to his beloved to spend her life with him. Read more about this poem and the hidden truths behind its flowery promises.

Overview of the Poem

'The Passionate Shepherd to His Love' is an example of pastoral poetry written by Christopher Marlowe. Pastoral poetry plays off the very common romanticizing of rustic or country living with a 'back to nature' sentiment. While we may think of only our modern world as having this very urban sentiment, the truth is that people have been fantasizing about getting back to nature for centuries.

Portrait of Christopher Marlowe

This 16th Century poem centers around a shepherd painting an idyllic picture of what country life will be like to the woman he loves. The very first line begins 'Come live with me, and be my love.' What follows is a series of descriptions and promises of what this wonderful life as a shepherd's wife will be like.

The first and second stanzas promise the target of the poem a life full of the pleasures that nature can bring, from the fields to the mountains. This includes a life of leisure, watching the shepherds tend their flocks and listening to birds sing from hilltops.

The next three stanzas are full of material offers. The poet describes a bed of roses anointed with fragrant posies and promises to outfit his love with fine clothes drawn from nature. Her gown will be 'of the finest wool' and adorned with leaves. Her shoes will have golden buckles, and even her belt will be intricately decorated.

The final two stanzas paint a picture of a life of luxury. They will eat the finest food from silver plates set on ivory tables. Each morning young shepherds will sing for their delight. Finally, the speaker ends by repeating his initial call to her, saying 'If these delights thy mind may move / Then live with me, and be my love.'

Themes and Analysis

Shepherding isn't a traditionally profitable job. Historically, shepherds tended to be fairly poor and work their entire lives. With this reality in mind, the speaker of this poem attempts to counter that by creating a picture of natural wealth and beauty.

Example of Pastoralism in Art

The dress he promises her will be 'from our pretty lambs.' Her belt will be 'of straw and ivy buds,' but with clasps of coral and amber. This plays into the theme of pastoral romanticism. A bed of roses and posies in place of fine silks and perfumes suggests a richer, more rewarding, and simple life. Instead of buying her a hat, he'll make her one from flowers.

All this talk of not needing fancy material wealth sounds very earnest, but the speaker isn't consistent throughout the poem. Amidst these simple charms, he still makes grandiose promises of gold buckles for her shoes, silver serving plates, and ivory tables. Precious metals are a bit beyond the normal shepherd's budget, suggesting that even the speaker may not entirely believe his appeal to simpler beauty.

Another recurring theme in this poem is the complete absence of work. He promises that 'we will sit upon the rocks / and watch the shepherds feed their flocks.' Nowhere, though, does he mention that they will have to feed and tend their own flocks. Likewise, he talks about how food will be 'prepared each day for thee and me,' but never mentions that it will be her doing the preparation.

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