Tuesday, January 25, 2011

“The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd”: Evaluating the Nymph's Response to "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love”

The piece of work by Sir Walter Raleigh, “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd”, is a responsive poem to Marlowe’s “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love”. Both poems were born from the main concept of “love” yet they take off by branching out in completely different directions. In Marlowe’s poem, the shepherd declares his love to the nymph—his lover, his girl—and attempts to enamor her with his soft, kind words and gifts. While Marlowe focuses on love and courtship, Sir Walter Raleigh brings about the concept of love and rejection. In a way, the poems have a parallel relationship (such as “synonym and antonym”).

In “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd”, we grasp the realistic manner in which the nymph, the girl receiving all of the shepherd’s sweetness and courtship, views the situation gives a shake to its readers by her unexpected response to the shepherd. She does indeed reply to him, but the manner in which she does so surprises reader. While “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” by Marlowe gives us the impression that the shepherd’s “love” is reciprocated by “his love”, the truth is, she is rejecting him and everything he is offering to her. For instance, in the first stanza, she says, “If all the world and love were young/ And truth in every shepherd’s tongue” (2-3). Not only does she question the “truth” in his words but she also mocks his love by doing the latter. A sarcastic tone is felt in every single one of her responses in the first five stanzas.

Raleigh mimics the style of Marlowe’s poem: the rhythm and stanzas are structured almost identically, except for the rhymes—which are stronger, firmer affirmations. Whereas in Marlowe’s “Passionate Shepherd to His Love”, we get a smooth, sweet, soft sounding overall piece that flows beautifully. It is important to mention the tone used in the response to Marlowe’s poem; Raleigh intends for the response to sound almost spiteful and heated. Specifically, the shepherd tells his love in the second line of the first stanza that they “will all the pleasures prove”, meaning that they will do everything together, explore and experience the world and their life as one. Conversely, the nymph—in Walter Raleigh’s poem—replies, “And truth in every shepherd’s tongue…”; thus, she implies that mostly it is all talk and no “doing”. In other words, lots of “shepherds” (which could apply to either male or female at the start of a relationship) promise to give the person they love the world…some even will bring down the moon for you, but she [the nymph] is grounded and realistic. She knows that this is only true to a very limited extent—or at least everything will be amazing but only for so long, at the beginning. Why is she so realistic? Perhaps, many will see the nymph as a pessimistic character who has had bitter experiences with love, and hence, the reason for her bitter, sarcastic attitude. The only way she would be with the shepherd, she says if they were both forever young (eternal):

“But could youth last and love still breed,
Had joys no date nor age no need,
Then these delights my mind might move
To live with thee and be thy love”. (Stanza 6)

This talking back and forth from the shepherd and the nymph leaves readers thinking about the reaction of the shepherd to the nymph's response. Surely, this was purposely intended for readers to create their own "end" to this poetic "story"... What do you think happens?


  1. thanks 4 the great information...i want to ask if i want to write about the attitude and the persona 'what should i do?how to start?and how to organize the information that i have?........thank u

  2. Excellent analysis!
    These two poems offer the connection of sexuality of both sexes. With Marlowe’s poem, his stressed and unstressed syllables accomplish the masculine and feminine beings. The poem though, delivers a soft, yet masculine appearance. Raleigh’s poem however, offers the complete contrary when he uses the exact same regular meter as Marlowe’s, but creates a rough sound to it, while still maintaining its feminine aspect. Of course, Marlowe’s poem is driven by pleasure and sexual desire (masculinity) as opposed to Raleigh, where the nymph is more realistic about love and does not view it in a childish way as the shepherd.