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The Passsionate Shepherd Essay, Research Paper

Contrasting Conditions of the Heart

People cannot exist within the context of society, without encountering the contrasting polarities of the human heart. The theme in Christopher Marlowe’s poem “The Passionate Shepard to His Love” (circa 1600 A.D.), and the theme in Sir Walter Raleigh’s poem “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepard” (circa 1552? -1618 A.D.), portray the contrasting themes of love and hate.

Christopher Marlowe’s poem “The Passionate Shepard to His Love” is a poem that manifest hope, love and eternal optimism. Marlowe’s character is the archetype of goodness and strength. Marlowe chose a shepherd for his character, because a shepherd represents; goodness, strength, and independence. The character recalls the biblical significance denominated to a shepherd that of a leader, a provider of sorts. To date some denominations of Christian religions still call their congregations “flocks” and their leader a “Pastor.”

The first stanza of Marlowe’s poem is about a proposal that offers a future and offers the most beautiful condition of human existence . . . love “Come live with me and be my love” (1). With this line the shepherd is making clear his intentions of marriage. The author chose the word “come” because of the conviction it conveys. He is not saying “would” or “could.” No doubt is placed as to the shepherd’s love. The shepherds love also is also boundless: “That valleys, groves, hills and fields/ Woods, or steepy mountain yields” (3-4).

Love is again offered in the form of symbolic gifts. Some gifts symbolize the shepherd’s inner beauty: “And I will make thee beds of roses/With a thousand fragrant poises” (9-10). These gifts are not material; they are labours of love meant to symbolize the beauty he is offering. Other gifts introduce a sense of materialism:

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. (13-16)

The gown and the slippers are gifts designed to protect and provide warmth. However, the mention of fine wool and buckles of gold are designed to introduce the character’s ability to provide worldly wants. The final gifts offered are intended to appeal to the lover’s sense of materialism: “A belt of straw and ivy buds/With coral clasps and amber studs” (17-18). All of the senses of the lover are being appealed to, the shepherd is fulfilling his promise “And we will all the pleasures prove” (2).

Stanza number six concerns itself with the future “For thy delight each May morning” (22). The mention of each May morning is intended to let the shepherd’s love know that he is looking past the immediate and into the future. The future is also painted as an optimistic and cheerful future”The shepherds’ swains shall dance and sing” (21).

Overall “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” is a poem that introduces a persona of goodness, offerings of gifts, and a future filled with love. In contrast Sir Walter Raleigh’s poem “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd,” portrays the darkest of the conditions of the human heart . . . hate.

Sir Walter Raleigh’s character in “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd,” is portrayed as a pessimistic, experienced persona who rejects love and all that the shepherd has to offer “If all the world and love were young/And truth in every shepherd’s tongue” (1-2). These two lines reveal the Nymph’s unrealistic and experienced outlook at life. Expecting all the world and love to remain young is not reasonable. The reference to truth in every shepherd’s tongue reveals that negative experiences have tainted the nymph’s soul.

There is hate in all of the Nymph’s replies, it is especially prevalent as the nymph refuses everything that the shepherd is offering, including his gifts “Soon break, soon whither, soon forgotten” (15). This line is intended to let the shepherd know that beautiful things can fulfill her. Further rejection comes in the fifth stanza “All these in me no means can move” (19). Nothing that the shepherd can do will appeal to her.

The nymph’s view of the future is also negative “The rest complains of care to come” (8). For every offer of the possibility of a future, the nymph has a hopeless reply “Is fancy’s spring, but sorrow’s fall” (12). The sixth stanza deals with the final rejection and demonstrates the impossibility for a future “But could youth last, and love still breed/Had joys no date, nor age no need” (21-22). Youth can not last forever, nor does joy have no date, nor age no need.

Marlowe’s poem and Sir Walter Raleigh’s poem depict two of the most powerful and contrasting emotions a human can feel. Marlowe’s poem is one of hope beauty and most important, endless love. By contrast Raleigh’s poem is jaded by tainted experiences, feelings of despair, and hate. In life let us pray that the people we meet will be more like the Shepherd and that we never meet a persona like the Nymph.

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