What is the theme of "Raleigh Was Right" by William Carlos Williams?
"Raleigh Was Right" was William Carlos Williams's response to a poetic duel between Christopher Marlowe and Sir Walter Raleigh that took place in the late sixteenth century. Marlowe had written "The Passionate Shepherd To His Love," a much-anthologized love poem set against the backdrop of a lush, pastoral idyll and in whose famous opening line a shepherd invites the object of his love, a nymph to
"Come live with me and be my love."
Raleigh's rejoinder was "The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd." Here, Raleigh brings the world of nature that the shepherd inhabits crashing down to earth. The shepherd's pastoral idyll is really no such thing; like any other part of the everyday world, it is subject to the forces of nature and decay. And the shepherd is also himself a part of that world.
In time, his looks will fade. That being the case, why would the nymph want to stay with him? Of course, if he could somehow retain his youth, then she'd be more than happy to oblige. But that can never happen. The shepherd's mortal world is subject to the ravages of time, whereas the nymph's is timeless, young, forever fresh. Between the two worlds there can be no real interaction.
As the title of his poem clearly states, Williams is unequivocally on Raleigh's side in the matter. I would like to suggest that there are two themes at work here, one explicit, the other implicit. The explicit theme takes its cue from Raleigh's poem. Williams is strongly criticizing the notion that nature somehow provides a refuge from the wants and cares of the everyday world. In this, he is reacting not just against the idealized picture of bucolic life presented by Marlowe but also against the conception of nature associated with the Romantics. Romantic poets such as...
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