The Passionate Shepherd to His Love
by Christopher Marlowe
Shmoop's gonna let you in on a little secret. Many of the specific kinds of plants mentioned in this poem have symbolic meaning attached to them, so we thought we'd give them the special treatment here. Read on for all the hidden meanings in the leafy greens.
- Line 9: There's a reason the girls on The Bachelor get roses and not, say, turnips during the elimination ceremony. This is because roses, then as now, are the flowers of love, often associated with the Roman goddess of love, Venus, and her Greek counterpart, Aphrodite. They symbolize romance, passion, lust, and, during Marlowe's lifetime, royalty—the rose was the official flower of Queen Elizabeth and the Tudor family. By introducing roses into the mix, the speaker is adding a sex and regality to what was before a pretty G-rated scenario.
- Line 10: We discussed the pun on the word "posey" in the "Summary," but the time period in which Marlowe was writing gives this word additional significance. Remember when you were little, and you played Ring Around the Rosie on the playground? You may or may not have learned since then that the game you thought was about flowers was actually about the Bubonic Plague, a super deadly disease that was kicking butt and taking (thousands of) names in Europe during the 16th century. Back in the day, the disease was thought to be transmitted by bad smells, so people would carry around bunches of flowers, or posies, in their pockets as an attempt to ward it off. The Plague was known to break out in especially crowded parts of the city (like, say, the theater district), so Marlowe's reference to posies in a pastoral poem could be read as a longing for the safety of the country or a lament about the dangers of urbanization and modern life.
- Line 12: Myrtle trees are also classic symbols of love. Like roses, they are sacred to Aphrodite and Venus and also frequently present in marriage ceremonies and things of that nature. Maybe Marlowe was just looking for something to rhyme with the word "kirtle" (or was it the other way around?), but we think the romantic vibes of this plant are a little too convenient for its inclusion to be unintentional.