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“The Nymphs’ Reply to the Shepherd” by Christopher Marlowe Essay

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Updated: Dec 8th, 2021

Introduction

This is a six-stanza poem written by Sir Walter Raleigh. The poem was written as a response to another poem, The Passionate Shepherd to His Love that had been written by Christopher Marlowe. In The Passionate Shepherd to His Love, the author tells of a shepherd that proposes to a lover by showing how their lives would be nice while together. In The Nymphs’ Reply to the Shepherd, Sir Walter Raleigh gives a response to the proposal. In Marlowe’s poem, the shepherd promises happiness, nature’s beauty and many other gifts to his lover. On the other hands, in The Nymphs’ Reply to the Shepherd, Walter gives reasons as to why the promised happiness might not be possible. The poems discuss the nature of love and dilemma of lovers. Nature of lover and life of lovers is a tricky puzzle. The poem will be analyses with reference to The Passionate Shepherd to His Love.

Paraphrase

If the world did not change and lovers remains young forever. If every man speak the truth. The thing that you promise me might persuade me to accept your proposal (Raleigh, 1599, par1).

Time often leads to change as seen as flocks go back to fold, in the evening. The good times does not remain forever. Although Philomel produces good music, it comes a time it gets silent. Good time passes and one starts to reflect on good time in the days to come (Raleigh, 1599, par2).

The flowers in the garden do fade. The winter comes with promise of produce. The tongue that tastes the honey is the same that tastes the bitter gall. The good time last only for a short time (Raleigh, 1599, par3).

All the lover’s cloths, shoes and lovely bed of roses. The lover’s fancy dresses and bunches of flowers. All this last for a short time and are forgotten. A lover may marry in a hurry but regret will follow (Raleigh, 1599, par4).

Your beautiful belt and fitting cloths. Your handsome look and stance. Not all this can persuade me to accept your proposal and be your lover (Raleigh, 1599, par5).

If it was possible to stay young for ever and love last forever, if there was no need to worry for old age and lack of love; the things that your promise might have persuaded to be your lover and live together (Raleigh, 1599, par6).

Technical analysis

The poem is in six stanzas with four verses in each stanza. In totals, there are twenty-four verses in the poem. The poem was written in a time when pastoralist was common and shepherds were common in the society. This poem is a response to another poem and the poet respond to Marlowe’s poem stanza by stanza. The poem uses poetic devices to offer a convincing response. The poem starts with a subjective, if. This grammatical mood is used to introduce the nature of the poem right form the start (Briat, 2001, p 235). Use of ‘if’ in the first verse “If all the world and love were young” (Raleigh, 1599, par1) set out the rhetoric nature of the poem. Right form the beginning the reader is made aware that the poet will contrast the ideal nature of the world to the real. Although the poet finds the Shepherd promise as interesting, she brings in the element of time as the reason why the ideal love is not possible.

Raleigh makes use of the similar poetic devices as in The Passionate Shepherd to His Love. She makes use of the same poetic devices that give Marlowe’s poem the musical elements but contrast the ideas in the poem. For example, although the Nymph find the spring, flock of sheep and shallow rivers asserted by the shepherd as lovely, the nymph brings in the element of time and shows that spring, flock or shallow rivers are bound by time. The musical elements in the Raleigh stanzas are used to show mockery to the Shepherd’s proposal. For example, in the end of verse rhymes such as gall, fall, rotten, forgotten show mockery to Marlowe’s rhymes such as roses, posies, fields and yields. The poem also makes use of repetition and alliteration but in a contrasting mimic of the same style in Marlowe’s poem (Briat, 2001, p 237). Flowers and fade, spring and sorrow, wayward and winter are some of alliterations in the poem and are used to contrast the real and ideal love.

The poem in made in the format of an iambic tetrameter. Each line in the poem contains four iambi. If not four iambi, the lines are structured into two parts, one of which is unstressed whiles the other part in stressed. For example, “If all the world and love were young” (Raleigh, 1599, par1), there is alteration of stressed and unstressed phrases. This style helps the poet to show the contrast of the shepherd’s ideal love to the nymph realistic love.

Interpretation

The poem is a response given by the nymph to shepherd’s proposal for love. In the Marlowe’s poem, the shepherd use idealism and musical phrases to propose to a girl for love. The Shepherd promises happiness to the girl in musical term. Raleigh seems not to believe in the promises made and contrast each stanza with the harsh reality of life.

The poet chooses to use the term nymph to refer to a girl. Although nymph was used to refer to a girl in tradition, it had a meaning more than a girl. Nymph was used to refer to the woman spirit, when used in the poem the term signifies that the response given is the response of a woman spirit. The theme of the poem can interpreted as the nature of love and skepticism.

The nymph does not agree to Shepherd’s idealism of love. The reply shows the shepherd idealism as naive and cannot exist in the real world (Harmon, 1998, p 147). The nymph fails to use the word love to refer to the shepherd. This implies that the nymph does not believe in love as it is. Raleigh proposes that the nature of sexual love is already corrupt as man come to the society. “If all the world and love were young” (Raleigh, 1599, par1). This first line show that the world and love are already corrupt, may from the first parents. This shows that true ideal love, as portrayed by the shepherd is not possible. The poet cites passage of time, insincerity of man, and nature as hindrance to true love.

Raleigh is skeptical of the nature of love as proposed by the shepherd. “And truth in every shepherd tongue” (Raleigh, 1599, par1). In this line, women are not ready to accept every thing told by men. The idea on insincerity in love from both men and women is seen and a hindrance to love. Raleigh brings out the idea that loves last for a short time just as flower in garden fade only after a short time. To Raleigh, ideal love is only possible when there is no passage of time and if lovers remains young forever. Since this is not possible, Raleigh is skeptical of possibility of love.

Conclusion

The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd is one of celebrated classic poems. The poem addresses the nature of love in a woman’s perspective. As a response to Marlowe’s The Passionate Shepherd to his Love, the poem contrasts the nature of love in man’s perspective to woman’s perspective. Raleigh is skeptical of possibility of love as proposed by the shepherd citing change in time and nature as the main reasons.

Reference

Briat, J. (2001). The Best of English Literature. London: Ophrys.

Harmon, W. (1998). The Classic hundred poems: all-time favorites. New York: Columbia University Press.

Raleigh, W. (1599). Reply to Marlowe. Web.

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