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It is impossible to read this excellent and somewhat cynical poem without reference to the poem that it responds to, "The Passionate Shepherd to his Love." Here, the shepherd woos his nymph talking of the wonderful life they will have together in the countryside. The nymph, thanks to Sir Walter Raleigh, is able to give her response in this second poem.
Throughout the poem what is stressed is the flaws in the vision of the shepherd. The nymph focuses on the cares and woes of fall and winter and increasing age, shattering the shepherd's idyllic vision of life in the countryside. Note the following stanza:
The flowers do fade, and wanton fields
To wayward winter reckoning yields;
A honey tongue, a heart of gall
Is fancy's spring, but sorrow's fall.
What is interesting in this stanza and in others is that the speaker uses a series of antonyms to contrast the shepherd's imaginings with life's bitter realities. Consider how "honey" is opposed with "gall" and "spring" with "fall." The words of the nymph are so successful precisely because they take every point the shepherd raises and turn them against his argument, forcing him to see reality.
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