Marlowe and Raleigh
Christopher Marlowe (1564–1593) was born two months before William Shakespeare. By the age of 23 he had invented the use of blank verse in the theater and used it in his first great success, the play Tamburlaine. He went on to write five more plays and numerous poems within the next six years.He was a man of great ability and not a little mystery, but the chances of him living long seem to have been slim. On May 30, 1593, at the inn of the Widow Bull in Deptford, Marlowe was killed by a dagger thrust in an argument over the bill. It cut short one of the age’s great poets. Below you will find one of his most memorable romantic poems.
Like Christopher Marlowe, Sir Walter Raleigh (1552–1618) was a man with a violent temper. Unlike Marlowe, however, he lived a long and eventful life. He is probably best known today for founding the colony of Virginia and introducing tobacco into Europe. In his own time he was known for his dramatic sense of life, his extravagant dress, and his great popularity with Queen Elizabeth. Raleigh was a “Renaissance man”; i.e. a man interested in all forms of knowledge and activity. As well as being a poet, historian, courtier, student of science and philosopher, he was also a soldier and sailor in the wars against Spain. When James I became king, he wanted peace and therefore had Raleigh thrown into the Tower of London in 1603 on false charges of treason. In 1618 Raleigh was executed.
London was small enough in those days for artists to know one another personally. In the second poem below Raleigh composed a reply to Marlowe’s “Shepherd”. It is one of those rare times when genius replies to genius in the world of poetry. It was widely read at the time and has been treasured ever since.
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 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.
The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd
By Sir Walter Raleigh
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.
These two poems speak to one another, through poetic “voices” (the Shepherd and the Nymph). The first reflects the “pastoral” tradition in which things of Nature are seen to be superior to man-made things. The second voice reflects the scepticism of the age and the realism of a world in which everything must pass on. The two also speak to another in the very words and images used to convey meanings. Let’s look more closely at the poems stanza by stanza.
- In the first stanza of Marlowe’s poem, his Shepherd tells his love that there are many pleasures in the world that they can try together. How does the Nymph reply to this offer? What does she point out about these pleasures?
- In the second stanza, the Shepherd describes a quiet scene of relaxation and beauty – shepherds feeding their flocks by a river while birds sing. Again the Nymph replies using the same images. But what has now happened to the flocks? What is the state of the river? What has happened to the bird songs? In which season do you think the Shepherd describes his scene? To which season is the Nymph referring?
- In the third stanza, the Shepherd offers to make the Nymph a bed of roses and beautiful clothes of flowers and sweet smelling plants. How does the Nymph reply to this? What do you think is meant by the last two lines of the Nymph’s reply in this stanza?
- In stanza four, what kinds of gifts does the Shepherd offer the Nymph? What does the Nymph say will soon happen to them all? What does the last line of the Nymph’s reply mean?
- In stanza five the Shepherd offers more gifts, which are firmly rejected by the Nymph. But in the last stanza of her reply she says there are conditions under which she would be willing to be his love. What are these conditions? Why are they ironic?
- Which of these two poems did you like the most (or dislike the least!)? Why?