"The Passionate Shepherd to His Love" is a pastoral lyric, a poetic form that is used to create an idealized vision of rural life within the context of personal emotion. Pastoral poems had been in vogue among poets for at least seventeen hundred years when Marlowe wrote this one. The Greek poet Theocritis, in the third century B.C.E. (Shipley 300-1,) was the first pastoralist poet, and he, too, wrote about shepherds. All pastoral poetry, including Marlowe's, is to some degree influenced by this original practitioner.
The poem is written in very regular iambic tetrameter. Each line contains exactly four heavy stresses, and the metrical feet are almost always iambic. Similarly, most lines contain eight syllables, and the few that don't create a specific poetic effect (such as lines 3 and 4), or have easily elided syllables which may be read as eight. This regular meter, sustained through the twenty-four lines, remarkably never descends into the sing-song quality so prevalent in tetrameter, primarily because Marlowe salts his lines with a variety of devices that complement the meter without drawing too much attention to its rigid regularity. Marlowe's use of soft consonants (such as W, M, Em, F) to start lines, with the occasional "feminine" ending of an unstressed syllable (in the third stanza) lend a delightful variety to an essentially regular and completely conventional form.
In the first stanza, the Shepherd invites his love to come with him and "pleasures prove" (line 2.) This immediate reference to pleasure gives a mildly sexual tone to this poem, but it is of the totally innocent, almost naïve kind. The Shepherd makes no innuendo of a sordid type, but rather gently and directly calls to his love. He implies that the entire geography of the countryside of England "Valleys, groves, hills and fields/Woods or steepy mountains" will prove to contain pleasure of all kinds for the lovers. This vision of the bounteous... [continues]
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