The Passionate Shepherd to His Love

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"The Passionate Shepherd to His Love" is a poem written by the English poet Christopher Marlowe and published in 1599 (six years after the poet's death). In addition to being one of the most well-known love poems in the English language, it is considered one of the earliest examples of the pastoral style of British poetry in the late Renaissance period. It is composed in iambic tetrameter (four feet of unstressed/stressed syllables), with seven (sometimes six, depending on the version) stanzas each composed of two rhyming couplets. It is often used for scholastic purposes for its regular meter and rhythm.

The poem was the subject of a well-known "reply" by Walter Raleigh, called "The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd". The interplay between the two poems reflects the relationship that Marlowe had with Raleigh. Marlowe was young, his poetry romantic and rhythmic, and in the Passionate Shepherd he idealises the love object (the Nymph). Raleigh was an old courtier and an accomplished poet himself. His attitude is more jaded, and in writing the Nymph's reply it is clear that he is rebuking Marlowe for being naive and juvenile in both his writing style and the Shepherd's thoughts about love. Subsequent responses to Marlowe have come from John Donne,[1] C. Day Lewis, William Carlos Williams,[2] Ogden Nash,[3] W. D. Snodgrass,[4] Douglas Crase and Greg Delanty,[5] and Robert Herrick.

In about 1846 the composer William Sterndale Bennett set the words as a charming four-part madrigal.[6] The poem was adapted for the lyrics of the 1930s-style swing song performed by Stacey Kent at the celebratory ball in the 1995 film of William Shakespeare's Richard III. It was also the third of the Liebeslieder Polkas for Mixed Chorus and Piano Five Hands, supposedly written by fictional composer P.D.Q. Bach (Peter Schickele) and performed by the Swarthmore College Chorus in 1980. Other songs to draw lyrics from the poem include The Prayer Chain song Antarctica (1996) from the album of the same name, and The Real Tuesday Weld song Let It Come Down from their album The Last Werewolf (2011).

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