The two poems Sir Walter Raleigh’s “The Nymphs reply to the Shepherd” in response to Christopher Marlow’s “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love.” Both poems are love poems which tell of ones admiration for the other. In Raleigh’s “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd, he cautiously and intelligently refuses the advances of the Shepherd telling him to “Come live with me and be my love” (Marlowe l.1). The shepherd offers many things that he cannot possibly fulfil and the nymph’s reply is but a frank and courteous response telling him that all he is offering are superficial things that will soon wither and perish. Sir Walter Raleigh and Christopher Marlowe have very distinctive viewpoints about the Carpe Diem style of poetry; Marlowe is concerned about the present and only wants to live and enjoy without being concerned about the future, while Raleigh has much concern about the future. Marlow failed to realize that the things he was offering was not what the nymph wished for in life. She was aware that time is short and there is more to life than meets the eye therefore the decisions that are made now will impact the future.
Both men have different perspectives about love though their words denote that they both are capable of creating love. Without Raleigh’s response to Marlow the all-encompassing theme of love would not be so explicitly brought out. The central idea here is love – a love effected by nature. Raleigh’s reply provides the woman’s response to the shepherd’s. Marlowe’s poem is written in the pastoral tradition that was initiated by Theocritus of Greece in the third century B.C. This tradition represents a state of ease and of guiltless and romantic love. The rural folks are depicted in a fanciful natural setting where they think about their picture-perfect world where there are no concerns about the hustle and bustle of city life. The common characteristics of Elizabethan poems were full of the traditions of pastoral principle and Marlowe uses this principle to introduce sexuality, and uses images that make the shepherd’s plea seem false rather than real.
Marlowe wrote “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” in the sixteenth century. “”The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” is a pastoral poem. It is the kind that addresses the simple way of life of country folk and describes the idealistic view that these folk have of life. (Marlowe Para. 8 and 9). This poem was set in a field and the speaker who is a shepherd, no doubt surrounded by nature is romantically inclined to find a companion with whom he could spend many of those warm days and cool nights gazing at the stars at night. He urges his love to live with him and enjoy the pleasures of the day, “And we will all the pleasures prove / And we will sit upon the rocks / the shepherds feed their flock” (Marlowe l.2-5). Raleigh response to this poem comes in 1600. The speaker is a young girl responding to the shepherd. There is much doubt and she points to the fact that time changes things so there is no guarantee that that love will last. She is looking at things realistically whereas the shepherd is quite upbeat about the lasting pleasures they will have in the relationship.
Although the two poems speak about love their themes are somewhat different. In “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” the theme here is that love overcomes all. The shepherd seemingly is in love with the nymph and begs her to come with him so he can take care of her. He feels that if he gives her material things she would think that that is love and that would make her come to him. However, Raleigh will have none of Marlowe’s idealistic and naive promises (Lourenco par. 1-2). In “The Nymph’s reply to the Shepherd” her reply was full of mistrust for him. Her reply indicated that she knew that love was not about what one could get. It was not about the immediate but about lasting relationship that was formed over time. She replied by saying “And truth in every shepherd’s tongue / These pretty pleasures..move / To live with thee and be thy love” (Raleigh l.1). She thinks he was the wily fox trying to entice her. The theme in The Nymph’s reply is that there is more to love than material things and the fickleness of the shepherd’s love would show up with time. She does not love the shepherd the way he seems to love her but she would probably come to love him if nature and love were everlasting.
The poems’ arrangements are exact. There are six stanzas of four lines each which show the nymph’s exact reply to the shepherd. Each proposal he makes, she gives him a direct and realistic response to why it is not feasible for them to be together. The shepherd uses nature to appeal to her senses. In each stanza the first line rhymes with the second and the third rhymes with the fourth. The form of the poem is iambic tetrameter, with eight syllables per line. The stress and unstressed words brings out forcefully the message and the seriousness in the message of both poems. The form brings out the meaning of the poems. The shepherd encourages his love to come and partake of the joys of nature. “And we will all the pleasures prove / That hills and valleys.. fields / ..woods or steep mountain yields” (Marlowe l. 2-4). The nymph’s reply by saying “If all the world and love were young / And truth in every.tongue / These pretty pleasures move / To live with thee and by thy love” (Raleigh l. 1-4). The purpose of the imperfect rhyme which occur between the two poems are unclear but it is posited that this might be due to the different pronunciation at the time the poems were written.
The shepherd’s life is uncomplicated as depicted by the pastoral literary style in which it is written. The shepherd’s life is presented by dreams, hopes, and material things ephemeral while the nymph’s life is made up of reality. Both poems show love, however, the reasons are totally different. The use of the four line stanzas show the deep aspiration that the shepherd has for his love. This is brought out by the constant use of repetition by telling her that she is his love “Come lie with me and be my love” (Marlowe l. 1, 20-24). Her reply is her continuous rejection of him is repeated often and strongly in the similar stanzas. “To come to thee and be thy love” (Raleigh l. 20-24). The form of the poem flows freely with no interruption. This uninterrupted process allows the reader to see the image that is being created and to realize the desperation of both characters in their desperate quest to get their views across.
The setting of the poems brings out the metaphors and points out the general truths that they wish to express about the nature of love and life. “Time drives the flocks from field to fold” (Raleigh l. 5). This quote signifies the coming of winter. The nymph is actually reminding the shepherd that death is constantly around us so therefore she rejects that free-spirited view held by the people in the countryside. She however fails to acknowledge that anything dead can rise again following spring. Raleigh’s vision of death in nature without new life is just as unrealistic as Marlowe’s picture of nature ever blooming flowers that never fades or dies.
The use of language in Marlowe’s poem accounts for his scene of happiness and he tries to entice his love. The iambic tetrameter gives the poem a song-like feel. The use of alliteration also has a great effect on the subject in the poem. The soft sounds of “we will”, “mind may move”, and “live with me and be my love” creates a verbal calculation of the valleys and the hills of which he speaks (Marlowe l. 2, 27-28). Marlow speaks of all the things he will give her if she would only live with him; He says “and we will all the pleasures prove” (Marlowe l.2). He would show her a magical world where birds sing, the sun shines and everything is serene and perfect. Raleigh cannot be enticed by Marlowe’s idealistic perspective and his naivety.
The interplay between the two poems revealed the relationship that the two men shared. Marlowe was young and naive, his poetry quite upbeat and full of rhyme. He cherished the relationship with Raleigh but he being the more mature of the two, his reaction was more cynical. He rebukes Marlowe for being childish and immature in his thoughts about love. In reply to Marlowe’s promise of making “beds of roses” Raleigh says “that the flowers do fade, and wanton fields / To wayward winter reckoning yields” (Raleigh l. 9-10). Raleigh chides Marlowe about being materialistic and that those things will not last. In stanza four he says “.thy kirtle, and thy posies soon break, soon wither, soon forgotten..” (Raleigh l. 14-15). Raleigh’s poem takes on an air of sadness. Raleigh uses words like “wayward winter”, and “reason rotten.” (l. 10 & 16). Marlowe on the other hand shows his mirth by the use of the phrases “melodious birds” and “leaves of myrtle” (l.8-12).
The poetic devices in each poem reinforce the idea of the poems and make the reader see the significant meanings being conveyed. Raleigh’s reply in “The Nymph’s reply to the Shepherd” he discounts the shepherds optimistic vision of earthly things. All the promises of nature’s bounties that Christopher Marlowe promises Raleigh said that those promises could remain usable if life and love were young. All that the shepherd spoke of were dependent on time and changes in the weather and since no one could predict what the future holds as those gifts that might be desirable are too transient. The rocks will “grow cold” and he flowers will “fade.” In the last paragraph of Raleigh’s poem he says “But could youth last, and love still breed / Had joys no date, nor age no need / Then these delights my mind might move” (Raleigh l. 21-23). The ‘but’ in the last stanza signifies the nymph’s acknowledgment of the fact that she would accept the shepherd’s offer if she was younger. Like the shepherd she too longs for these things but she will only continue to hold only a glimmer of faith that these thing will change.
Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593). “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” (23 March 2000) Pastoral Poem para. 8 & 9.
Lourenco, A. (2008). Poetry Analysis the “Nymphs Reply to the Shepherd” by William Raleigh.
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