This is the best known pastoral love lyric in the English language. Marlowe’s shepherd exhorts his love to come and join him in the countryside with a series of elaborate promises about what they will do in their rural idyll.
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 shepherds’ 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 urban, urbane Marlowe is not the shepherd, of course, who seems to have stepped out of an Arcadian fantasy more than any real part of England. The countryside in the shepherd’s vision is more idealised even than Arcadia, mind, as a veritable prelapsarian paradise of an ever-beneficent and yielding nature, whose birds sing ‘melodious madrigals’ for the listening couple and whose lambs submit wool at the merest tug. A sceptic might wonder whether coral clasps and golden buckles are so easy to come by in the sheep-rearing areas, or within a farmer’s budget for that matter, although it’s true wool was a valuable commodity in Elizabethan times.
Not that shepherds and sheep-rearing was universally popular back then. For traditional country people and their old ways of life, the enclosure of the common land for pasture by the land owners was the source of much bitterness. Peter Ackroyd, in the second volume of his history of England, The Tudors, writes of a rebellion in Norfolk, in which the country people left a message on a sheep carcass for a local gentleman:
Mr Pratt, your sheep are very fat,
And we thank you for that;
We have left you the skins
To pay for your wife’s pins
And you must thank us for that.
Hmm… The shepherd’s love ought to keep an eye on those dancing, singing swains. They might not be as merry as they look.