The Passionate Shepherd to His Love
by Christopher Marlowe
The title tells us the speaker is a passionate shepherd trying to woo his lover, presumably a woman, to live with him in the countryside. But Marlowe didn't title the poem, so even though this could be a valid reading, we can't just assume that's the only way to go. In fact, literary critics will tell you that the speaker could just as likely be a woman and write hundreds of pages about how this drastically alters the meaning of the poem. But (thank goodness), we're not in the business of writing hundreds of pages of literary criticism. We're all about the good stuff here at Shmoop.
Let's start with what we do know. The speaker has obviously got some thoughts, plans, and opinions. He or she wants someone to move in with them and wants to be more than friends. The large number of promises and persuasive arguments that follow the initial "come live with me, and be my love", however, indicate that the speaker thinks this other person might take some convincing before the offer is accepted.
This seems reasonable, given the fact that this guy seems more than a little impulsive. "Come live with me" sounds very romantic, but it also doesn't sound particularly well thought out. Notice that the "come live with me" request doesn't include an offer of marriage or any promise of an enduring relationship.
He's a Feelings Kind of Guy
In fact, the speaker's arguments all appeal to sensations (the scenery's great, the lambs are cute and wooly), and feelings (love, pleasure, relaxation) as opposed to logical reasoning. The use of the word "passionate" in the title might not be Marlowe's, but it's a spot of description of the way the speaker seems to be making decisions—based on emotions and passions as opposed to reasoning. We mean, are these two even gonna have a roof over their heads?
Perhaps the most important thing we know about the speaker, however, is that he or she is trying to enter into a dialogue with someone else who is keeping her mouth shut, big time. The poem demands a response, and yet Marlowe holds out on us. This raises interesting questions—what would the response be? How might it change depending on who you think the speaker of the poem is?—but also points to another crucial issue, which is the speaker's trustworthiness.
Just how reliable do we think the speaker is? Do we believe what he or she is saying? Are we moving to the country in spite of our better judgment because those sheep sound just too darn fluffy to resist? This isn't a question Marlowe answers for us, but it's one that several other authors have found irresistible. Check out some famous replies by Sir Walter Ralegh, John Donne, Robert Herrick, and Ogden Nash.