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The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd

The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd


by Sir Walter Ralegh

The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd Theme of Time

We get the feeling that, much like the crocodile from Peter Pan, time is stalking our speaker. "The Nymph's Reply" is full of references to the inevitability of time, seasonal change, and eventual death. The nymph's rejection of the shepherd is based on such references, and she dismantles his argument by distorting his images through the lens of time. It turns out that, a few months down the road, all the shepherd's flowers, fields, and fuzzy sheep don't look nearly as appealing as they did back in April. Tough daffodils for him, then.

Questions About Time

  1. How do the poetic devices Ralegh uses in the poem reflect the speaker's fixation on the passing of time?
  2. The nymph uses time and its effects to reject the shepherd's proposal. How might the shepherd also use the passing of time as a way to convince the nymph to change her mind?
  3. What does the passing of time mean for the survival of poetry? Look closely at Ralegh's references to Philomel (7) and forgotten posies (14-15) and see what you can come up with.

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

In "The Passionate Shepherd" the passing of time is a reason to embrace the delights of the present. Carpe diem! In "The Nymph's Reply," it is the opposite. Carpe nothin'!

"The Nymph's Reply" argues that love, much like nature, decays and become less valuable with the passing of time. Cheery, eh?

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