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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 Man and the Natural World

Nature certainly has a big role to play in this poem, and it's not exactly complementary to man's existence. In "The Nymph's Reply," nature is a constant reminder that death is all around us. Nice, huh? Subsequently, the poem becomes a rejection of the pastoral view of the happy-go-lucky countryside put forth by Marlowe's shepherd. Still, Ralegh seems to acknowledge the natural progression from birth to death, but he fails to mention that what is dead rises again the following spring. Slight oversight there, Debbie Downer. His vision of death in nature without new life is, in some ways, just as unrealistic as Marlowe's portrayal of ever-blooming flowers that never wither or decay.

Questions About Man and the Natural World

  1. Why does Ralegh choose to use only the same natural images used by Marlowe? Would the poem be more or less effective if he introduced some of his own?
  2. Why does the speaker's opinion about the inevitability of death and decay in the natural world spark the response that it does? Would not a response more in the carpe diem tradition be more fitting to the situation?
  3. Is Ralegh's description of nature more or less realistic than that of Marlowe? Which one is more beautiful? Why?
  4. Take a look at the third stanza. In a poem that uses very few descriptive words, what do you make of the speaker's description of fields as "wanton" and winter as "wayward"? Are there any other word choices that stand out to you as important? If so, what are they and what makes them stand out?

Chew on This

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

Ralegh's dismal portrayal of nature is a retaliation against the idealized way in which people in the 1600s viewed country life. Just say no!

The withered bed of roses depicted in lines 13 and 15 is not a representation of decay in nature, but an extended metaphor for the inevitable disintegration of romantic love. Sad, and then double-sad.

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