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 the “if” statement— “And truth in every shepherd’s tongue”—may seem the more biting, the nature of the contrast exists in the first part. What renders the shepherd’s vision false, the nymph says, is time: the world and love do not remain young. Thus, while she finds lovely the shepherd’s evocation of spring, shallow rivers, flocks of sheep and rocks that exist merely so lovers can sit on them, in reality these ideal images are time-bound, subject to change and decay. Thus, “time drives flocks from field to fold,” “rivers rage” from rainy weather, “rocks grow cold” with winter, and even the nightingale—the timeless symbol of beauty unmentioned in the Marlowe poem—becomes “dumb” with the change in seasons. In contrast with the nightingale are “the rest”—those who do not become dumb but who instead “complain of cares to come.” By this, the...
(The entire section is 790 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd Summary. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!