The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd
by Sir Walter Ralegh
As we mentioned in the "Summary," Philomel, or Philomela, is the name of a Greek goddess who was turned into a bird. The word has come to represent so much more, though, and a lot of its potential symbolism plays into Ralegh's poem. Let's look at line 7 in light of some of these potential meanings.
- Line 7 (Philomel as musical instrument): It makes a lot of sense for Ralegh to be talking about a philomel, the musical instrument. Shepherds were frequently depicted playing musical instruments, so the idea that their songs are fleeting and don't last forever certainly fits into the rest of the imagery of impermanence that Ralegh has been throwing at us.
- Line 7 (Philomel as nightingale): But it also makes a lot of sense if Ralegh is referring to the philomel, another term for the nightingale. The nightingale is native to Europe, but winters in Africa, so the "dumbing" of the philomel could be another way in which Ralegh is negating the "melodious birds" from Marlowe's poem and referencing the coming of winter.
- Line 7 (Philomel as nightingale/poetry): The nightingale is also a favorite symbol of poets and often used as a symbol of poets and their poetry. What does it mean for poets and poetry, though, that the philomel becomes dumb and stops singing? This could be a dismissal of Marlowe's poem as only empty words, but it necessarily applies to Ralegh's writing, too.