The Affectionate Shepherd

English poet Richard Barnfield (1574-1620), a contemporary of William Shakespeare and possibly the ‘rival poet’ Shakespeare referred to in sonnets addressed to a young man. Barnfield wrote such sonnets too and, in 1594, aged 21, published ‘The Affectionate Shepherd’ – telling the story of Daphnis’ love for Ganymede, which sold well but drew censure because of its homoerotic content. That did not stop him publishing similar content, such as the sonnets at the end of this piece. These works shine a light on the possibility that men who loved men had retained, through the many dark centuries since Christianity had gained domination over people’s religious lives, an awareness of the ancient Greek view of the spiritual potential of gay relationships , or at least were rediscovering it again in the Renaissance period. Throughout the Middle Ages Ganymede had been a term for a young gay man, alongside catamite, the less ‘respectable’ Roman term. Poetry celebrating the love of men for youths was common in Greece, Rome and continued to be written by Christian, Jewish and Muslim poets throughout the Middle Ages.

“Although there is little biographical data concerning Barnfield’s private life, the intensity, apparent sincerity, and frequency with which this theme is expressed leave little doubt but that he was homosexual at least at the time he wrote this poetry as a young man. Several critics have suggested that he was the lover of both Marlowe and Shakespeare, and even the “rival poet” vying for the affections of Shakespeare’s Master W. H. He might just as easily have been the lover of any of the writers within the Sidney circle, particularly Abraham Fraunce.” Rictor Norton


Scarce had the morning starre hid from the light Heavens crimson canopie with stars bespangled, But I began to rue th’ unhappy sight Of that faire boy that had my hart intangled; Cursing the time, the place, the sense, the sin; I came, I saw, I viewd, I slipped in.

If it be sinne to love a sweet-fac’d boy, Whose amber locks trust up in golden tramels Dangle adowne his lovely cheekes with joy, When pearle and flowers his faire haire enamels; If it be sinne to love a lovely lad, Oh then sinne I, for whom my soule is sad.

His ivory-white and alablaster skin Is staind throughout with rare vermillion red, Whose twinckling starrie lights doe never blin To shine on lovely Venus, Beauties bed; But as the lillie and the blushing rose, So white and red on him in order growes.

Upon a time the nymphs bestird them-selves To trie who could his beautie soonest win; But he accounted them but all as elves, Except it were the faire Queene Guendolen: Her he embrac’d, of her was beloved, With plaints he proved, and with teares he moved.

But her an old man had beene sutor too, That in his age began to doate againe; Her would he often pray, and often woo, When through old age enfeebled was his braine: But she before had lov’d a lustie youth, That now was dead, the cause of all her ruth.

And thus it hapned, Death and Cupid met Upon a time at swilling Bacchus house, Where daintie cates upon the boord were set, And goblets full of wine to drinke carouse: Where Love and Death did love the licor so, That out they fall and to the fray they goe.

And having both their quivers at their backe Fild full of arrows; th’ one of fatall steele, The other all of gold; Deaths shaft was black, But Loves was yellow: Fortune turnd her wheele, And from Deaths quiver fell a fatall shaft, That under Cupid by the winde was waft.

And at the same time by ill hap there fell Another arrow out of Cupids quiver, The which was carried by the winde at will, And under Death the amorous shaft did shiver: They being parted, Love tooke up Deaths dart, And Death tooke up Loves arrow for his part.

Thus as they wandred both about the world, At last Death met with one of feeble age: Wherewith he drew a shaft and at him hurld The unknowne arrow with a furious rage, Thinking to strike him dead with Deaths blacke dart; But he, alas, with Love did wound his hart!

This was the doting foole, this was the manThat lov’d faire Guendolena, Queene of Beautie;Shee cannot shake him off, doo what she can,For he hath vowd to her his soules last duety:Making him trim upon the holydaies,And crownes his love with garlands made of baies.

Now doth he stroke his beard, and now againe He wipes the drivel from his filthy chin; Now offers he a kisse, but high Disdaine Will not permit her hart to pity him: Her hart more hard than adamant or steele, Her hart more changeable than Fortunes wheele.

But leave we him in love up to the eares, And tell how Love behav’d himselfe abroad; Who seeing one that mourned still in teares, A young man groaning under Loves great load, Thinking to ease his burden, rid his paines, For men have griefe as long as life remaines.

Alas, the while that unawares he drueThe fatall shaft that Death had dropt before,By which deceit great harme did then insue,Stayning his face with blood and filthy goare:His face, that was to Guendolen more deereThan love of lords, or any lordly peere.

This was that faire and beautifull young man, Whom Guendolena so lamented for; This is that Love whom she doth curse and ban, Because she doth that dismall chaunce abhor: And if it were not for his mothers sake, Even Ganimede himselfe she would forsake.

Oh would shee would forsake my Ganimede ,Whose sugred love is full of sweete delight, Upon whose forehead you may plainely reade Loves pleasure grav’d in yvorie tables bright: In whose faire eye-balls you may clearely see Base Love still staind with foule indignitie.

Oh would to God he would but pitty mee, That love him more than any mortall wight! Then he and I with love would soone agree, That now cannot abide his sutors sight. O would to God, so I might have my fee, My lips were honey, and thy mouth a bee!

Then shouldst thou sucke my sweete and my faire flower, That now is ripe and full of honey-berries; Then would I leade thee to my pleasant bower, Fild full of grapes, of mulberries, and cherries: Then shouldst thou be my waspe or else my bee, I would thy hive, and thou my honey, bee.

I would put amber bracelets on thy wrests, Crownets of pearle about thy naked armes: And when thou sitst at swilling Bacchus feasts My lips with charmes should save thee from all harmes: And when in sleepe thou tookst thy chiefest pleasure, Mine eyes should gaze upon thine eyelids treasure.

And every morne by dawning of the day, When Phœbus riseth with a blushing face, Silvanus chappel-clarkes shall chaunt a lay, And play thee hunts-up in thy resting place: My coote thy chamber, my bosome thy bed Shall be appointed for thy sleepy head.

And when it pleaseth thee to walke abroad, Abroad into the fields to take fresh ayre, The meades with Floras treasure should be strowde, The mantled meaddowes, and the fields so fayre. And by a silver well with golden sands Ile sit me downe, and wash thine yvory hands.

And in the sweltring heate of summer time, I would make cabinets for thee, my love; Sweet-smelling arbours made of eglantine Should be thy shrine, and I would be thy dove. Cool cabinets of fresh greene laurell boughs Should shadow us, ore-set with thicke-set eughes.

Or if thou list to bathe thy naked limbs Within the cristall of a pearle-bright brooke, Paved with dainty pibbles to the brims, Or cleare, wherein thyselfe thyselfe mayst looke; Weele goe to Ladon, whose still trickling noyse Will lull thee fast asleepe amids thy joyes.

Or if thoult goe unto the river side, To angle for the sweet freshwater fish, Arm’d with thy implements that will abide, Thy rod, hooke, line, to take a dainty dish; Thy rods shall be of cane, thy lines of silke, Thy hooks of silver, and thy bayts of milke.

Or if thou lov’st to hear sweet melodie, Or pipe a round upon an oaten reede, Or make thyselfe glad with some myrthfull glee, Or play them musicke whilst thy flocke doth feede. To Pans owne pype Ile helpe my lovely lad, Pans golden pype, which he of Syrinx had.

Or if thou darst to climbe the highest trees For apples, cherries, medlars, peares, or plumbs, Nuts, walnuts, filbeards, chestnuts, cervices, The hoary peach, when snowy winter comes; I have fine orchards full of mellowed frute, Which I will give thee to obtaine my sute.

Not proud Alcynous himselfe can vaunt Of goodlier orchards or of braver trees Than I have planted; yet thou wilt not graunt My simple sute, but like the honey bees Thou suckst the flowre till all the sweet be gone, And loost mee for my coyne till I have none.

Leave Guendolen, sweet hart; though she be faire, Yet is she light; not light in vertue shining, But light in her behaviour, to impaire Her honour in her chastities declining; Trust not her teares, for they can wantonnize, When teares in pearle are trickling from her eyes.

If thou wilt come and dwell with me at home, My sheepcote shall be strowed with new greene rushes: Weele haunt the trembling prickets as they rome About the fields, along the hauthorne bushes; I have a pie-bald curre to hunt the hare, So we will live with daintie forrest fare.

Nay, more than this, I have a garden plot, Wherein there wants nor hearbs, nor roots, nor flowers; Flowers to smell, roots to eate, hearbs for the pot, And dainty shelters when the welkin lowers: Sweet-smelling beds of lillies, and of roses, Which rosemary banks and lavender incloses.

There growes the gilliflowre, the mynt, the dayzie Both red and white, the blue-veynd violet; The purple hyacinth, the spyke to please thee, The scarlet dyde carnation bleeding yet: The sage, the savery, and sweet margerum, Isop, tyme, and eye-bright, good for the blinde and dumbe.

The pinke, the primrose, cowslip and daffodilly, The hare-bell blue, the crimson cullumbine, Sage, lettis, parsley, and the milke-white lilly, The rose and speckled flowre cald sops-in-wine, Fine pretie king-cups, and the yellow bootes, That growes by rivers and by shallow brookes.

And manie thousand moe I cannot name Of hearbs and flowers that in gardens grow, I have for thee, and coneyes that be tame, Young rabbets, white as swan, and blacke as crow; Some speckled here and there with daintie spots: And more I have two mylch and milke-white goates.

All these and more Ile give thee for thy love, If these and more may tyce thy love away: I have a pidgeon-house, in it a dove, Which I love more than mortall tongue can say. And last of all Ile give thee a little lambe To play withall, new weaned from her dam.

But if thou wilt not pittie my complaint, My teares, nor vowes, nor oathes, made to thy beautie: What shall I doo but languish, die, or faint, Since thou dost scorne my teares, and my soules duetie: And teares contemned, vowes and oaths must faile, And where teares cannot, nothing can prevaile.

Compare the love of faire Queene Guendolin With mine, and thou shalt [s]ee how she doth love thee: I love thee for thy qualities divine, But shee doth love another swaine above thee: I love thee for thy gifts, she for hir pleasure; I for thy vertue, she for beauties treasure.

And alwaies, I am sure, it cannot last. But sometime Nature will denie those dimples: Insteed of beautie, when thy blossom’s past, Thy face will be deformed full of wrinckles; Then she that lov’d thee for thy beauties sake, When age drawes on, thy love will soone forsake.

But that I lov’d thee for thy gifts divine, In the December of thy beauties waning, Will still admire with joy those lovely eine, That now behold me with their beauties baning. Though Januarie will never come againe, Yet Aprill yeres will come in showers of raine.

When will my May come, that I may embrace thee? When will the hower be of my soules joying? Why dost thou seeke in mirth still to disgrace mee? Whose mirth’s my health, whose griefe’s my harts annoying: Thy bane my bale, thy blisse my blessednes, Thy ill my hell, thy weale my welfare is.

Thus doo I honour thee that love thee so, And love thee so, that so doo honour thee Much more than anie mortall man doth know, Or can discerne by love or jealozie: But if that thou disdainst my loving ever, Oh happie I, if I had loved never!

Barnfield’s collection of 20 sonnets was published 14 years before those of Shakespeare. Like the bard’s, these poems celebrate the charms of a young man. They are described on as being “of unusual merit as poetry, and would rank as high in quality as in date of publication if their subjectmatter were not so preposterous.” (sic) Preposterosity is, one presumes, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder! Make your own mind up!

Sonnet 3

The Stoicks thinke, (and they come neare the truth,)
That vertue is the chiefest good of all,
The Academicks on Idea call.
The Epicures in pleasure spend their youth,
The Perrepatetickes iudge felicitie,
To be the chiefest good above all other,
One man, thinks this; & that conceaves another:
So that in one thing very few agree.
Let Stoicks have their Vertue if they will,
And all the rest their chiefe-supposed good,
Let cruel Martialists delight in blood,
And Mysers ioy their bags with gold to fill:
My chiefest good, my chiefe felicity,
Is to be gazing on my loves faire eie.

Sonnet 11

Sighing, and sadly sitting by my love,
He askt the cause of my hearts sorrowing,
Coniuring me by heavens eternall King,
To tell the cause which me so much did move.
Compell’d: (quoth I) to thee will I confesse,
Love is the cause; and only love it is
That doth deprive me of my heavenly blisse,
Love is the paine that doth my heart oppresse.
And what is she (quoth he) who thou dos’t love?
Looke in this glasse (quoth I) there shalt thou see
The perfect forme of my felicitie.
When, thinking that it would strange Magique prove,
He open’d it: and taking off the cover
He straight perceav’d himselfe to be my Lover.

Sonnet 12

Some talke of Ganymede th’ Idalian Boy
And some of faire Adonis make their boast,
Some talke of him whom lovely Laeda lost,
And some of Ecchoes love that was so coy.
They spoke by heere-say, I of perfect truth,
They partially commend the persons named,
And for them, sweet Encomions have framed:
I onely t’him have sacrifiz’d my youth.
As for those wonders of antiquitie,
And those whom later ages have inioy’d
(But ah what hath not cruell death destroide?
Death, that envies this worlds felicitie),
They were (perhaps) lesse faire then Poets write,
But he is fairer then I can endite.

Sonnet 15

A[h] fairest Ganymede, disdaine me not,
Though silly Sheepeheard I, presume to love thee,
Though my harsh songs and Sonnets cannot move thee,
Yet to thy beauty is my love no blot.
Apollo, Iove, and many Gods beside,
S’daind not the name of cutry shepheards swains,
Nor want we pleasure, though we take some pains,
We live contentedly: a thing call’d pride,
Which so corrupts the Court and every place
(Each place I meane where learning is neglected,
And yet of late, even learning’s selfe’s infected),
I know not what it meanes, in any case :
Wee onely (when Molorchus gins to peepe.)
Learne for to folde, and to unfolde our sheepe.

Sonnet 17

Cherry-lipped Adonis in his snowy shape,
Might not compare with his pure ivory white,
On whose fair front a poet’s pen might write,
Whose rosiate red excels the crimson grape.
His love-enticing delicate soft limbs,
Are rarely framed t’ intrap poor gazing eyes;
His cheeks, the lily and carnation dyes,
With lovely tincture which Apollo’s dims.
His lips ripe strawberries in nectar wet,
His mouth a hive, his tongue a honeycomb,
Where muses (like bees) make their mansion.
His teeth pure pearl in blushing coral set.
Oh how can such a body sin-procuring,
Be slow to love, and quick to hate, enduring?

Sonnet 18

Not Megabaetes, nor Cleonymus,
(Of whom great Plutarck makes such mention
Praysing their faire with rare inuention)
As Ganymede were halfe so beauteous.
They onely pleas’d the eies of two great Kings,
But all the worlde at my love stands amazed,
Nor one that on his Angels face hath gazed,
But (ravisht with delight) him Presents brings.
Some weaning Lambs, and some a suckling Kyd,
Some Nuts, and fil-beards, others Peares & Plums,
Another with a milk-white Heyfar comes;
As lately AEgons man (Damcaetas) did;
But neither he, nor all the Nymphs beside,
Can win my Ganymede, with them t’abide.

Sonnet 19

Ah no; nor I my selfe : though my pure love
(Sweete Ganymede) to thee hath still beene pure,
And even till my last gaspe shall aie endure,
Could ever thy obdurate beuty moue:
Then cease oh Goddesse sonne (for sure thou ait,
A Goddesse sonne that canst resist desire)
Cease thy hard heart, and entertaine loves fire
Within thy sacred breast: by Natures art.
And as I love thee more then any Creature
(Love thee, because thy beautie is divine;
Love thee, because my selfe, my soule is thine:
Wholie denoted to thy lovelie feature),
Even so of all the vowels, I and U
Are dearest unto me, as doth ensue.

Published by shokti

i am shokti, lovestar of the eurofaeries, aka marco queer magician of london town. i explore the links between our sexual-physical nature and our spirits, running gatherings, rituals and Queer Spirit Festival. i woke up to my part in the accelerating awakening of light love and awareness on planet earth during a shamanic death-and-rebirth process lasting from January 1995 to the year 2000, and offer here my insights and observations on the ongoing transformation of human consciousness, how to navigate the waves of change, and especially focusing on the role of queer people at this time.

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