The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd
by Sir Walter Ralegh
Seeing as this poem is a reply to "The Passionate Shepherd," it makes sense that shepherds would be mentioned and might carry a bit of symbolic weight. We mention in the "Summary" that shepherds, as a poetic image, are frequently associated with all that is warm, fuzzy, and lovely about the countryside. What we didn't mention is that, if you've got shepherds in a poem from Elizabethan England, you also have a potential reference to good old Queen Bess herself. This is thanks to a guy named Edmund Spenser, who also happened to be a good friend of our author, Sir Walter Ralegh. We also didn't mention the possibility that the Queen and Sir Walter were a little bit more than platonic pals. We don't know about you, but it sounds like line 2 just got a lot more interesting!
- Line 2: The reference to lying shepherds in line 2, then, can also potentially be read as an attack on Elizabeth I. Ralegh spent much of his adult life in good standing with the royal family, but due to the fact that he secretly married one of Elizabeth's ladies in waiting in 1592, he wasn't exactly on the best terms with the Queen when he wrote "The Nymph's Reply." Elizabeth, it's said, flew into a jealous rage and threw him in the Tower of London when she found out about the marriage (source). It's hard to know exactly what the relationship between Ralegh and the Queen was, but it's distinctly possible that the reference to shepherds and the general attack on romance and love in the poem could be relevant to Ralegh's personal history.