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The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd

The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd


by Sir Walter Ralegh

The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd Theme of Foolishness and Folly

You know how everyone has that one friend who loves to "act a fool"? Yeah, the nymph in "The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd" is definitely not that friend. In fact, she seems downright determined to avoid any situation or action which could possibly be described as foolish. In this poem, foolishness is the most cited reason for the nymph's rejection of the shepherd's pleas. Adhering strictly to reason keeps the nymph safe from potentially foolish decisions, but is she actually better off for being well-prepared?

Questions About Foolishness and Folly

  1. How does Ralegh's choice of words reinforce the nymph's association of foolishness with springtime and the shepherd's proposal?
  2. What does it mean for something to be "fancy's spring, but sorrow's fall" (11-12)? What can we learn about the nymph's thoughts about what is foolish and what is not from these two lines?
  3. What does the nymph think is the opposite of foolishness?
  4. Does the nymph follow her own rules? Is there a time in the poem when she dips into foolish thinking? Why or why not?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The nymph compares the bloom and fertility of springtime to the foolishness of being in love. Way to go, little miss cynic.

The nymph's fear of foolishness keeps her from doing what she truly wants. Hasn't she ever seen that motivational poster: "Dance like no one is watching"?

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