Marlowe and Marvell: Love-letters

Recently I wrote a short essay comparing and contrasting two poems, Christopher Marlowe’s “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love,” and Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress.”  Both poems take the general form of a speaker addressing his beloved.  I have provided links to both poems at the end of the post, plus a link to Sir Walter Raleigh’s “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd,” which was intended as a continuation of Marlowe’s piece.

It doesn’t go very deep, but here it is.  Enjoy!

Love-letters: Marlowe and Marvell

            In terms of general structure and theme, Christopher Marlowe’s “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” is similar to Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress,” but the poems are quite different when it comes to the style of their arguments and the mindset of their speakers.

Both Marlowe and Marvell employ iambic tetrameter and maintain an aabbccdd rhyme scheme throughout their poems.  They also have something of the carpe diem concept behind them, suggesting that sooner is better than later for idle pleasures.  The speaker in both cases is a young man addressing his love, and trying to convince her to return his affections.  Marlowe’s shepherd cries, “Come live with me, and be my love” (1), while the Marvell’s speaker coaxes, “Now let us sport us while we may” (37).  Both speakers end confidently, though there is no real resolution, since the objects of their love make no reply.  The shepherd seems sure that if his love desires those things he describes, then she will be content to live with him forever.  “If these delights thy mind may move, / Then live with me and be my love” (Marlowe 23-24).  Andrew Marvell’s speaker ceases to cajole his mistress simply using the future tense, as if she has already agreed.  “Thus, though we cannot make our sun / Stand still, yet we will make him run” (45-46).

The major difference between the two poems is demonstrated by their one structural inconsistency.  “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” is broken up into stanzas of four lines each, while three vague, unseparated sections compose “To His Coy Mistress.”  This reflects the speakers’ difference in mindset.  Marlowe’s focuses on many different things, such as, “A belt of straw, and ivy buds, / With coral clasps and amber studs” (17-18), while Marvell’s centers solely on the person of his mistress, and hence is only divided up based on his logical argument.  This discrepancy leads to the last point of difference: the shepherd’s passion is shallow and unconvincing compared with the speaker of “To His Coy Mistress.”  This is supported in part by the previous point, that the shepherd centers on the pleasures and beauties that he can show his love, while the other speaker demonstrates his love by focusing on his devotion and love for the person.  Furthermore, Marvell’s speaker shows that he is much wiser and deeper than the shepherd, since he reasons with his love that they have not “world enough, and time” (1), but must make the most of life before it is gone.  Marlowe’s lover, on the other hand, shows either naiveté or deceptiveness by implying that his idyllic pastoral life could last forever.

And I will make thee beds of roses,

And a thousand fragrant poesies,

A cap of flowers, and a kirtle,

Embroidered all with leaves of myrtle. (Marlowe 9-12)

The Passionate Shepherd to His Love
To His Coy Mistress
The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd

© Samuel Birrer and Serendipity, 2014.


About SamBirrer

Chemistry student and undergrad researcher at Rutgers University. Minors in math and geology. President of Rutgers Chemistry Society (student chapter of ACS).
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