The Passionate Shepherd to His Love Summary
The poem begins with a request from the speaker, "come live with me, and be my love," pretty please with a cherry on top, and goes on to list a series of promises from the speaker to the object of his affections about all the fun activities they'll do together if the offer is accepted.
They'll explore valleys, groves, hills and fields, they'll sit on rocks and watch the shepherds, and they'll listen to birds sing to the tune of waterfalls. But that's not all. Fancy duds from the city won't do for all that time in the great outdoors, so the speaker promises to make some clothes and accessories better suited for the occasion: caps of flowers, straw belts, lambs' wool gowns, beds of roses, you get the picture. And we're still not done. The speaker's final promises, gold buckles, coral clasps, amber studs, and dancing shepherds, are loftier still.
As the promises continue to drift outside the realm of what the speaker can actually guarantee, the speaker makes a crucial change of gears. The poem opened with a general request—come live with me and be my love—but it closes with a conditional one. The speaker now only wants the love to come if she is "move[d]" by the delights and pleasures that were listed in the poem, delights that it seems increasingly unlikely the speaker will be able to provide (we mean, who has a troupe of dancing shepherds on retainer?). The poem ends with a cliffhanger, as we never get to hear the love's reply.
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.
And I will make thee beds of roses,
And a thousand fragrant posies,
- Now the speaker is talking about making things, beds of flowers in this case. Wait a second—beds of flowers… flower beds… do we smell a pun in the oven?
- But wait. There's more. Marlowe is also making a pun on the phrase "a thousand fragrant posies". Posey is a Renaissance-era word for bunches of flowers, but in Marlowe's day, it was also another name for poetry, or posies. This double-meaning allows line 10 to be read in several ways: the speaker is planting flower beds, the speaker is making beds out of roses and bunches of flowers, the speaker is making beds out of roses and poetry, or the speaker is making beds of roses and is also composing thousands of "fragrant" poems.
- Yikes. That's a whole lot of meaning packed into one tiny line. Do these different readings change what we think of our speaker? We'll let you decide.
- If you've ever used the phrase "no bed of roses" to describe a particularly nasty homework assignment, congratulations—you are quoting Marlowe. In the poem, Marlowe seems to be referring to an actual bed made of rose petals, but "bed of roses" as an expression has come to mean something more like a super luxurious or easy situation.
- Also, we have to say it: roses = sex. Okay not all the time, but it's a pretty safe bet that if you're reading about roses, especially beds of roses, someone's got lovin' on the brain.
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle,
Embroidered all with leaves of myrtle.
- These lines reveal more promises from the speaker. We're starting to see a trend. The speaker is clearly going to lots of trouble to promise nice things in an effort to persuade the addressee to accept the whole "come live with me, and be my love" offer.
- Why are so many promises necessary? You didn't hear it from us, but it sounds like someone might be afraid of getting rejected.
- Our speaker is quite the sewing machine, now promising to make caps, or hats, of flowers and a kirtle, or skirt, that is embroidered with myrtle leaves. The earthy, floral material being used to make the clothes is in keeping with the pastoral theme that was established in the previous quatrain.
- We're also picking up on some potential Garden of Eden vibes, what with the "trees for clothes" talk going on.
A gown made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty lambs we pull,
- Our speaker is still going on about clothes; now he's making a gown from lambs' wool, and not just any lambs' wool—the finest and best lambs' wool, freshly plucked from all those lambs living the dream up by the river with the waterfalls in stanza 2.
- Clothes are everywhere in this stanza and it's not because our speaker has gone on a shopping spree. Instead, Marlowe has now started playing around with a poetic device called blazon. Blazons are a kind of poetry in which the speaker of the poem praises another person, usually a woman, by singling out different parts of her body and using metaphors to describe how beautiful and awesome they are.
- Of course, this isn't a typical one, since we don't know anything at all about whom he's speaking to, but it fits the general mold. For a famous and more traditional example, check out Shakespeare's Sonnet 130.
Fair lined slippers for the cold:
With buckles of the purest gold.
- In lines 15 and 16, our speaker is still in blazon mode. We have fuzzy slippers to keep toes warm and toasty in the winter, complete with snazzy gold buckles.
- Here, the idealism of the pastoral really starts to get away from our speaker. Sure, it's feasible that a shepherd could make wool gowns, warm shoes, and hats of flowers, but buckles of gold? Those don't exactly pop up at random in the countryside.
- And frankly, they sound really impractical for a pair of slippers.
A belt of straw, and ivy buds,
With coral clasps and amber studs,
- Our speaker is really blazon-ing a trail here.
- We're also moving increasingly farther away from promises the speaker can legitimately keep. Coral and amber were costly products in Marlowe's time.
- They certainly weren't up for grabs in the countryside, and we're willing to bet that they were out of the price range of most shepherds.
- Is this a sign that our speaker is growing increasingly desperate? Is it a sign that the speaker is untrustworthy? Are the promises we're reading even meant to be taken literally?
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me, and be my love.
- Line 19 tells the speaker's love that if the awesome things described in the poem so far "move" or win you over… then you should follow the instructions in line 20 and high-tail it to the countryside.
- The use of the word "pleasures" here adds a sexual charge to the stanza. Could the speaker's intention be more lust- and less love-oriented than we were led to believe?
- It's also a call back to the first stanza of the poem, reminding us that at its heart, this poem is an argument. He's attempting to persuade his audience—the object of his affections—and he'll use a refrain to do it.
- The word "move" implies a feeling fueled by emotions or gut instincts. This gives us a heads up as to what tactics the speaker is using to persuade the recipient of the poem to do what he wants.
- The "if" in Line 19 also alters the "come live with me" request from the form in which we first encounter it back in Line 1. The "if" makes it conditional, which tells us that the speaker now wants the person to come if and only if the aforementioned fun times are appealing to them.
- That's an interesting way to phrase it, since it seems less and less likely those pleasures are within the speaker's ability to provide.
The shepherds's swains shall dance and sing,
For thy delight each May-morning,
- We've arrived. This, folks, is the speaker's final promise and, true to form, it's even more difficult to ensure than the last.
- Lines 21 and 22 promise that shepherd swains, or young men, will dance and sing for the beloved's delight every morning in the month of May. Unlike the expensive clothes, which at least the speaker was trying to make, this is something completely beyond the speaker's control: how can the speaker guarantee what other people will do for his beloved?
- Now let's discuss this whole shepherd business. If you've got shepherds in a poem, you'll probably have a pastoral. But if you've got shepherds in a poem from Elizabethan England, you also have a potential reference to good old Queen Bess herself.
- This is thanks to a guy named Edmund Spenser, who wrote a collection of poems called The Shephearde's Calendar in which he compared Queen Elizabeth to a shepherdess. (This might seem offensive, but back in the day you weren't exactly allowed to come out and speak your mind about politics. Allegory and symbolism were ways in which people could express discontent without getting their heads chopped off.)
- References to May are also pretty typical of pastoral poetry. May is associated with the countryside primarily because of the folk custom of celebrating May Day (May 1). These celebrations were of pagan origin, though, and usually involved lots of debauchery in the form of drinking, canoodling, and so forth, so the Puritans were really cranky about the fact that they still went on. Mentioning May, May Day, May games or anything like that in a poem is often a sneaky jab at the Puritan church as well as a reference to a frequently idealized country folk tradition.
If these delights thy mind may move;
Then live with me, and be my love.
- These lines seem pretty similar to lines 19 and 20, but there are some important differences in the wording.
- First, the speaker is talking about "delights" instead of "pleasures," a switch that reduces the sexual charge of the statement.
- The speaker has also introduced "the mind" into the picture. The word "move" is still used, but here it is the addressee's mind that is being swayed, not, by contrast, her body or emotions.
- The "live with me, and be my love" phrase is repeated three times in this poem, which is a big heads up that it's probably important.
- It's possible that this guy wants to do more than just shack up. Maybe, if he's interested in his love's mind as much as he's interested in her body and all the fancy clothes he's going to put on it, he might want, you know, a life with her. In which case this poem is quite swoony.
- It's your call Shmoopers. Just what, exactly, are this dude's intentions?