A study of the speaker in Sir Walter Raleigh’s “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd”

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Nymph’s_Reply_to_the_Shepherd

 DISCLAIMER!!!!!!!!!!    [ Make sure you guys read this first (unless you already know it :)]

This is an essay that dwells on a work by Sir Walter Raleigh. I found myself entranced by this selection’s eloquence and delicate beauty of form and structure. Below is my take on the point of view the poem is built around and hopefully demystifies any cryptic verbal passages therein.

The “speaker” in Raleigh’s poem is a nymph that is having a conversation with a shepherd about the state of the world as it is. This is a very interesting poem for me because it has so many implied meanings about the way the world has shirked its youthful innocence and become a little too hardened for the tastes of the nymph. It is my belief the nymph portrays; fancy, love, romance, playfulness and fantasy. These are all the common thoughts that lift us all out of the mire that can be our physical reality. I believe Raleigh is using this language to connote a longing for the world to be very much the poetic and emotional environment that exists only in the minds of writers, children, and lovers. This beautiful poem is brought to life with the use of many metaphorical implications that convey the authors meaning in a muted and understated way.

               The nymph articulates to the shepherd within the first stanza that the world is no longer young nor its inhabitants truthful. She goes on to mandate that if these obstacles could be overcome then she may be inclined to love the world and the shepherd again.  These statements speak to the way of the natural world we live as humans. Notions of these delicate tenets are not the practiced law of the land and we as shepherds have done much deceit to propagate our own existence at the cost of paradise on earth.

               Following the lead stanza the poem develops further on the idea of the comparison of nature and its seasons with the knowledge that everything will die or at its very least fade. In such lines as “Time drives the flock s from field to fold, when rivers rage and rocks grow cold” there is a melancholy sense that an era is passing and will be marked by a future that is uncertain in terms of its predecessor.

               The third stanza is speaking about a relationship and how it withers in the winter’s onset. It draws contrast from the waning of the fields by also explaining the symptoms of spring and its refreshing and renewal factor in life. This alludes me to believe the stanza speaks about the possibility of the fear of losing an older love to a new fresher more youthful lover.

               “Thy gowns, thy shoes, thy bed of roses, thy cap, thy kirtle and thy posies / Soon break soon wither, soon forgotten – in folly ripe, in season rotten” This is especially powerful verse in the prose. Here the descriptors are not metaphorical or implied but plainly stated and relatable to everyday life. In this stanza the feelings of the nymph are concrete and final. She knows that all the earthly items of love and womanhood are doomed to be loved less over time. She is saying that the way in which the shepherd acts now is not an honest reflection on the way he will act in future days and this is merely an act of lust not love.

               In the second to last stanza there are some comparisons made that relate nature’s beauty to a thing of ornate jewelry that is customarily given to ones lover and is symbolic of their commitment. The nymph is saying that these things cannot dissuade her to fall in love merely in and of themselves.

               During the last stanza the nymph mandates what would need to be done for her to love the shepherd. She wants everlasting youth, undying love and the bliss of wonderment for eternity. These commitments speak for the underlying thoughts in every lover when they want to be sure that their mate is feeling the same way as they do. This is the common link in all relationships at one point or another. I think that both parties know the answer to their problems at this point. It seems folly to believe these things can come true in any other realm than ideal.

               In this poem are many contemporary and basically human references that imply to our fondness of natural beauty and the change of the seasons and how it correlates with our lives. To me this poem can be construed in any number of ways, but considering that my reading is the closest to the author’s actual intent then I believe the poem is about earth and humanity. I think Raleigh is writing about the loss of innocence and the ideas of whimsy and love that go missing throughout the routine of our lives. I believe he wants to encourage the reader to embrace the simple beauty of life and make a marriage to the idea that we all need to be grounded and realize there are many beautiful things in our surroundings and make every opportunity to appreciate these less logical and inspiring moments. This is an almost tragic poem and maybe intentionally requires one to act in defiance of the terms it defines in its structure. I greatly enjoyed this reading and found it to be one of my more favorite selections.

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