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The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd

The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd


by Sir Walter Ralegh

Stanza 2 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Lines 5-6

Time drives the flocks from field to fold,
When Rivers rage and Rocks grow cold,

  • Stanza 2 looks like it might provide some answers, and it's not looking good for our shepherd. But let's break it down a bit further.
  • Although it isn't explicitly stated, the first line of stanza 2 essentially starts with a big, old BUT: if lines 1 and 2, then maybe lines 3-4, BUT… the coming of winter drives sheep away from the pasture and into the stables, rivers are occasionally violent and destructive, and cold rocks don't make the best sitting places.
  • Ralegh plays around with the meter of the poem a little bit in these two lines. In line 5, for instance, the first two words, "Time drives" are written as a spondee (a pair of two stressed syllables) instead of as an iamb (a pair of syllables where the first is unstressed, the second is stressed). We get into the importance of this in the "Form and Meter" section, but be sure to keep an eye out for further metrical irregularities. If a poet is breaking his metrical pattern, it's usually for an important reason.
  • If you haven't read Marlowe's poem, you're probably a little bit confused as to why sheep, rivers, and cold rocks just entered the picture. For a little cross-referencing refresher, check out this website that puts both poems on the same screen.
  • As you might have noticed, many of the same images that appear in Marlowe's poem also show up in Ralegh's reply, only in slightly different states. Whereas "The Passionate Shepherd" depicts the countryside in full springtime bloom, Ralegh's poem contains a colder, angrier, more somber portrait of nature.
  • Marlowe's rivers are shallow, Ralegh's are raging. Marlowe's sheep are grazing in the open; Ralegh's have been taken in for the winter.

Lines 7-8

And Philomel becometh dumb,
The rest complains of cares to come.

  • The Marlowe/Ralegh parallels continue, but before we can really dig into them, we should unpack the wording of these two lines. 
  • Philomel, or Philomela, is a character from Greek mythology who was turned into a bird. Her name, however, has come to represent several things, including a) a nightingale and b) a musical instrument kind of like a violin. When line 7 talks about Philomel becoming dumb, it can mean that either the musical instrument ceases to play, or the nightingale is no longer singing. This, folks, is both an allusion to Greek mythology, and a poetic symbol that packs a lot of punch. So much punch, in fact, that we've dedicated a whole segment to it in the "Symbols, Imagery, Wordplay" section—just for you! Go ahead and check it out. We know you want to.
  • Line 8 is another line with a potential double-meaning. It could mean that, when winter comes, the "rest" of the people—meaning everyone who doesn't have their head up in the clouds like Marlowe's shepherd—complain of the woes and hardships associated with the coming season. It could also be a musical reference, however, to a "rest" or pause in the playing of the philomel or the singing of the nightingale, a musical silence that contrasts with the "melodious birds" we find in the second stanza of Marlowe's poem.
  • Another way in which Ralegh mirrors Marlowe is with his use of poetic devices. The second stanza of Marlowe's poem is heavy on alliteration, so Ralegh's second stanza uses a lot of it, too. 
  • Even though both stanzas use the same poetic device, they couldn't sound more different. The heavy, sharp, cutting sounds used by Ralegh, like the hard C in "complains of cares to come" and the R of "rivers rage and rocks grow cold" are harsh sounds that parallel an equally harsh vision of time and nature.

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