A Comparison and Contrast of Love in Christopher Marlowe's "The Passionate Shepherd to his Love" and C. Day Lewis's "Song"
In the poems "The Passionate Shepherd to his Love" by Christopher Marlowe and "Song" by C. Day Lewis, the speakers display their individual views of what can be expected with their love. Both speakers produce invitations to love with differences in what they have to offer. A list of promised delights is offered by the speaker in "The Passionate Shepherd," and through persuasion, is able to influence the emotions of his love. The speaker in "Song" shows the difficulties of his life, as seen in his economic necessity and lack of material pleasures, but subsequently offers his love unconditionally in order to convince his beloved. In comparison the poems expose the speakers' use of separate methods to influence their loves. Through comparing and contrasting the context in which the invitations occur, what each speaker offers, and the tone of each speaker, these differing methods can be understood.
The "Passionate Shepherd" is set in a romantic, natural backdrop in the seventeenth century. In this rural setting the Shepherd displays his flock and pastures to his love while promising her garlands and wool for weaving. Many material goods are offered by the speaker to the woman he loves in hopes of receiving her love in return. He also utilizes the power of speech to attempt to gain the will of his love. In contrast, the poem "Song" is set in what is indicative of a twentieth century depression, with an urban backdrop that is characteristically unromantic. The speaker "handle(s) dainties on the docks" (5) , showing that his work likely consists of moving crates as a dock worker. He extends his affection through the emphasis of his love and how it has endured and survived all hardships. He uses the truth of his poor and difficult situation as a tool to entice his love.
In the "Passionate Shepherd", the speaker offers his lover a multitude of delights to persuade her emotions in his favor. At the very beginning of the poem he states his intention that "we will all the pleasures prove" (2) , creating a basis upon which all his promises are centered. Using the natural setting of the poem as the framework for this idealistic lifestyle, the speaker furnishes his love through the use of natural objects such as clothes and accessories. He describes "A gown made of the finest wool / Which from our pretty lambs we pull" (13-14) and "Fair lines slippers for the cold / With buckles of the purest gold" (15-16) to influence his love's decision. His gifts continue with "A belt of straw and ivy buds / With coral clasps and amber studs" (17-18) to soften her heart in his favor. Through these generous offerings the speaker hopes to attract her with objects but in the process fails to offer himself. This reveals his superficial attitude towards women where by they can be manipulated with gifts and promises, and in turn shows a sign of his possible sexual intentions. The speaker is possibly trying to obscure his love long enough to take control and have his way with her. This idea is reinforced in the line "I will make thee a bed of roses" (9) , which contains underlying sexual connotations. These intentions are masked in the speaker's persuasive nature as he seduces his love with romantic images of "Melodious birds sing(ing) madrigals" (8) . It can also be observed that all the gifts which represent the speaker's love are all fabricated from nature, such as "A cap of flowers, and a kirtle / Embroidered all with leaves of myrtle" (11-12) . Due to the fact that all substances of nature eventually die, this could imply that as the gifts will die so will his love for her. In comparison to the offering of the speaker in "Song", the shepherd appears to be insincere.
The speaker in "Song" does not try to impress his love with grandeur. He does not proclaim the gifts he can give her but emphasizes that his love is displayed through the hardships he endures. The speaker in this poem simply offers his honesty. Like the speaker in "The Passionate Shepherd," this speaker "will all the pleasures prove" (2) . The difference being that the speaker from "Song" offers it only on the "chance that employment may afford (it)" (4) . The speaker in "The Passionate Shepherd" promises to make "A gown of the finest wool" (13) , but the speaker in "Song" promises that "thou shalt read of summer frocks (dresses)" (6) . This demonstrates that the speaker offers what he can, and does not fabricate stories about the way things will be. When he speaks of an "evening by the sour canals / We'll hope to hear some madrigals" (7-8) , he knows that because of the pollution they will more that likely hear the songs of seagulls, boats, horns, and obscenities. When the speaker says "Care on thy maidens brow shall put / A wreath of wrinkles, and thy foot / Be shod with pain: not silken dress / But toil shall tire thy loveliness" (9-12) , he gives an indirect compliment to her beauty while emphasizing that love requires work. Despite the absence of material objects, he still tries to be romantic. When the speaker says, "Hunger shall make thy modest zone (waist) / And cheat fond death of all but bone" (13-14) he means that she will be thin not through intent, but through necessity.
The different emphasis on what constitutes love for the speakers of the two poems is very evident. One offers hopes, dreams, objects, and material goods while the other offers reality. Love exists in both, but the reasons for that love are dramatically different. The speaker in "The Passionate Shepherd" desires physical love full of promises and the speaker in "Song" desires an enduring love that will exist through hard times. It is easy to be blinded by gifts and romance but the love that is truthful will last much longer.
Considering the motives of the speaker in "The Passionate Shepherd", enables the reader to determine the tone of the poem because it is conveyed in his attitude towards his love. He has a false sense of romance because he thinks love means manipulating affections through offering gifts but his affections can be considered falsely romantic. In the line "If these delights thy mind may move" (15) the speaker in 'Song" asks his love to think about their love and everything that it includes, whereas in "The Passionate Shepherd", the speaker asks about what she thinks of the gifts he gave her. The speaker's tone in "The Passionate Shepherd" is aimed at what he believes she would like to hear.
In stark contrast, the speaker in "Song" is realistic about what his affection would entail. He wants to convey to his love that his affections are unconditional and does not want her to be blinded by promises of objets. One could mistake the speaker in "Song" as a pessimist whose attitude towards romance is dull, but his honesty demonstrates a greater knowledge of what real love is.
Through comparing the speakers in "Song" and "The Passionate Shepherd", two methods for influencing love are explored. The poem's context, content, and tone provide a deeper insight into the different ways love can be enticed. The poems contrast truth and promises while the speakers demonstrate the diminishing power of words and objects, and the increasing effect of truthfulness as the means to achieve true love. By contrasting the poems, the reader is convinced that truthfulness rather than spoken promises is the most effective means of achieving true love.
C. Day Lewis
Come, live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
Of peace and plenty, bed and board,
That chance employment may afford.
I'll handle dainties on the docks
And thou shalt read of summer frocks:
At evening by the sour canals
We'll hope to hear some madrigals.
Care on thy maiden brow shall put
A wreath of wrinkles, and thy foot
Be shod with pain: not silken dress
But toil shall tire thy loveliness.
Hunger shall make thy modest zone
And cheat fond death of all but bone -
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me and be my love.
Lewis, C. Day. "Two Songs. (2)" Poems of C. Day Lewis 1925-1972. Ed. Jonathan Cape.
London: Hogarth Press, 1977. 90.
Marlowe, Christopher. "The Passionate Shepherd to his Love." The Broadview Anthology of
Poetry. Eds. Herbert Rosengarten and Amanda Goldrick-Jones. Peterborough:
Broadview Press, 1993. 414.