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The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd

The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd


by Sir Walter Ralegh

Analysis: Sound Check

Horse-Drawn Cart

Whoa Nelly! We at Shmoop think that this poem sounds exactly like a horse pulling a cart over an old country road. And, lucky you, we're going to show you why.

The meter is regular and predictable, just like the hooves of a horse. It plods along at a relatively steady pace, not overwhelming the content, but complementing it nicely. And the deviations from the meter, like the one we see in "Time drives our flocks" (5)? We think those little changes match up perfectly with the rugged, unpredictable, occasionally hilly terrain of our country road.

The tone is a little tired—"flowers do fade"—like rejecting this shepherd is just one item on a huge laundry list of things our nymph has to take care of that day (9). The slow tempo of a workhorse matches it perfectly. 

The poetic devices—like alliteration, consonance, and internal rhyme—don't contribute musicality to this poem like they do in "The Passionate Shepherd." Instead, Ralegh uses them ironically, and uses normally smooth, melodic poetic devices to deliver a biting mockery of Marlowe's pastoral world.

Take the alliteration of the F sound, for example: in Marlowe's poem, the alliterating F is used to describe happy, peaceful flocks being fed by the loving couple. We hear about caps of flowers, waterfalls, fine wool, and fragrant posies. Ralegh alliterates the same, soft F, but instead describes flocks in the fold, flowers fading and the death of once-wanton fields. The pastoral countryside of the shepherd is reduced to nothing more than fancy or folly, two things also scorned by the nymph. To us, the inversion of these poetic devices sounds like the crack of a whip. It drives the poem forward, but it's definitely meant to sting.

So, how did we do? Are you convinced? If you agree, say "Three cheers for Shmoop!" If you disagree, say "neigh."

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