This is what’s known as a pastoral poem otherwise known as The Passionate Shepherd. A shepherd (or is he?) tempts his lady friend to come and share the beauty of his rural life. Notice everything sounds wonderfully peaceful, calm and naturally magnificent and suspend for a moment your own inclination for the comforts of TV, the internet and a soft bed.
Come live with me, and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
That valleys, groves, hills and fields,
Woods, or steepy mountains 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 our finest wool,
Which from our pretty lambs we pull,
Fair linéd 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 shepherd 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.’
Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593)
Click through the tabs below to explore my analysis of different aspects of the poem.
A short, but pretty sweet life for this chap. Born in the same year as Shakespeare they were contemporaries in the theatrical world and influenced each other greatly and he was extremely highly regarded by his contemporaries with Shakespeare, Jonson, Peele, Drayton and Nashe all writing warmly or in tribute to him after his death at 29 years old. He was stabbed together, but the reasons for his murder are a bit mysterious and seem to be linked to his attitude towards the Catholic Church (potentially related to spying activities or his writing).
However, there is very little we actually know about the man himself and virtually nothing to help in our analysis of this poem. As I’ve just been scouring the internet I will share some interesting gossip about him: many believe he worked as a government spy for a short while; there are suggestions he was homosexual (a big issue back in the sixteenth century); he may have even enjoyed the odd fight – thus I picture him as a Robert Downey Jnr Sherlock Holmes character!
This poem was published in 1599, 6 years after his death, probably written not too long before his murder, and is considered one of the earliest examples of pastoral poetry. This brand of poetry is concerned with the idealising of rural life and the beauty of the countryside and is often considered to be a naive way of thinking about the world, particularly in this case when it is so clearly linked to attitude towards love.
The two main ones here are romantic love with all its overblown connotations and the beauty of nature. They work in unison as the natural image is used to represent what the poetic voice perceives in his feelings for this girl.
Right, so this poem says the same thing in lots of different ways: come and live with me in the country and we’ll have a lovely time.
In the opening stanza our poetic voice is tempting his love to abandon her life and come and live with him amongst the beauty of the countryside. He doesn’t for a single second stop to think about the impracticalities of living rurally: lack of infrastructure, abandoning friends and family, finding suitable accommodation!
We continue to an idealistic piece of imagery with the lovers sat atop a rock gazing at a shepherd and his flock and being lulled by the tranquil river and singing birds above. (Again, no mention of the mud that will cake their shoes or the stench of cow pats all around).
The third stanza sees our speaker offering his lover great gifts that he will craft out of nature: a bed of roses, a cap and a kirtle (a coat). Notice the flowery language that makes these gifts seem like truly extraordinary things, but remember this whole image of nature is entirely idealised and consider for yourself how desirable a bed of roses actually is (nice scent, but what about the thorns?).
More gifts in stanza four, but this time we have a crucial suggestion that the speaker is not a shepherd as he is often assumed to be (alternative title of the poem). A wool dress (‘gown’) are clearly made from rural materials, but how on earth is a shepherd going to provide gold buckled slippers? As an English country boy, I can confirm that there are very few gold mines about and certainly not just standing there waiting for shepherds to come and plunder them. This line surely suggests that the speaker is a man of wealth and is merely using this romantic image of the countryside to woo his love.
The luxurious nature of the gifts continues in the following stanza as his lover is now promised ‘amber studs’ alongside her straw belt. However we want to look at it – rich man playing the shepherd or shepherd playing the lord – it is clear that he wants to express his love through a shower of exquisite gifts from the finest materials available to him. We should not take these promises as being literal, but representing the splendour, peace and tranquillity of their life together if she should choose to requite his affection. The second half of this fifth stanza shows that their relationship is still to be agreed as he is asking if these ‘pleasures may thee move’ or whether this is enough for her to love him and to abandon her life for rural bliss.
In the final stanza, there is again a suggestion that our speaker is more than a shepherd as he is able to command other shepherds to perform dances and jigs for his pleasure. Again the last two line return to asking the love whether this enough for her to be wooed.
Lots to say here, but most of the language is doing the same thing.
This poem is meant to present a really pleasant prospect of rural life (idealising it as we’ve mentioned before) and a big part of that is in the way that the poem reads. The gentle alliteration in the opening line of the ‘l’ and ‘m’ sounds (‘live’ and ‘love’; ‘me’ and ‘my’) mean that although the poem is delivered as an imperative/command it is meant to be presenting an idyllic life for the speaker’s love to choose to be a part of or not. You’ll notice that this alliteration permeates the whole poem – ‘seeing the shepherds’, shepherd’s swain’ and ‘May morning’, ‘mind may move’ – and this is done deliberately to make the poem be read in a tranquil way mirroring the picture of life it presents. It’s not just these letters that appear alliteratively, but I’ll leave you to examine the rest, but they are all contributing to the overall peaceful mood and sound of the poem.
Let’s examine some of the tranquil imagery in the poem. Our first scene is in the countryside by the shepherd and his flock, but this image is accompanied by the sound of a ‘shallow river’ and their ‘falls’, something which must be gently burbling by rather than a Niagra Falls racket, and the ‘melodius birds sing[ing] madrigals’. A madrigal is a sort of chorus of song, but again it is something you expect to here in a church rather than a rock concert.
The gifts that he promises to bestow also continue the idea of comfort and peace. A ‘beds of roses’ is quite a clichéd phrase these days, but presents an image of the softness of rose petals piled together (you’ve got to assume the thorns have been removed) coupled with the pleasant, but never overpowering scent of rose blossom. Similarly the gown of ‘the finest wool’ would be great to snuggle up in and keep warm.
The gifts are significant for a whole range of other reasons as well. Red roses are clearly a sign of romantic intention, but the colour of these roses is not specified and this bed could be of white roses which have connotations of innocence and purity and as a result are often linked to marriage. A ‘kirtle’/coat of ‘myrtle’ has similar connotations as ‘myrtle ‘ leaves are the symbol for marriage in the Hebrew and have long been associated with love and caring. The very idea of providing someone with a coat could be linked to an idea of wanted to protect and take care of them.
Alongside these symbolic intentions of matrimony, we also have the glorification of the lover through the luxurious offerings of gold and amber. Gold is often associated with royalty as a gift befitting the baby Jesus, so the offering of this is an indication of the importance of this lover in the speaker’s eye. Similarly ‘amber’ is a precious stone so elevates her importance if it is being proffered, but it could also have some biblical reference as God is once referred to as shining like amber (Ezekiel 1:17), which could be a deliberate attempt by the speaker to suggest his love is in some way divine (certainly in her importance to him).
Clearly many of these gifts would actually be pretty useless or difficult to make, but we should also consider what each can be used to represent emotionally:
– ‘beds of roses’, ‘thousand fragrant posies’ = comfortable and enjoyable life.
– ‘a cap of flowers’ – a crown, treat her like royalty.
– ‘a kirtle embroidered all with leaves of myrtle’ – protection, marriage and security.
– ‘a gown made of the finest wool’ – warmth, comfort in her life.
– ‘slippers for the cold’ – warmth, protection.
– ‘buckles of gold’; ‘coral clasps and amber studs’ – adorning her with beauty to reflect his perception of her.
I think that’s quite enough.
The regularity and the simplicity of the structure here is again a reflection of the image of idealised rural life that Marlowe is trying to paint.
Each stanza consists of two rhyming couplets and the rhymes themselves are always simple and a maximum of two syllables. This assists with the gentle reading of the poem as there is not a harsh sound, a rush or burst of pace at any stage and all the words are soft and easy to pronounce.
You could also describe the structure as a convincing argument with the request gentle put in the first stanza and followed with an idyllic image of what will happen if this girl chooses to be with him and then promises her a million gifts and finally returns to the proposition.
Incredibly soft and gentle as I’ve said throughout. The poet is trying to present a picture of rural paradise and bliss and the very flow of the words is meant to sooth and reflect the tranquil life he is promising.