The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd
by Sir Walter Ralegh
In "The Nymph's Reply," nature and natural imagery are presented as constantly in decay and moving closer toward death. There is no mention of the rejuvenation and new life associated with springtime, only of rot and withering. It doesn't make for the prettiest picture, but it does effectively disqualify the overly idealized picture of eternal spring presented in "The Passionate Shepherd." It's also interesting to note that, as far as poetic images go, these pictures of nature are about as flat as they come. This isn't because Ralegh is a bad poet or has a phobia of adjectives, it's just another way in which he strips down the inflated version of the countryside presented by Marlowe's shepherd.
- Line 5: In "The Nymph's Reply," nature is driven relentlessly forward by the passing of time. Here, the sheep that grazed happily at pasture in Marlowe's poem are being forced into the stables by the inevitable onset of cold weather. Ralegh is using this image to call Marlowe's bluff, pointing out that the scenery he uses as a lure will only be available
temporarily, if that.
- Line 6: Ralegh also presents nature as dangerous and harsh. It's hard to fault him for this portrayal, either, as living conditions in the countryside during the 1600s were anything but luxurious. The strength of this image lies in the fact that it cannot be contradicted by reality.
- Lines 9-10: The images of flowers fading and wanton fields being forced to surrender their bounty to reckless winter weather are presented as contrasts to the typical conception of the countryside as being green and fertile. Ralegh is admitting that, while flowers and fields do have their time to bloom, all too soon that fertility is stripped away from them. The image can also be seen as a representation of the prosperity of the shepherd and nymph, should she take his offer; during the spring, their life would be full and happy, but winter would replace all those joys with hardships with no guarantee of a recovery. Bummer.
- Lines 13-15: Rotting flowers and forgotten poems introduce a final, negative force into Ralegh's countryside: death. Given all her talk of eternal youth, death and old age are clearly on the mind of our nymph. Unlike the shepherd, she sees only death in the countryside instead of the possibility for new life.