The Passionate Shepherd to His Love

Come live with me and be my love, 
And we will all the pleasures prove
That valleys, groves, hills, and fields,
Woods, or steepy mountain yields.

And we will sit upon the rocks,
Seeing the shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow rivers to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.

And I will make thee beds of roses
And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroidered all with leaves of myrtle;

A gown made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty lambs we pull;
Fair lined slippers for the cold,
With buckles of the purest gold;

A belt of straw and ivy buds,
With coral clasps and amber studs:
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me, and be my love.

The shepherds’ swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me, and be my love.

Footnotes

  1. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. 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.”

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. Since this line refers back to the beginning of the poem in a slightly different form, one might expect for the poem to end after this line. However, Marlowe ventures into another stanza that ends in a very similar way to this stanza. While this could be interpreted as repetition for emphasis, this could also indicate the silent voice of the woman to whom this shepherd speaks. The speaker offers his audience a choice at the end of this stanza using the imperative that he began with. Because he continues into another stanza with new delights to offer her, the reader can assume that these pleasures did not “move” her to be his love.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. This line directly repeats the opening line of the poem. Like the first line, it contains an imperative command. He is instructing her to come live with him and be his love. However, he combines with this a conditional statement: “if” the “pleasures” that he talks about have wooed her, then she should follow his command to be his love. This slight change to the line allows the woman to choose now that she has heard his argument as to why she should live with him.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  10. The adjective “purest” is a superlative that declares something to be the superior version. In this case, this is the most refined and uniform type of gold. Superlatives such as “purest” and “finest” are used for emphasis and generally signal a speaker’s hyperbolic expression of praise or favor. Much like words used to create Eden, the speaker's use of these hyperbolic words promises unreal items to his lover.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  11. Notice that the speaker uses that word “lamb” to describe his flock rather than using the word “sheep.” Lambs are baby sheep, and their name has been adopted as an adjective to describe people with a meek, gentle or innocent disposition. It is also used to describe members of a church congregation in the Christian tradition. The use of this word adds to the edenic or idyllic tone of the poem: down to the animals that these shepherds raise, everything is innocent, gentle, and simple.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  12. Myrtles are frequently associated with the gardens of ancient Greece because the plant was sacred to both Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, and Demeter, the Greek goddess of the harvest. This allusion aligns the image the speaker constructs with traditional poetic imagination rather than with the reality of nature.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  13. A “myrtle” is an evergreen shrub with dark leaves and edible berries. It is known for its fragrant white flowers. This tree’s evergreen qualities underscore the main characteristics of the setting: it never turns brown, wilts, or dies. As an evergreen, it seems to resist seasons and aging. Like the pastoral garden of Eden, it exists outside time.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  14. The noun “kirtle” refers to a tunic or coat, generally one that reaches below the knee or lower. Notice here that the speaker constructs all of his love object’s clothing out of plants: cap of flowers, dress of myrtle leaves. The speaker uses nature to woo his lover, turning material objects into objects of nature.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  15. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  16. The noun “posies” means both a bouquet of flowers and a collection of pleasant poetry. The speaker uses both meanings of the word here to promise his lover an idyllic life. The hyperbolic “thousand” posies represent a world of fruitful abundance. The pleasant poetry represents a poetic way to create a pastoral landscape. As the world is not perfect, poets can only make it so through language and rhetorical perspective that reshapes the world.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  17. Roses are often used in poetry to symbolize romantic love and affection. By making her a bed of roses, Marlowe’s speaker means that he will make the most idyllic place for her to sleep. Marlowe coined this term, “bed of roses,” which has become an English idiom that means a situation will be easy or pleasant.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  18. The birds’ ability to sing “madrigals” together suggests an almost supernatural ability to sing complex music. This type of melodious birdsong personifies the creatures and adds to the dream-like, pastoral landscape of the setting.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  19. A “madrigal” is a type of song that is divided into different vocal parts that weave elaborate melodies by combining multiple voices. Generally this song consists of two or three stanzas with a long ritornello, an instrumental interlude or recurring theme. This type of music was popular in Italian and English songs from the 16th and 17th centuries.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  20. The syntax of these lines makes it difficult to understand exactly what the speaker is saying. The word “yields” can be interpreted as a verb, which speaks back to the concept that he and his lover are going to “prove.” In this way, the speaker is proposing to his lover that she come live with him so that they can prove all these natural items will yield, or result in, pleasure. In other words, he says they will experience all the joys that nature has to offer.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  21. The shepherd uses this catalogue of natural images in order to woo his love object. Throughout the poem, the speaker conflates nature with romantic and idyllic imagery. In this way, he allows the natural world to make his emotional appeal for him; nature and humanity are seen as one entity.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  22. The idea of nature yielding all of the pleasures of life is an example of the pastoral literary tradition, which idealized the rustic world. This tradition features artistic shepherds who enjoy a timeless spring. They live in a landscape much like the garden of Eden, where animals, nature, and time all function harmoniously together to create an idyllic setting. The pastoral was adopted by Renaissance writers from Greek texts to react to the modernization of their complex society and England’s rapid urban development.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  23. Marlowe’s poem begins with a romantic invocation in a romantic setting. From the title, we can assume that the speaker is a shepherd and the addressee of the poem is the object of his affection. Shepherds were people who guarded, tended, and herded animals, such as sheep. In Marlowe’s time, they would have been part of the poor, rural classes that were often idealized in poetry.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff