Does anyone know why Sir Walter Raleigh made a reply to Christopher Marlowe's "The Passionate Shepherd to his Love"?

Expert Answers
sfwriter eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Ralegh and Marlowe were literary contemporaries, and both men belonged to a mysterious group known as the "School of Night" (The Literature of Renaissance England, 334).  Though there may have been personal reasons between them for Ralegh's "response", clues from the poems themselves provide an interesting answer.  Marlowe's "The Passionate Shepherd To His Love" is a poem which calls to a lady to "Come with me and be my love", detailing the delights the Shepherd will give to his love -- some quite beyond the reach of a real shepherd ("coral clasps and amber studs").  Marlowe's pastoral lyric is purest fantasy -- no shepherd ever was able to woo like this.  Ralegh made gentle fun of Marlowe's impossible set-up, by starting his poem with "If all the world and love were young/And truth in every shepherd's tongue". Well, the world and love are not young, and Marlowe's shepherd, especially, is not truthful.  In an early presaging of realism Ralegh explains, point for point, that Marlowe's pastoral fantasy of rustic luxury is impossible; "rocks grow cold" and "flowers do fade".   Ralegh's poem was published  in 1600, 7 years after Marlowe's death.  In that light, Ralegh's last stanza is particularly poignant.  "But could youth last and love still breed/Had joys no date nor age no need,".  Ralegh might have been mourning his friend in these lines, for Marlowe died young.  

Read the study guide:
The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question