The Passionate Shepherd to His Love
by Christopher Marlowe
Stanzas 1-2 Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Come live with me, and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove,
- This poem opens with one of the most famous and romantic-sounding lines ever: come live with me, and be my love. Swoon.
- The format of the opening line sets up the two main figures in the poem: the speaker, the one saying "come live with me," and the person being spoken to, or the addressee.
- So far we have very little about confirming the logistics of this move, however. Who is the addressee? Who is the speaker? Are they lovers now, or is the speaker's love unrequited? Is this a marriage proposal? Where are they moving? Do they both already live there, or is the speaker asking the addressee to pack up house and move halfway across the country?
- The title, Shmoopers, would have you believe that the speaker is a man, a "passionate shepherd" and that his love is presumably a woman. Since Marlowe wasn't the one who gave the poem its title, though, we're going to hold off on making any judgments until the text of the poem confirms this shepherd business.
- Now onto line 2. First, let's take care of the wording. To "prove" is Renaissance speak for "experience", so the line is saying that if the speaker's love will come, the two of them can experience the pleasures of their new home together.
- The word "And" is small, but very important; it attaches the second line to the request in line 1 and means that those pleasures will be experienced if the addressee does in fact decide to shack up with the speaker.
- But if the addressee doesn't accept the speaker's request, all deals are off the table. At least, as far as we can tell.
That valleys, groves, hills and fields,
Woods, or steepy mountain yields.
- Valleys, groves, hills and fields, woods, steepy mountains. Now we're getting somewhere as far as establishing a location goes. We now know that the pleasures referenced in line 2 are the pleasures of the outdoors, more specifically the countryside.
- Notice how the list sort of runs from one line to another? That, friends, is enjambment, which means that one sentence, phrase, or clause is split between two lines of verse. Here, running the two lines together draws attention to the number of different places the countryside offers to explore in an effort to make the scenery all the more appealing to this lady love.
- And now that we've got four lines under our collective belt, we've got to be looking for a meter. It just so happens that this little ditty is written in iambic tetrameter (for more info see the "Form and Meter" section). Do you hear that daDUM daDUM daDUM daDUM in each of the lines? That's the meter at work.
- But line 3 marks an important deviation from what's otherwise a pretty cut and dried pattern. If you scan the line, you get something like this: "That Valleys, groves, hills, and fields."
- See how there's a missing unstressed syllable between "groves" and "hills"? That makes the line sound a little heavy, which echoes the effect of the enjambment, and draws even more attention to the number of places listed by the speaker. Just like continuing one line to another forces the reader to hurry along to the next bit, the heaviness of line 3 adds to its forward momentum, sort of like a rock rolling down a hill.
- Line 4 marks the end of the first quatrain. In fact, the whole poem is composed of six total quatrains just like the one above, all of which follow the rhyme scheme.
- And what rhyme scheme is that, you ask? Well love rhymes with prove (or at least it does in Marlowe-speak), and field rhymes with yield. That means we've got a good old fashioned AABB.
And we will sit upon the rocks,
Seeing the Shepherds feed their flocks,
- In lines 5 and 6, we find yet another promise from the speaker. The plan is pretty self explanatory: they will sit on rocks, watching shepherds feed their sheep.
- While that might not sound romantic to us modern-day folks, we're guessing that back then, sitting around watching sheep was a lot like a candlelit dinner. Or something.
- Also, the plans the speaker details here don't put forth the most aggressive agenda. Sitting on rocks? Watching sheep eat? These are not activities that require a lot of energy, folks. In fact, they sound downright leisurely. Given the realities of country life in the sixteenth century (no Wal-Marts, no electricity, self-sustaining farms, etc.), does this lifestyle sound a little too good to be true? Maybe yes, maybe no. But hold on to that thought, we'll come back to it soon.
- These two lines exhibit a poetic device that pops up in Marlowe's poetry all the time: alliteration.
- Hear that S sound in "seeing the shepherds," or the F sound in "feed their flocks"? That, dear Shmoopers, is alliteration, and Marlowe's a big fan, so keep an ear out for more. And for the scoop on how this device works in the poem, take a look at the "Sound Check" section.
By shallow rivers, to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals
- Line 7 tells us that the shepherds from line 6 are feeding their sheep somewhere near shallow rivers, and line 8 adds to this already scenic picture: birds are singing songs (or madrigals) to the beat of some nearby waterfalls. We don't know about you, but we're relaxed just thinking about this.
- But the birds singing in tune to the waterfalls is something more likely to be found in a Disney movie than in the actual English countryside, lovely though it may be. This is because "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love" is what we call a pastoral poem, which means that it glorifies the simple, rustic pleasures of the countryside and of country life.
- These two lines introduce another poetic device called consonance, which is pretty much exactly like alliteration, except the consonant sounds don't have to be at the beginning of the word. The repeated L sound in "shallow", "falls", "melodious" and "madrigals" is consonance, whereas the repeated M sound in "melodious" and "madrigals" is alliteration.
- We're betting Marlowe's pulling all these tricks on purpose, but what exactly do we think the guy's trying to accomplish? Some people might argue that his use of poetic devices is an attempt to disguise the (lack of) meat in the speaker's offer and somehow make it more appealing. Others think the sounds are recreating the soothing sounds of the countryside.
- Take a second look at (or listen to) the poem, or hop over to Shmoop's "Form and Meter" and "Sound Check" sections to see our spin on it.