What are the points of debate in "The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd"?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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It is very important that this poem is not read in isolation. As the title indicates, Sir Walter Raleigh wrote this poem in response to Marlowe's poem, "Come live with me." As an evocation of the pastoral ideal, Marlowe's poem presents the words of a persuasive youth as he tries to woo his lover with promises of the kind of idyllic lifestyle that the countryside can offer her. However, Raleigh's poem gives voice to the "nymph" and her contrary position. As such, this poem raises the debate of the kind of naivety and pastoral vision of romance raised in Marlowe's original.

The nymph, for example, is very pointed in responding directly to some of the promises made by the young man in Marlowe's poem. Note how she responds to the promises of clothing:

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.

This quote helps us to identify the central point of debate that this poem invites. Raleigh wryly uses the nymph's voice to question the ephemeral nature of the promises made by the amorous young man in Marlowe's famous poem and suggests that such feelings and protestations of love are based more on passion in the heat of the moment than decisions that are carefully thought through and a result of logical reasoning. Such promises, the nymph is very strident in saying, will not be enough to tempt her to exchange her present security for such a precarious existence.


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