What culture is represented in "The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd"?

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sfwriter eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Certainly this poem is indicative of the culture of the urbane, educated man of the early 17th century that its writer, Raleigh, was.  The language and style is exactly of its time, and is in fact a self-conscious parody (or "Answer") of Christopher Marlowe's slightly earlier poem.  But this poem is not specifically about the London literary world in which Marlowe and Raleigh moved.  There are complex underlying cultures represented.

Firstly, the pastoral style in which Marlowe wrote "The Passionate Shepherd To His Love" -- a poem which, to all appearances, was an earnest pastoral poetic expression -- is a very old style of poetry.  Theocritus, a Greek poet of the third century B.C.E. (300), originated the poem of a lone shepherd singing of the charms of his mistress.  While buccolic life is somewhat timeless, the original form (and enduring legacy of this style) is of a rustic shepherd in the mists of forgotten time, rather than in a specific moment in history.  That the Nymph "replying" to the atemporal Shepherd sounds more like a practical London barmaid, or a non-nonsense city maiden curbing a beau, makes the satire Raleigh puts in this poem all the more amusing.  The poem is too short to paint a clear picture of a culture, but the clues the Nymph gives place her more squarely in Raleigh's London than Malowe's Arcadian fantasy.

Source: Shipley, Joseph T. Dictionary of World Literature. Totowa, NJ.: Littlefield, Adams, & Co, 1968.

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The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd

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