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The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd

The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd


by Sir Walter Ralegh

Stanza 6 Summary

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

Lines 21-22

But could youth last, and love still breed,
Had joys no date, nor age no need,

  • In what's likely the poetic twist of the sixteenth century, we encounter in the final stanza of "The Nymph's Reply" a serious BUT: "Sure, none of what you promise me is going to last, but if they did last, and if we didn't have to worry about the real world…" 
  • This poem seemed so set on debunking the naive, spring-happy take on love and romance held by Marlowe's shepherd, so why does our sober nymph seem to be backtracking?
  • Her caveat isn't a big one, and it sounds remarkably like something we heard back up in stanza 1. Once again, eternal youth and young love enter the picture.
  • And this time, they're accompanied by everlasting joys. 
  • What is the deal with the nymph's fixation on these impossible hypotheticals, though? Does she do it because she feels bad rejecting the shepherd straight up?
  • Is it some kind of twisted mind game? Or is she okay with being hypothetical because she knows that this can never come to be—love will always fade and the world will always get in the way?

Lines 23-24

Then these delights my mind might move
To live with thee, and be thy love.

  • We get to line 23 and we can hardly believe it, but even in a world where youth lasts forever and joys are never-ending, the nymph would only maybe be convinced to take the shepherd's offer ("my mind might move"). Is this the harshest blow of them all?
  • And what are the "delights" being referenced? It's natural to think the "delights" are the shepherd's gifts mentioned above, but couldn't "delights" also refer to the eternal youth and everlasting joys mentioned in lines 21 and 22? We don't know about you, but we at Shmoop think the prospect of immortality and eternal happiness is much more delightful than a couple of gowns and hats made out of flowers—even if they did have ivy buds!
  • The poem ends with a tantalizing final stanza. What does the nymph really want? What is motivating her choices? How does the shepherd take her response?
  • We at Shmoop would love for the nymph-shepherd dialogue to continue (what would he say next?!), but sadly the Ralegh-Marlowe exchange ends here.

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