The nymph’s reply begins in the subjunctive— the grammatical mood used to convey hypothetical or contingent action. The subjunctive is commonly expressed with the “if . . . were” construction: “If I were king,” for example, or, in the first line of the poem, “If all the world and love were young.” This usage sets up the primary rhetorical structure of the entire poem: the speaker is going to contrast the shepherd’s vision, his hypothetical world, with the realities introduced by the word “but” in the second stanza. While the second part of...
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