How do the Nymph’s words reinforce her response in "The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd"?

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andrewnightingale eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Throughout the poem, the nymph's clearly negative response is in direct contrast to all the promises made by the shepherd in Christopher Marlowe's The Passionate Shepherd to His Love. Her words convey the fact that all the pledges made by the shepherd have a temporal nature and, as such, are meaningless. She is not interested in committing to someone whose assurances are based on things that have no permanence at all.

To support her point of view and the reason for her rejection, the nymph provides examples of how each element in the shepherd's appeal loses its allure and significance over time. The allusion to the Greek goddess Philomel also suggests the fleeting character of all that the shepherd pledges. The fact that he cannot be trusted is also alluded to when she states in lines 1 and 2:

If all the world and love were young,
And truth in every Shepherd’s tongue,
This is further confirmed when she refers to "A honey tongue" in the third stanza. She evidently believes that the shepherd's promises are nothing more than flattery.
 
The word "if" indicates a condition and not a fact. The nymph suggests that not everything the shepherd promises can be taken at his word. She states that once everything the shepherd says can be believed, she will be prepared to spend time with him. However, since it is a common truth that the world and love are not young, it also true that what he promises cannot be accepted as certain. It is for this reason that she cannot make any commitment.
 
Furthermore, the nymph confirms her lack of desire for material things by stating the following in stanza five:
Thy belt of straw and Ivy buds,
The Coral clasps and amber studs,
All these in me no means can move
To come to thee and be thy love. 
The nymph finally names a number of impossible conditions which have to be met before she would be prepared to even consider the shepherd's desperate proposal:
But could youth last, and love still breed,
Had joys no date, nor age no need,
These lines further affirm the fact that she is not interested in his ardent appeal at all. Her overall response is, therefore, a subtle but direct rejection of his proposition.
accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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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The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd

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