Themes in The Passionate Shepherd to His Love

Themes Examples in The Passionate Shepherd to His Love:

The Passionate Shepherd to His Love 8

"pleasures prove..."   (The Passionate Shepherd to His Love)

The first stanza of the poem sets up the theme of unreality: this is not a realistic vision of the world but rather an idealized and romanticized portrayal of the life this shepherd promises to his love. This unrealistic, romantic landscape creates an idyllic tone that pervades all of the metaphors in the poem.

"Then live with me, and be my love...."   (The Passionate Shepherd to His Love)

The speaker returns again to his entreaty to “live with me, and be my love.” Once again, the speaker uses a conditional if-then statement to ask the woman if she will come with him. He bases this appeal on the “delights” he just described rather than the “pleasures” he promised her for the majority of the poem. However, the woman is not given a voice in this poem and the speaker does not continue on to tell us her answer. Rather, the audience is left in suspense about whether or not the woman will accept his proposal. The nature of her reply is taken up by Sir Walter Raleigh in his poem “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd.”

"delights..."   (The Passionate Shepherd to His Love)

The “delights” the speaker refers to are the swains dancing and singing. These delights differ from the “pleasures” he used previously to convince the love object to become his love. While the “pleasures” were material items drawn from nature, these “delights” are human actions performed for her entertainment. Because the speaker changes his proposal for what the pair should do, one can read this stanza as extending his appeal because the woman is not yet convinced that she wants to live with him.

"May morning..."   (The Passionate Shepherd to His Love)

Notice that these singers delight in each “May morning” as if every morning of the year is May. This fixed time enhances the pastoral setting. This is a world where time does not progress, and death, winter, and decay are not acknowledged or real. The speaker’s description of the place promises his lover an edenic paradise.

"swains..."   (The Passionate Shepherd to His Love)

The noun “swain” refers to several positions or vocations usually performed by men. In the pastoral tradition, “swain” came to mean a gallant country lover and wooer. Here, the speaker calls the swains the “shepherds’” which means the swains belong to them. They are farm laborers for the shepherds. However, in pastoral style, the swains are depicted as dancing and singing rather than working. This imagery adds to the idyllic unreal landscape that the speaker paints for his lover.

"studs..."   (The Passionate Shepherd to His Love)

Studs are ornamentation that is imprinted into cloth or leather. The rare and extravagant nature of the clothes that the speaker describes touches on the underlying paradox of the pastoral tradition. The pastoral seeks to idolize a simple, rustic lifestyle. However, it does so through flowery poetic terms and the artistic tastes of the urban society. Pastoral literature and poems therefore often juxtapose the simplicity of the country with the complexity of the city.

"coral clasps..."   (The Passionate Shepherd to His Love)

Notice that all of the material items that the speaker promises his lover are defined by nature; their value comes from the value of the natural thing they are composed of. This demonstrates the speaker’s idolization of nature: all value comes from nature.

"thousand..."   (The Passionate Shepherd to His Love)

When considered literally, a “bed of roses” and a “thousand” bouquets of flowers seem hyperbolic and unrealistic. Hyperbole is not used to paint an accurate picture of reality; rather it casts reality into beautiful terms. Much like pastoral poetry is able to reimagine an impoverished, rural landscape as a type of artistic Eden, the speaker is able to paint their future life together as simple and happy. This reveals the theme of poetry as a way to recast the world in ideal terms and elevate it out of reality.