Marlowe in Salalah: Making English Poetry Relevant – 2008

Risse, M. “Marlowe in Salalah: Making English Poetry Relevant,” TESOL in a Globalized World – 2008 Conference, Sharjah. February 24, 2008.


I teach literature at Dhofar University in Salalah, Oman. It is a new school, only three years old and the course titles are quite grand: “Victorian Poetry” and “Prose and Fiction.” I try to strike a balance between teaching English – the language – and teaching English literature, that means a judicious selection of poems that I think I can get across, usually poems that I can make some kind of connection to the students’ lives.

This is important for a number of reasons. First, students study more – are more invested in the class – if what they are learning seems somehow relevant and important. Second, as most of my students have not traveled outside of Oman, much less Salalah, I am trying to show through the poems some connections between Western culture and Omani culture. On a strictly pedagogical level, I find discussing poetry helps students improve their vocabulary and speaking abilities in English.

To meet these goals, in a class about poetry, for example, I first have students read and understand the poem, then have rewrite the poems into a local context which, I believe, allows students to become interactive learners and find their own voice by translating the poems into their own context.

Given the prevalence of oral culture on the Arabian Peninsula, students find the genre of poetry familiar; they are accustomed to structural components such as metaphors and alliteration. Rewriting poems increases their confidence in English because they are working in a traditional medium while they are continuing to build their English vocabulary. But more importantly, rewriting makes students reflect what are the similarities and differences between the culture depicted in the poems and their own life. For example, Marlowe’s “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love”:

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.

One students changed this into a Bedouin woman waiting for her love who is out herding flocks:

Stay with me here forever

Stay with me in my small cottage

…Tell me which day you will come

To answer the villager’s questions

Why are you staring at those fields?

Are you waiting for someone?

Others changed it to a fisherman calling his wife. The hills of England transform smoothly to the beaches of the Oman with new metaphors, while still retaining the main idea of the original. For example:

And we will go to the sea

Which will give you its pearls

There the waves will be dancing for us

And I will tell you my grand tale.


Come be near me, and be my daughter

And we will all the welfare show

Sand, swell, and ship

And the entire conch in the sea will be safe

And we will sit on the balcony house

Seeing the fishermen catch their fish

By traditional restaurant with foods nautical

Listening to the sound of swells

And I will make you a gown of pearls

And the hundreds will glisten the same as stars

… A cabana made from palm [fronds]

Which from our small palm we will take


Welcome to visit to me, and sit with me

And we will have a fantastic life on the beach

That sandy, valleys and dunes

And all the seed oysters and types of fish

…And I will make you a Dishdasha made of the best Persian wool

Which from our dolphin we pull

Shoes made of pearls for swimming

With shells of jade

…A khanjar coined from gold and silver

With emeralds and rubies

Yet another student set the poem in the mountains using local words:

And we will sit in the mountains seeing the herder with his cows

Behind the water and Darbat falls

Listening to the sound of birds

…And I will give you a beautiful garba [goatskin bag used in the past]

More and more racy basils

And make a great zameel for your head

By the bright and shining Lolo [pearl]

Butheel [local loose dress for women] made of a nice Kharqa [indigo cloth]

That has a special smell

Nice loosi, [headscarf], to protect you from the sun

With sweet eardrops made from clear gold

When I taught Spenser’s Sonnet XV:

YE tradeful Merchants, that, with weary toil,

Do seek most precious things to make your gain;

And both the Indias of their treasure spoil;

What needeth you to seek so far in vain?

For lo, my love doth in her self contain        

All this world’s riches that may far be found:

If sapphires, lo, her eyes be sapphires plain;

If rubies, lo, her lips be rubies sound;

If pearls, her teeth be pearls, both pure and round;

If ivory, her forehead ivory ween;       

If gold, her locks are finest gold on ground;

If silver, her fair hands are silver sheen:

But that which fairest is, but few behold,

Her mind adorned with virtues manifold.

Students took the main points and made it their own. One turned the ‘love’ into her mother:

Every errant feel very toilsome

Trying to look for valuable stuff

In far lands the treasure

All you look for does not exist

My life, my mother contains everything

… Her eyes as the dark blue sea

Her red lips as the strawberry

Another changed the precious objects from those she didn’t know (for example ivory and sapphires) to something precious in the local area (natural honey) and something she found precious because she had never seen it (snow):

Ye king of the kingdom, that with tired rule

Do scan most valued things to make your own

And look for the town of the area

What you need to scan so in vaine?

For loe, my love does in her forever

All this king’s world may be found

If honey, her eyes be honey pure

If snow, her teeth be snow round

… However, few people see the beauty

How beautiful she is with her mind

Even a difficult poem such as Donne’s “Song” can spark great new poems.

Go and catch a falling star,

    Get with child a mandrake root,

Tell me where all past years are,

    Or who cleft the devil’s foot,

Teach me to hear mermaids singing,

Or to keep off envy’s stinging,

            And find

            What wind

Serves to advance an honest mind.

If thou be’st born to strange sights,

    Things invisible to see,

Ride ten thousand days and nights,

    Till age snow white hairs on thee,

Thou, when thou return’st, wilt tell me,

All strange wonders that befell thee,

            And swear,

            No where

Lives a woman true, and fair.

If thou find’st one, let me know,

    Such a pilgrimage were sweet;

Yet do not, I would not go,

    Though at next door we might meet;

Though she were true, when you met her,

And last, till you write your letter,

            Yet she

            Will be

False, ere I come, to two, or three.

One female student turned the tables with:

Go and search any garden flower

And tell me if any one stays forever

Tell me who can hold the moon’s mirage

Or who can stay in the child’s stage

Then find one who can touch the moon’s face

Or who makes the world full of peace


            Then try

To find a constant man

If you want to be sure

Don’t go far, just look around you

Such wonderful thinks you will see

…Later he will end as a candle

            If he swear

            No way

To believe him or to rely

…Soon he will give you poison

There is no rose without thorn

            …If he shout

            I love you

Treason comes after his echo

Wander and hold a bright moon

Stare at it and watch your foot

Inform me where old times are

Or where to find the devil’s root

Help me to see lovely angels living

Or to get rid of evil’s singing

            And look for

            What more

Can fit to go on with a tender heart

[student work used with permission]