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Ora sono ubriaco d'universo. (Ungaretti)

Christopher Marlowe, “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love”

The Passionate Shepherd to His Love
Christopher Marlowe

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 flower, 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.

Comment:

The poem starts with this appeal: “we will all the pleasures prove.” By the end, the issue is not merely “delight,” but “delights thy mind may move” [my emphasis].

The second stanza features “seeing” shepherds feed flocks and hearing “madrigals.” These things remind of the 23rd Psalm. I shall not want. It is a glorious vision, seen and heard. Unfortunately, it does not even suffice for the third stanza, where clothes – post-Edenic shame – are the issue. Shame and flowers are closely linked because there cannot be erotic desire without shame.

“Wool” for the “cold” brings us to necessary, day-to-day concerns. The passionate shepherd started out with the wholly unnecessary. Things seen and heard cannot be grasped. Erotic desires are not as basic as food, clothing or shelter. What is necessary is followed by “a belt of straw and ivy buds” with “coral clasps,” “amber studs.” I don’t think this is merely decorative, though one can argue it is. I think it’s actually a sign of constancy, security. Coral is stone; amber, from ambergris, can concern fossils or be associated with what is found in the ocean.

The plea of the passionate shepherd, then, is pretty blasphemous. The argument is that while the “higher” pleasures of seeing and hearing will be available, there will also be a certain shamelessness (stemming from a formerly perceived shame) that leads to the taking care of day-to-day earthly concerns and even longer-term earthly concerns. The “higher” pleasures, we note, coincide with the 23rd Psalm. In a way, this list being complete in its own way is an attempt to supplant “I shall not want.” The passionate shepherd might be making the same plea with us that Francis Bacon and Descartes did in pushing Enlightenment. Not only is there the dark undertone of pulling wool from lambs, but the shepherds’ dancing and singing at the end of the poem can be identified with being able to cover shame permanently.

1 Comment

  1. 1st Stanza: imperative / future
    2nd Stanza: future / continuous
    3rd Stanza: future
    4th Stanza: present
    5th Stanza: subjunctive / imperative
    6th Stanza: future? (shall) / subjunctive / imperative

    The important thing, I think, is that the problematic nature of the erotic be understood historically. Help me out with the rest!

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