illustration of the Nymph standing opposite the Shepherd with flowers surrounding them

The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd

by Sir Walter Raleigh

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What is the iambic tetrameter and rhyme scheme of "The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd"?

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In Sir Walter Raleigh's poem, "The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd," is a response to Christopher Marlowe's poem, "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love." This answering of one poem with another was not uncommon in the day, where poets would write and share their work with other poets, for much of the poet's work would not be published in his/her lifetime. This was a game for the poets.

Scanning by hand looks different than on the computer. By hand it seems people place a "u" above "unstressed" and a slash "/" over the stressed. However, see the example below:

^ / ^ / ^ / ^ / ^ /

That time | of year | thou mayst | in me | be hold |

You'll note that the unstressed has a inverted "v" (^) corresponding to the unstressed syllable/word, and the slash (/) over the stressed syllable. I have also seen people use "~" as well. To keep it easy, I'll capitalize for the stressed syllables, but won't use the referenced system above because spaces and tabs don't work so well in this system, and they may end up in the wrong place, and I'm not sure what system your teacher has asked you to use...

Sir Walter Raleigh uses iambic tetrameter in his writing of this poem, meaning there are four "feet" per line (or four pairs of unstressed-stressed syllables). What you have provided is a four-line stanza, also known as a "quatrain."

But could youth last, and love still breed,

but-COULD / youth-LAST / and-LOVE / still-BREED

This shows that the first syllable is unstressed (lower case) and the second syllable is stressed (IN CAPITAL LETTERS).

Had joys no date, nor age no need,

had-JOYS / no-DATE / nor-AGE / no-NEED

Then these delights my mind might move,

then-THESE / de-LIGHTS / my-MIND / might-MOVE

To live with thee, and be thy love

To-LIVE / with-THEE, / and-BE / thy-LOVE

I hope this is what you were looking for. Remember, the first single syllable word or first syllable of a multi-syllabic word (like "de-light) is unstressed, but the second word or syllable (like de-LIGHT), in caps, is stressed. And there are four pairs of unstressed and stressed syllables per line—in that order—(or four "feet").

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But could youth last, and love still breed,
Had joys no date, nor age no need,
Then these delights my mind might move,
To live with thee, and be thy love.

This quatrain is in straight tetrameter in an iambic rhythm. There is no elision nor any acephalous to complicate scansion. Elision is the omission of a vowel, a consonant, or a syllable in a poetic line; it reduces the syllables to compress the meter, as in "tis" for "it is." Acephalous is the shortening of the meter by the omission of an unstressed beat from the beginning, or head, of a poetic line; acephalous lines are also called "headless" lines. An example might be if the first line of this quatrain were written this way: "Could youth last, and love still breed"; the first unstressed beat ("But") is removed making the line headless.

The scansion of the four lines comprised of two couplets written in iambic tetrameter with an aa bb couplet rhyme scheme is (~ unstressed; ' stressed):

But~ could' / youth~ last', / and~ love' / still~ breed',
Had~ joys' / no~ date', / nor~ age'/ no~ need',
Then~ these' / de~ -lights' / my~ mind' / might~ move',
To~ live' / with~ thee', / and~ be' / thy~ love'.

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