Study Guide

The Passionate Shepherd to His Love Themes

  • Love

    What's love got to do with it? In "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love," it's hard to tell. The opening line encourages us to think of the poem in terms of romantic interest, but it's not like these two are headed to the marriage altar anytime soon. In fact, we can't even tell if this guy has any intention to drop down on one knee. The poem undoubtedly plays upon romantic ideals, but to what ends? Does the speaker genuinely want love? Or does he just want a roll in the bed of roses?

    Questions About Love

    1. Do you think the speaker loves the person to whom the poem is addressed? Why or why not?
    2. Is there any evidence that the speaker wants a serious, romantic relationship in the poem? If yes, does this imply love? If not, what do you see as evidence that he doesn't?
    3. Do poetic devices (as opposed to content) do anything to bolster or debunk love as a theme of this poem?

    Chew on This

    The speaker is not interested in a long-term relationship. Not to be crass about it, but he's, shall we say, not interested in her soul.

    Love plays a central role in "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love." He totally loves her, no matter what the cynics say.

  • Man and the Natural World

    "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love" takes place where the grass is always green, nothing ever dies, and nature is in complete harmony with all of man's whims, needs, and desires. So it's no wonder that the speaker uses nature and all its awesomeness as a convenient way to woo his lady love. Is there anything sexier than… sheep? Okay, so there are plenty of things sexier than sheep, but for our speaker, the pastoral world might as well be the most romantic restaurant in town.

    Questions About Man and the Natural World

    1. Where does Marlowe shift from describing nature authentically to describing its idealized form? Is this change significant? If so, why? If not, why not?
    2. What specific details and images indicate that this is a pastoral poem?
    3. What role does the speaker's portrayal of nature play in supporting his argument? Does it make his argument more or less convincing to you?

    Chew on This

    Marlowe presents an idealized picture of nature in an attempt to satirize the unrealistic visions of the countryside held by city-dwellers. Basically, he's making fun of the folks who think the key to happiness lies in roughing it.

    Marlowe's choice to portray a pastoral world signifies his dissatisfaction with modern society and urbanization. It is a veiled longing for a return to simpler times.

  • Persuasion

    Ah the subtle art of persuasion. In the case of "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love", the word "art" can be taken both literally and figuratively. The speaker of the poem has cleverly and artfully designed what he thinks will be a winning argument, but he has used art, or artifice, to pull it off in the form of poetry. Does the speaker succeed? Does it matter? Tell us what you think, and remember… be convincing.

    Questions About Persuasion

    1. The speaker repeats the phrase "come live with me, and be my love" three times in the poem. Do you think this is in an effort to be persuasive? Is it desperate? Is it something else?
    2. What does the speaker's use of arguments and promises tell us about the addressee's potential thoughts about shacking up? 
    3. Do you find the speaker's argument convincing? If yes, why? If not, what should he do to make it a more appealing offer?
    4. Is the speaker trustworthy? Why or why not? How can you tell? Does this affect his persuasiveness? How?

    Chew on This

    This dude is totally convincing. He basically promises the object of his affections a long, torturous camping trip, complete with really weird outfits and awkward serenades.

    The speaker of this poem is persuasive, but untrustworthy. Which means the addressee should run for her life.

  • Time

    The Rolling Stones thought time was on their side, and that seems to be the case for our speaker, as well. The speaker in "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love" is writing what we call a carpe diem poem—he's seizing the day. In literature, the carpe diem tradition usually features a man trying to convince a beautiful maiden to surrender her virginity pronto because she could drop dead at any minute and wouldn't it be a shame for her to die without ever having had sex, especially with him. It's employed a little less obviously in this poem than in others (we're looking at you, Marvell), but the general vibe is still there: come live me with and be my love, we'll have a great time and we'll worry about all that future stuff, like your reputation, later.

    Questions About Time

    1. What indications do you see in the poem that the speaker is more concerned with short-term as opposed to long-term plans? 
    2. How does the imagery in the poem reflect the carpe diem tradition?
    3. Why might the carpe diem argument be attractive to the person reading this poem? Why might it be unattractive? What, if anything, does the speaker do to make it seem more attractive than it is?

    Chew on This

    The references to springtime, flowers, and fertility in the poem are symbolic of the fact that the speaker's interest in the addressee is oh so temporary.

    The poem's implementation of the carpe diem tradition is a clear indication that Marlowe sees the speaker of this poem as male and the addressee as female.