The poem “The Nymphs Reply to the Shepherd”, is a look into the mind of a realistic (or some may even say pessimistic) person. It was written as a response to the more idealistic poem, ” The Passionate Shepherd to His Love”, by Christopher Marlowe. “The Passionate Shepherd..” is the story of a man trying to convince the lady he loves to spend the rest of her life with him. He describes the happiness that will surround them and the beauty they will live with the rest of their lives, ” The shepherd swains shall dance and sing For thy delight each May morning-“. The theme of the poem is essentially to woo the shepherds love to come live with him.
Many responses were written to this poem, but the most famous came from Sir Walter Raleigh. Raleigh wrote “The Nymphs Reply to the Shepherd”. Sir Walter Raleigh actually became famous for colonizing the Americas and for being the founder of a settlement in Virginia. With this response to Marlowes poem he also became a poet.
He wrote the best response to Marlowes idealistic shepherd. In the first stanza the nymph (otherwise known as the shepherds love) begins to state an argument against the shepherds views. She says that if their love would always stay young, and their world would never change then she would gladly spend the rest of her life with him. After saying this, the nymph explains in detail what the reality of things would be if they spent their lives together. The second stanza begins by saying that in time the flocks of sheep would leave the field. The rivers would grow to be more violent and smash against the rocks, instead of flowing gently.
The nightingale would stop singing, and soon after the complaints in their relationship would start. Stanzas three through five continue the nymphs description of what would really occur, if she lived with him. Eventually, the flowers would wither away, and winter would come. The springs “honey tongue” would appear, but it would only be followed by fall (which they saw as sorrow-filled season). The gowns, shoes, skirts, and everything else the shepherd said she would have also would fade and disappear in time.
Everything he offered her such as a belt made of straws and ivy buds, coral clasps, and ivory studs, could not convince her to spend her life with him. The point she tries to put across in these stanzas is everything she owned and all that they were surrounded by would change. “The Passionate Shepherd..” only speaks of the wonderful things, and he only see the beauty and life of spring. The nymph smartly reminds him that after a beautiful season winter will eventually arrive. In the last stanza of the poem, the tone changes a little.
The nymph says how her opinion might change if things were different. If their youth and their youthful stage of love could last forever, and it was certain that their joy would never die; these offers would move her to changing her mind. She basically states that she would spend the rest of her life with him, if all that he said were true. In this last stanza, you see the nymph back down from her argument a bit. She agrees that it would be nice for things to stay the same, but they never do. This is what seems to be the theme of the poem.
Although she would love to live the way the shepherd says, she realizes (and tries to make him realize through the poem) that things could never stay that perfect. This argument is stated wonderfully through the imagery and language used in the poem. In “The Nymphs Reply..” the images used let the reader almost see what this nymph is talking about. ” When rivers rage and rocks grow cold, And Philomel becometh dumb;” through this image the audience can picture the cold water of the river crashing against the rocks, and the nightingale stop singing.
“The flowers do fade, and wanton fields To wayward winter reckoning yields;” in these images the iciness of winter seems to be killing everything off. Personification is also used to make the images clearer. ” A honey tongue, a heart of gall, Is fancys spring, but sorrows fall.” This line personifies spring and fall by giving them human attributes such as a tongue and a heart, as well as making them fancy and sorrowful.
The images in this poem are what make the poem great. They make the reader understand the realist point of view of the nymph. This point of view also helps to understand ” The Passionate Shepherd to His Love”. The two are such contrasts, yet they play off each other well. Therefore, it makes for a very enjoyable reading experience for the audience.