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The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd

The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd


by Sir Walter Ralegh

Analysis: Speaker

The title tells us that the speaker of this poem is "the nymph," but they don't mean "nymph" in the mythological sense. Back in the day, "nymph" was actually another word for girl, although it generally conjured images of beautiful young damsels as opposed to a promiscuous, plain-faced scullery maids. There is an undeniable element of innocence and beauty implied when you use the word "nymph" to describe someone, but the speaker in "The Nymph's Reply" seems to be anything but innocent or naive.

In fact, the speaker of this poem sounds positively world-weary. Her world is one of always winter, never Christmas and, from her description, life hasn't left her any room for fun. One of the most intriguing questions about the speaker, though, is how much she buys in to her own argument. She says that winter will come and ruin all the fun so why have fun in the first place, but is she really convinced that's the way to go?

Take a look at stanzas 1 and 6. Here, the nymph says that if she knew she could be young, happy, and in love forever, she might consider living with the shepherd, but winter comes just as regularly for someone who's permanently 22 as it does for some miserable spinster who continues to age. So what is the nymph's real problem with accepting the shepherd's offer? We at Shmoop think this sounds like a really fun question to dig into and, if you have any time to spare while you're busy preparing for the wayward winter's merciless onslaught, we suggest you check it out.

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