Study Guide

The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd Quotes

By Sir Walter Ralegh

  • Man and the Natural World

    Time drives the flocks from field to fold (5)

    The meter of "time drives" as a spondee foot forces the line on at a quicker pace, mirroring the imminent approach of winter. Brr!

    When Rivers rage and Rocks grow cold,
    And Philomel becometh dumb; (6-7)

    The phrasing of "rocks grow cold" is yet another mockery of the life Marlowe's shepherd sees in nature. By putting the words "rocks" and "grow" next to each other when everyone knows that rocks cannot, in fact, grow, Ralegh is making fun of Marlowe's idea that anything in nature can remain in a state of constant growth and fertility.

    The flowers do fade, and wanton fields
    To wayward winter reckoning yields; (9-10)

    The alliteration of soft sounds like F and W usually creates a gentle tone, but here Ralegh creates the opposite effect by using soft sounds to deliver harsh content.

    The gowns, thy shoes, thy beds of Roses,
    Thy cap, thy kirtle, and thy posies
    Soon break, soon wither, soon forgotten—
    In folly ripe, in reason rotten. (13-16)

    Natural imagery trickles into Ralegh's more proverbial statements, like the "ripe" and "rotten" descriptions we see in line 16.

  • Immortality

    If all the world and love were young,
    And truth in every Shepherd's tongue, (1-2)

    This opening line reels readers in by raising some immediate questions. What would be different if all the world and love were young? What lies has the shepherd been telling, and how do they relate to the youthful, love-struck world described above?

    But could youth last, and love still breed,
    Had joys no date, nor age no need, (21-22)

    How would your life be different if your joys had no date and you had no need to plan for your future? Is it even worth mentioning, since this is pretty much an impossibility?

    But could youth last, and love still breed,
    Had joys no date, nor age no need,
    Then these delights my mind might move
    To live with thee, and be thy love. (21-24)

    Are immortality and endless happiness the "delights" being referred to here? Or is the nymph referring back to those pesky caps and kirtles?

  • Time

    Time drives the flocks from field to fold,
    When Rivers rage, and Rocks grow cold, (5-6)

    These lines are a great example of how the nymph takes specific images from "The Passionate Shepherd" and distorts them through the lens of time, thus removing their romantic appeal.

    The flowers do fade, and wanton fields
    To wayward winter reckoning yields; (9-10)

    By implying the future tense (flowers [will] fade, fields [will] yield), the speaker grammatically reinforces her focus on the future as opposed to the present.

    A honey tongue, a heart of gall,
    Is fancy's spring, but sorrow's fall. (11-12)

    The proverb-like sound of these lines is meant to invoke proven, old wisdom. The lines reinforce in sound what they say with content: stick with what you know works, don't run off and try something foolish.

    Thy gown, thy shoes, thy beds of Roses,
    Thy cap, thy kirtle, and thy posies
    Soon break, soon wither, soon forgotten— (13-15)

    Flowers, it seems, unlike wine, don't get better with time. They get drier, and browner, and, well, dead-er.

  • Foolishness and Folly

    If all the world and love were young,
    And truth in every Shepherd's tongue
    These pretty pleasures might me move (1-3)

    The use of the phrase "pretty pleasures" drips with condescension. It's obvious from the start that the nymph thinks the shepherd's offer is sillier than these cats. And, man, those cats are pretty silly.

    A honey tongue, a heart of gall,
    Is fancy's spring, but sorrow's fall. (11-12)

    Speaking in proverbs is one way to insure you never end up sounding foolish. Right?

    In folly ripe, in reason rotten. (16)

    In this line, foolishness and the life of springtime are knotted together. So, be careful driving from March to May.

    To live with thee, and be thy love. (22-24)

    Delights moving the mind somehow sounds less foolish the "pretty pleasures." Has the nymph had a change of heart regarding the shepherd's offer?