The Greatest Perfumes Never Made – Christopher Marlowe ‘The Passionate Shepherd to His Love’

 

Writing about Annette Neuffer’s Sonnet 18, I was listening to an old cd released by RADA with famous actors reciting Shakespeare. I was hoping that sonnet 18 would be read beautifully so that I could add it as a link. Unfortunately it wasn’t read, but was instead represented by a song by Bryan Ferry. Not that I mind Bryan Ferry or his music, and this song was ok, but the thing is that the way the verse is made up of 3×4 iambic pentameters and an end rhyme of two iambic pentameters giving the shape ABAB CDCD EFEF DD, it just does not lend itself to music composed after the renaissance. At least if a good musical setting of a sonnet exists I think I have yet to hear it. Anyway, Annie Lennox, who is also presented on the album with a song, had probably seen the problem and instead chosen the Marlowe pastoral poem ‘Come live with me and be my love’.

Come live with me and be my love,Marlowe shepherd
And we will all the pleasures prove
That hills and valleys, dale and field,
And all the craggy mountains yield.

There will we sit upon the rocks,
And see the shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow rivers to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.

There I will make thee beds of roses
And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroider’d all with leaves of myrtle;

A gown made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty lambs we pull;
Fair linèd 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 shepherd 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.

 

I had all but forgotten this little gem, and was happy to re-find it. The mix of her distinct vocal, recognizable sound which could never be twee or saccharine no matter what the words, and an (artificial) harpsichord solo which is perfectly weird-cute, makes for a perfect musical setting.

Perhaps in English-speaking countries this is extremely well-known, but I had never encountered it before. The pastoral setting, the fantasy of all the good the lover would do to his beloved is endearing. I instantly took this for nothing but an exercise, a little dream, but Marlowe was scolded for his youthful folly by Sir Walter Raleigh who wrote this response in 1599, even if Marlowe was dead by then.

‘…Thy gowns, thy shoes, thy beds of roses,
Thy cap, thy kirtle, and thy posies
Soon break, soon wither, soon forgotten–
In folly ripe, in reason rotten….’

Re-reading The Passionate Shepherd, I was instantly reminded of my little series ‘Greatest perfumes never made’; the salty mineral air from the rocks, the green juicy grass and sweet hay. Little posies made of wild flowers, of course roses too, and the herby myrtle, so here it goes: Pastoral Idyll in Elizabethan England.

Salty mineral, violet leaves, ivy,

Rose, myrtle, grass, a handful of wildflowers; cornflowers, primrose, St. john’s wort and camomile.

Coumarin, amber, wooly- ambergris.

But then again, since the poem is a fantasy, perhaps the fragrance itself should be so too; made of Muses’ laughter, Unicorn’s tears, golden rainbow dust, butterfly kisses, Phoenix feathers and strings of Orpheus’ Lute.

Jardins d’Ecrivains has released a new perfume called Marlowe, which I didn’t know of when I started writing this post. It sounds exciting notes being; tuberose, elemi, osmanthus, myhrr, dried flowers, oakmoss, labdanum, tuskin musk and leather and quite far from my little game, which is probably just as well.

Please tell me: how would your version look?

6 thoughts on “The Greatest Perfumes Never Made – Christopher Marlowe ‘The Passionate Shepherd to His Love’

  1. I like your romantic fantasy version.

    As you say, the poem is a fantasy and we all know that’s the case before you’re actually with the person. Sir Walter kind of missed the point 🙂

    I wonder if the expression “bed of roses” came from the poem.

    • I agree, tut tut Sir W.
      Thank you For your thumbs up for the fantasy version Tara 🙂

  2. What a strange idea to go into a poetic debate with a dead opponent..

    Anyway, back to perfume: I don’t think I want any wildflowers in my perfume but I’d try it with the rest of the notes you came up with.

    On a separate note: happy belated blog anniversary!

    • How right you are, and he’s patronising as well.
      Thank you for remembering, that’s so sweet, I’ve been too busy to do anything about it myself, so a anniversary greeting warms extra. Well, next year I hope to do something extra.

  3. I like both the fantasy and the ‘actual’ perfume compositions for your pastoral idyll in Marlowe’s day. Is that ‘woolly ambergris’ or a wool note and ambergris? I like the sound of either, mind! The St John’s Wort will be good for mood as well. 😉

    Oh, it had escaped my notice that it was your anniversary, so many congrats on that!

    • I find that ambergris has a wooly facet, but maybe I’m wrong as I never sniffed the real thing.
      Thanks for the anniversary wishes, I decided, no celebration this year. You know: it’s my party… 😉

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