The Passionate Shepherd to his Love

The Passionate Shepherd to his Love is the only poem that can today be clearly attributed to Christopher Marlowe. It had been known since the late 1580s and is one of the most frequently paraphrased and set to music poems in the Anglo-American world.


The poem exists in several versions. The best known consists of 6 stanzas of four verses each in an eight-syllable iamb with the rhyme scheme aabb.


In 1599 or 1598 William Jaggard published the anthology The Passionate Pilgrim . It contains 20 poems, all of which, according to the title page, are by William Shakespeare. This claim was already untenable at the time.
Poem XIX from The Passionate Pilgrim appeared in 1600 in an amended form in John Flasket’s anthology England’s Helicon. In it, the poem was first given the title The Passionate Shepherd to His Love and was attributed to Christopher Marlowe.

The Passionate Shepherd to His Love
Live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
That hills and valleys, dales and fields,
And all the craggy mountains yield.
There will we sit upon the rocks,
And see the shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow rivers, by whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.
There will I make thee a bed of roses,
With a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroidered all with leaves of myrtle.
A belt of straw and ivy buds,
With coral clasps and amber studs;
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Then live with me and be my love.
Love’s Answer
If that 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.1
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 shepherd 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.2

Marlowe’s authorship is not in doubt. If he was indeed not the author, he was at least very impressed by the poem. It is quoted or paraphrased a total of 14 times in his plays.3 Among the most famous passages are the beginning of Dido, where Jupiter starts his seduction of Ganymed with "Come, gentle Ganymed and play with me."4 and ends it with "And shall have, Ganymede, if thou wilt be my love."5 as Ithimores love declaration to Bellamira in The Jew of Malta:

"Content, but we will leave this paltry land,
And saile from hence to Greece, to lovely Greece,
I’le be thy Jason, thou my golden Fleece;
Where painted Carpets o’er the meads are hurl’d,
And Bacchus vineyards over-spread the world:
Where Woods and Forrests gor in goodly greene,
I’le be Adonis, thou shalt be Love’s Queene.
The Meads, the Orchards, and the Primrose lanes,
Instead of Sedge and Reed, bear Sugar Canes:
Thou in those Groves, by Dis above,
Shalt live with me and be my love."6

Forsythe concludes from the parallels in the plays that it was written around 1588. Although he dates The Jew of Malta quite early, the assumption is conclusive, as the poem had been known in English literature since the late 1580s.7


For a long time, the most important source for the poem was considered to be Ovid’s Metamorphosis, Book XIII, 789-839.8 In it, the cyclops Polyphemus, in love, describes to the nymph Galatea his possessions as well as gifts he would give her if only she would accept him. Pastoral poems were not uncommon at the end of the 16th century. What distinguishes Marlowe’s poem from all the others, however, is the "invitation to love" – a literary stylistic device that made its way into English literature thanks to Marlowe.9 Other models could be considered for the invitation in connection with a locus amoenus.10 The Song of Songs contains three passages (2:10-14; 4:8 and 7:12-13) in which either the man or the woman invites the partner to love in a beautiful place. Iam, dulcis amica, venito,11 the oldest surviving love song from the Middle Ages, is also in this tradition.12 In the first stanzas, a man invites his beloved to his room, where all kinds of comforts await her. Then the two have a conversation about the actual consummation of love.
It is already uncertain whether Marlowe was really inspired by one of the works mentioned above. Even more questionable is the connection between the poem and three other sources that are readily mentioned. These are Idyll XI by Theocritus, Virgil’s Eclogue 2 and January from Edmund Spenser’s The Shepheardes Calender.13


Interpretations of this poem vary widely. Marlowe creates a carpe diem philosophy that designs a timeless world for lovers to enter through the passage to sensual pleasures.14 At the beginning, a locus amoenus is created. In the following three stanzas, parts of this landscape are transformed into clothing for specific parts of the female body, where15 "[…] each element building on the richness of the previous enticement, […] functions as a rhetorical version of the sexual act;"16 The view of Louis H. Leiter is far more idealised, who believes that the speaker transforms the beloved into a Flora Venus goddess with these garments.17 The materials Marlowe lists in the process surprise the reader. Gold, coral and amber are atypical of the simple rural life of the shepherds.18 Although the poem is readily attributed to the pastoral, and the title it has borne since 1600 suggests as much, it is not clear from the text who is issuing the invitation. In fact, one person only promises another that the shepherds will entertain them with songs and dances. The person speaking does not seem to belong to this group, but is likely to have a higher social status, since he has access to gifts that are denied to the other person.19 Actually, the gender of these persons is already unknown. This in no way stops Bruce R. Smith from claiming that the poem "[…] atempts to seduce the beloved – and us as readers – with promises of a homoerotic idyll […]".20 Some consider the abundance of promises coupled with the silence of the person concerned as harassment, if not rape.21 Patrick Cheney goes far beyond this, for whom the poem also has a political and philosophical meaning.22


The poem was enormously popular from the beginning. Between 1599 and 1770 it appeared in no fewer than 22 works or new editions. Emily Carroll Bartels and Emmy Smith compare its effects on the cultural scene of the time to a pop hit that was the soundtrack of an entire generation.23 The earliest paraphrase may be found in Robert Greene’s Menaphone (1589).24

"there growes the cintfoyle, and the hyacinth, the cowſloppe, the primroſe, and the violet, which my flockes ſliall ſpare for flowers to make thee garlands, the milke of my ewes ſhall be meate for thy pretie wanton, the wool of the fat weathers that ſeemes as fine as the fleece that Iaſon fet from Colchos, ſhall ſerue to make Samela webbes withall; the mountaine tops ſhall be thy mornings walke, and the ſhadie valleies thy euenings arbour : as much as Menaphon owes ſhall be at Samelas command, if ſhe like to liue with Menaphon."25

On stage in 1597, it was Shakespeare who quoted Marlowe almost verbatim, having Sir Hugh Evans sing excerpts of the poem in The Merry Wives of Windsor (III, 1) . The text of the quarto edition differs from that in the folio edition.26

In England’s Helicon Marlowe’s poem is followed by The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd, for which Flasket gave no author, but which has since been attributed to Walter Raleigh. A variation of the first stanza had already appeared in the Passionate Pilgrim under the heading "Loves’s Answer". The Nymph’s Reply uses the same metre as The Passionate Shepherd, but turns the shepherd’s offerings into a negative.

The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd
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,
The 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.27

In The Bait (1597), John Donne has a fisherman compare his beloved to a bait that no fish can resist.

The Bait

Come live with me, and be my love,
And we will some new pleasures prove
Of golden sands, and crystal brooks,
With silken lines, and silver hooks.

There will the river whispering run
Warm’d by thy eyes, more than the sun;
And there the 'enamour’d fish will stay,
Begging themselves they may betray.

When thou wilt swim in that live bath,
Each fish, which every channel hath,
Will amorously to thee swim,
Gladder to catch thee, than thou him.

If thou, to be so seen, be’st loth,
By sun or moon, thou dark’nest both,
And if myself have leave to see,
I need not their light having thee.

Let others freeze with angling reeds,
And cut their legs with shells and weeds,
Or treacherously poor fish beset,
With strangling snare, or windowy net.

Let coarse bold hands from slimy nest
The bedded fish in banks out-wrest;
Or curious traitors, sleeve-silk flies,
Bewitch poor fishes' wand’ring eyes.

For thee, thou need’st no such deceit,
For thou thyself art thine own bait:
That fish, that is not catch’d thereby,
Alas, is wiser far than I.28

These are the two best-known reactions. Less well-known, but more unusual, is the one by Thomas Dermody. At a time when Marlowe’s plays were the most, if any, studied, Dermody, in The Pursuit of Patronage (1800), praised Marlowe’s lyrical skill, quoting directly from The Passionate Shepherd.

Over the centuries, The Passionate Shepherd has been one of the most imitated poems in English literature.29 For Algernon Swinburne it was a lyrical masterpiece: "One of the most faultless lyrics and one of the loveliest fragments in the whole range of descriptive and fanciful poetry […]"30 Authors who reflect on it include, for example John Lyly, Michael Drayton, Thomas Lodge, George Chapman, Ben Jonson, Thomas Campion, John Milton, John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, William Wordsworth, Alfred Lord Tennyson31 or William Faulkner32. This makes: "'The Passionate Shepherd' […] the first, the bestknown, and the most influential invitation poem in English."33

Pictorial representations clearly associated with The Passionate Shepherd did not exist for a long time. Andrew Lang had it illustrated in his anthology The Blue Poetry Book by Henry Justice Ford or Lancelot Speed. The engraving, however, gives the impression that the shepherd would rather scare his beloved with the promises.

Lang, A. (Ed.). (1891). The Blue Poetry Book. London: Longmans, Green & Co. p. 136

The chosen one reacts differently in the portrayal of Paul Coker Jr, who drew the passionate shepherd for Frank Jacob’s Great Poems Rewritten to Reflect the Freaky, Greedy, Rotten World of Today.

Jacobs, F. (1976). Great Poems Rewritten to Reflect the Freaky, Greedy, Rotten World of Today. MAD, 181, s. p.


The poem also quickly became popular in music. William Corkine published practice pieces for the lyra viol, an English variant of the bass viol, in the appendix of his Second Booke of Ayres in 1612. In one of these exercises, the first line of Marlowe’s poem is in the text. First of all, this reveals an interesting biographical detail. The composer’s father was William Corkine, with whom Marlowe had had a heated argument in Canterbury in 1593, including legal repercussions.

Corkine, William (1612): The Second Book of Ayres. London: M.L.I.B and T.S.

Presumably Corkine was not the first to set the poem to music. According to the anonymous tract Laugh and lie downe: or, The worldes Folly of 1605, it is said to have been sung to the tune of Adew, my deere. If this still exists, then under a different name.34 In the Shakespeare edition by Samuel Johnson and George Steevens, in the annotation on the use of the poem in The Merry Wives of Windsor, a melody is printed about which the music historian Sir John Hawkins wrote: "This tune to which the former was sung, I have lately discovered in a MS. as old as Shakespeare’s time, […]"35

Shakespeare, William (1778): The Plays of William Shakspeare in Ten Volumes. 2nd edition. Edited by Samuel Johnson, George Steevens. London (1).

Unfortunately, Hawkins did not reveal more about this and the manuscript mentioned has never been found.36 Thus, Corkine’s composition remains the earliest known setting of The Passionate Shepherd. This melody was a great success. Between 1619 and 1629 Thomas Symcock printed a so-called "Broadside ballad". (These were cheaply produced leaflets showing ballads or poems usually in combination with pictures). It is entitled A most excellent Ditty of the / Louers promises to his beloved and was sung to "To a sweet new tune called, / Live with me and be my Love". The text is in two columns. Under the picture of a man is Marlowe’s poem. Next to it, under the image of the woman, Raleigh’s response to be sung to the same tune. This is likely to have happened in practice. Izaak Walton describes how a milkmaid sings a song in The Compleat Angler of 1653: "it was that smooth song which was made by Kit Marlow, now at last fifty years ago."37 and her mother replied singing The Nymph’s Reply.

Symcock, T. Broadside Ballad. British Library, Roxburghe 1.205, EBBA 30141(4)

However, the melody was not reserved for these two poems alone, but was also used for numerous other ballads.38 Since the 17th century, Corkine’s composition has been continuously rearranged or Marlowe’s poem set to music. Yet it enjoys particular popularity in choral literature. The following list makes absolutely no claim to completeness, but offers only a general overview of the settings of the last centuries.

Composer Title Work Year
Corkine, William Come Live With Me Second Booke of Ayres 1612
Chilcot, Thomas Come Live With Me And Be My Love The Twelve English Songs 1744
Bennet, William Sterndale Come Live With Me 1846
Hatton, John Liptrot Come Live With Me Vocal Beauties: A Collection Songs and Ballads ca. 1870
Marzials, Theo Come Live With Me Pan Pipes 1883
Fine, Vivian Passionate Shepherd 1938
James, Trevor Come Live With Me Richard III 1995
Kamen, Michael Live With Me And Be My Love When Love Speaks 2002

Théophile-Jules-Henri Marzial’s composition is worth mentioning primarily because of his collaboration with the painter Walter Crane.

Marzials, T. (Ed.). (1883). Pan Pipes: A Book of Old Songs. London: Routledge. p, 9

John Liptrot Hatton’s melody was used for the opening music of the movie Come Live With Me, starring Hedy Lamarr and James Stewart.39 Trevor Jones' setting is part of the score of Richard III with Ian McKellen. The action is set in a 1930s England, which is why the song that Stacey Kent sings at the beginning of the film is musically based on that period.40 Annie Lennox sang Michael Kamen’s composition for the CD When Love Speakes, which otherwise contains exclusively recitations and settings of William Shakespeare’s works.


The poem is unknown in German-speaking countries. Only the beginning of Heinrich Heine’s Tragödie (1844) reminds us of it:41

"Entflieh mit mir und sei mein Weib,
Und ruh an meinem Herzen aus;"42

The only translation I have been able to find so far is by Walter A. Aue and is unlikely to have appeared in print.43


Come Live With Me. Living the History of a Ballad

Barnet, Sylvan, William E. Cain, and William Burto, eds. 2011. Literature for Composition: Essays, Stories, Poems, and Plays. 9th ed. Boston: Longman.
Brown, Clarence. 1941. “Come Live with Me: Komm, bleib bei mir.” Edited by MGM.
Chappell, William, ed. s. a. Popular Music of the Olden Time: A Collection of Ancient Songs, Ballads, and Dance Tunes, Illustrative of the National Music of England. Vol. vol. 1. London: Cramer, Beale & Chappell.
Greene, Robert. 1881-1883. “Menaphon: Camila’s Alarm to Slumbering Euphues in His Melancholy Cell at Silexedra.” In The Life and Complete Works in Prose and Verse of Robert Greene, edited by Alexander Balloch Grosart, 6:1–146. London: Printed for Private Circulation only.
Haug, Andreas. 2007. “Das älteste erhaltene Liebeslied des Mittelalters im Codex Wien 116.” In Wiener Quellen der älteren Musikgeschichte zum Sprechen gebracht, edited by Birgit Lodes, 13–36. Wiener Forum für ältere Musikgeschichte. Tutzing: Schneider.
Heine, Heinrich. 1972. Werke und Briefe in zehn Bänden. 2. Auflage. Vol. 1. Berlin: Aufbau.
Loncraine, Richard. 1995. “Richard III.” Edited by Mayfair Entertainment International.
Pollmann, Leo. 1962. “"Iam, dulcis amica, venito" Und die Hoheliedtradition.” Romanische Forschungen 74 (3/4): 265–80.
Shakespeare, William. 1778. The Plays of William Shakspeare in Ten Volumes. 2nd edition. Vol. 1. London.
Simppson, Claude M., ed. 1966. The British Broadside Ballad an Its Music. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.
Smith, Bruce R. 1994. Homosexual Desire in Shakespeare’s England: A Cultural Poetics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Swinburne, Algernon Charles. 1908. The Age of Shakespeare. London: Chatto & Windus.
Walton, Izaak. 1824. The Complete Angler of Izaak Walton and Charles Cotton. Vol. 1. London: C. Whittingham.
Zlateva, Ioanna. 2012. “Poetics and Politics of Nature in Three Early Modern English Poems.” University of Bucharest Review. Series Literary and Cultural Studies, no. 1: 123–31.

  1. Marlowe (2006), 159↩︎
  2. Marlowe (2006), 158-159↩︎
  3. Forsythe (1925)↩︎
  4. Dido, Queen of Carthage. I,1↩︎
  5. Dido, Queen of Carthage. I,4↩︎
  6. The Jew of Malta. III,2,99-109↩︎
  7. Forsythe (1925)↩︎
  8. Bruster (1991)↩︎
  9. Forsythe (1925)↩︎
  10. Gray (2013)↩︎
  11. Pollmann (1962)↩︎
  12. Haug (2007)↩︎
  13. Cheney (2015)↩︎
  14. Cheney (2006)↩︎
  15. Gray (2013)↩︎
  16. Bruster (1991), 52↩︎
  17. Leiter (1966)↩︎
  18. Zlateva (2012)↩︎
  19. Huth (2011)↩︎
  20. Smith (1994), 93↩︎
  21. Smith (1994); G. E. Brown (2004)↩︎
  22. Cheney (1998); Cheney (2015); Cheney (2006)↩︎
  23. Bartels and Smith (2013)↩︎
  24. Forsythe (1925)↩︎
  25. Greene (1881-1883), 58↩︎
  26. Sternfeld and Chan (1970)↩︎
  27. Barnet, Cain, and Burto (2011), 720↩︎
  28. Barnet, Cain, and Burto (2011), 721↩︎
  29. Cheney (2015)↩︎
  30. Swinburne (1908), 13↩︎
  31. Forsythe (1925); Bruster (1991)↩︎
  32. Kirchdorfer (2014)↩︎
  33. Gray (2013), 377↩︎
  34. Simppson (1966)↩︎
  35. Shakespeare (1778)↩︎
  36. Sternfeld and Chan (1970)↩︎
  37. Walton (1824), 153↩︎
  38. Chappell (s.a.)↩︎
  39. C. Brown (1941)↩︎
  40. Loncraine (1995)↩︎
  41. Edgecombe (2004)↩︎
  42. Heine (1972), 279↩︎
  43. Marlowe (Jun. 2010)↩︎

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