The Passionate Shepherd to his Love is an utterly delightful love poem of shepherds and nymph, a charming and carefree little thing that shows us a different Kit Marlowe from the fiery author of Tamburlaine, Faustus and the Massacre at Paris…
Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove,
That Valleys, groves, hills, 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 lined 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.
So delightful and carefree, indeed, that it soon became a sport with other poets, down the centuries, to throw barbs at the shepherd’s lack of common sense…
Well, the first was Sir Walter Raleigh, with an answer from the Nymph herself – a level-headed girl if ever there was one…
If all the world and love were young,
And truth in every shepherd’s tongue,
These pretty pleasures might me move
To live with thee and be thy love.
Time drives the flocks from field to fold
When rivers rage and rocks grow cold,
And Philomel becometh dumb;
The rest complains of cares to come.
The flowers do fade, and wanton fields
To wayward winter reckoning yields;
A honey tongue, a heart of gall,
Is fancy’s spring, but sorrow’s fall,
Thy gowns, thy shoes, thy beds of roses,
Thy cap, thy kirtle, and thy posies
Soon break, soon wither, soon forgotten–
In folly ripe, in reason rotten.
Thy belt of straw and ivy buds,
Thy coral clasps and amber studs,
All these in me no means can move
To come to thee and be thy love.
But could youth last and love still breed,
Had joys no date nor age no need,
Then these delights my mind might move
To live with thee and be thy love.
And I can imagine John Donne, a few years later, turning the thing on its head, giving it an angling slant to show that nymphs are way ahead of shepherds and anglers alike at this game…
Oh, and speaking of angling, then there was Izaak Walton, who all but appropriated the poem and turning the nymph into a milkmaid, and quite a few more tweakings and imitations… Look here for an overview.
After which it was the Twentieth Century, with Cecil Day Lewis’ dockworker* proposing to the nymph in more realistic but far less attractive terms, and William Carlos Williams griping that Raleigh Was Right – but then it was wartime… And there were quite a few more – mostly calling Marlowe to task for writing thoughtless, airy nothings…**
Considering that he probably wrote it for fun, and to prove that he could write more than just fire, gore and wild ambition, poor Kit – wherever he is now – must find it a little unfair that everyone should scold him for a little bit of fluff… Unless he is pleased to see the long shadow his airy nothing has thrown down the centuries.
* Yes, the post starts in Italian, but scroll down with a little faith: the poem is there.
** Read this hilarious modern version of the dialogue between Kit’s Shepherd and Sir Wat’s Nymph.