In 1599, six years after its young author was killed in a brawl in a tavern in Deptford, Christopher Marlowe’s poem The Passionate Shepherd to his Love was published. It is an early example of the ‘pastoral’ style in English literature, and is a justly famous poem.
The Passionate Shepherd to his Love by Christopher Marlowe
Come live with me, and be my love;
And we will all the pleasures prove
That hills and valleys, dales and fields,
Woods, or steepy mountain yields.
And we will sit upon the rocks,
Seeing the shepherds feed their flocks
By shallow rivers to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.
And I will make thee beds of roses,
And a thousand fragrant posies;
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroidered all with leaves of myrtle;
A gown made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty lambs we pull;
Fair linèd slippers for the cold,
With buckles of the purest gold;
A belt of straw and ivy-buds,
With coral clasps and amber studs:
And, if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me, and be my love.
The shepherds’ swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May-morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me, and be my love.
Written in iambic tetrameter, with seven stanzas, the poem has a lovely rhythm and for that reason has often been used in schools. It is a poem of seduction, a celebration of love, and it idealises the simplicity, peace and happiness of a shepherd’s life. Spring is traditionally the season of young love and this poem is set in spring.
The poem has provoked many responses. Next month I’ll give you Sir Walter Raleigh’s The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd, but you might like to look up others by John Donne, Robert Herrick, Cecil Day Lewis, Dorothy Parker and Ogden Nash. It has been set to music, used in films, and has been included in theatrical versions of Shakespeare.
You can listen to gorgeous Richard Armitage reading it here. You’ll want to say YES to him straight away!