“The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd”
By Sir Walter Raleigh
Summary: “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd” is Sir Walter Raleigh’s response to a poem written by Christopher Marlowe, “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love.” In the Marlowe poem, the shepherd proposes to his beloved by portraying their ideal future together: a life filled with earthly pleasures in a world of eternal spring. Raleigh’s reply, however, debunks the shepherd’s fanciful vision. While Marlowe’s speaker promises nature’s beauty and a litany of gifts, Raleigh’s nymph responds that such promises could only remain valid “if all the world and love were young.” Thus, she introduces the concepts of time and change. In her world, the seasons cause the shepherd’s “shallow rivers” to “rage,” rocks to “grow cold” and roses to “fade.” The shepherd’s gifts might be desirable, but they too are transient: they “soon break, soon wither” and are “soon forgotten.” In the end, the nymph acknowledges that she would accept the shepherd’s offer “could youth last” and “had joys no date.” Like the shepherd, she longs for such things to be true, but like Raleigh, she is a skeptic, retaining faith only in reason’s power to discount the “folly” of “fancy’s spring.” Source: http://www.enotes.com/nymphs-reply
Analysis: Raleigh's poem "The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd" is a witty and well-written reply to Marlowe's more innocent "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love". Using similar images and metrics, Raleigh cleverly presents the nymph's world-weary response to the shepherd's new and childlike view of love. In Marlowe's poem, the shepherd reaches out to his love with a pastoral ballad. The piece is very beautiful, painting an idyllic scene wherein the shepherd and his love can roam at their will. The shepherd tells his love that he will give all for her if she would just live with him; together they will "all the pleasures prove" (2) and he would show her to a world where birds sing, the sun shines, and everything is serene and perfect. Even Marlowe's use of language contributes to his scene of happiness with which he tries to lure his love; the poem is written in iambic tetrameter couplets, giving it a lilting and song-like feel. He also employs alliteration quite often and to great effect; soft, rolling sounds like "we will" (2), "mind may move" (27), and "live with me and be my Love" (28) achieve a verbal approximation of the valleys and hills that he speaks of contextually. Raleigh, however, will have none of Marlowe's idealism and naivet. In his poem, the shepherd has sung his song to the lover, and Raleigh's poem is her reply. Interestingly enough, Raleigh uses the word "nymph" instead of a more neutral word like "girl" or a direct counter like "love". Although the word nymph did mean "girl" in Raleigh's time, it also had the mythological connotation of a female spirit who would have been adept at warding off satyrs and would-be suitors. Raleigh's nymph breaks down the shepherd's love-struck ballad quickly and efficiently; in fact, Raleigh's poem has a counter for each of Marlowe's ideas. It begins by having the nymph doubt the shepherd's ability to make true his promises; she questions the "truth in every shepherd's tongue" (2). The shepherd and the nymph see the world in two very different lights: while the shepherd entreats the nymph to come with him, the nymph's response is one of sobering mortality. For all his romantic ideasof fields and flowers, the nymph knows that it does not matter because eventually "Time drives the flocks from fields to fold" (5) and "flowers fade" (6). Where the shepherd's "birds sing madrigals" (8), the nymph replies that "Philomel becometh dumb" (7), invoking the mythological story of Philomela, a Greek girl who was transformed into a nightingale. The poem continues in this tone until the last stanza; there, Raleigh's nymph concedes that if they were both immortal she might consider joining him, a last bit of hope for Marlowe's poor shepherd....
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