Let us leave the Modernists for a moment, for a trip to an imaginary land, a locus amoenus, a pleasant place, within whose bounds certain things hold true: love brings simple riches and complex pleasures ignorant of inconstant affection, and where the cares and complexities of cosmopolitan life, brutal prejudice, and other social constructions fade away.
Such a place can have many names. To the Surrealists it was the unfettered confusion of certain dreams. To the west coast optimists of the Sixties and their cross-Atlantic vibrationalists, it was a new Eden of decorated affection and open-mindedness. To a resident of fetid Elizabethan London, it was the pastoral, a demi-countryside where love was free and the rent non-existent. Shepherds, Pan and Panopticon, willed willing partners to their bowers. It seems like a nice place to visit—and in the mind, even more so.
Christopher Marlowe must have written this pastoral love poem sometime before he died in 1593 (baring any occult forces of the Twilight variety, or the posthumous inspirations that allow Oxfordians to confound Shakespeare’s later plays) but it wasn’t published until a few years after his death. It’s a full-throated exhortation in the pastoral style—with a slippery set of gold-buckled feet at the bottom of its argument as we’ll soon see, though that may not matter. Not only is it lovely sounding, even read flat on the page, the whole point of the imaginary pastoral world and the locus amoenus is that it isn’t real, that it’s the place we want to lie in and be lied to sweetly, within.
“And we will all the pleasures prove.” The 19 year old Marlowe and the 29 year old Peel.
In the spirit of all this, today’s audio piece is one of the few Parlando Project selections where I sing, as you can’t really declaim “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love.” Musically, I chose to use some of the production techniques popular among dreaming optimists in the Sixties, where John Peel’s Perfumed Garden would be another locus amoenus, another imaginary place, where, in fetid times, we might want to go. This week, 50 years ago, John Peel performed his final broadcast of that accidental and influential radio show.
To hear Marlowe’s“The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” performed as if it was a cut being played on the Perfumed Garden, use the player that should appear below.