(Poem #1001) The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd
If all the world and love were young, And truth in every shepherd's tongue, These pretty pleasures might me move To live with thee and be thy love. Time drives the flocks from field to fold When rivers rage and rocks grow cold, And Philomel becometh dumb; The rest complains of cares to come. 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, Thy gowns, thy shoes, thy beds of roses, Thy cap, thy kirtle, and thy posies Soon break, soon wither, soon forgotten-- In folly ripe, in reason rotten. Thy belt of straw and ivy buds, Thy coral claps and somber studs, All these in me no means can move To come to thee and be thy love. 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.
It seems ironic. Sir Walter Raleigh was the romantic favourite of Queen Elizabeth I, famed in legend for (among other things) spreading his cloak over a puddle so that Her Majesty might not get her feet wet. Christopher Marlowe, on the other hand, was a spy whose intrigues led him to a nasty end, stabbed to death in a tavern brawl in one of the seamier parts of London. And yet it's the latter who wrote "The Passionate Shepherd", a cheerfully optimistic piece that charms and delights in its seeming naivete; it's the former who responded with "The Nymph's Reply", a cynical rejoinder that is nonetheless more worldly-wise, more cognizant of the wisdom of experience and disappointment. I'm not sure which of the two poems I like better. On balance, I think Raleigh's. thomas. [Notes] "And Philomel becometh dumb" - the name Philomel is often used in poetry to refer to the nightingale, after the legend of Philomel: "In Greek legend, Tereus was a king of Thrace who married Procne, daughter of Pandion, king of Athens. Tereus seduced Procne's sister Philomela, pretending that Procne was dead. In order to hide his guilt, he cut out Philomela's tongue. But she revealed the crime to her sister by working the details in embroidery. Procne sought revenge by serving up her son Itys for Tereus' supper. On learning what Procne had done, Tereus pursued the two sisters with an ax. But the gods took pity and changed them all into birds, Tereus into a hoopoe (or hawk), Procne into a nightingale (or swallow), and Philomela into a swallow (or nightingale)." -- EB The themes of betrayal, faithlessness and deception in the Philomel story jibe nicely with today's poem; they are used to similar effect in Eliot's masterpiece "The Waste Land". [Minstrels Links] Poem #997, The Passionate Shepherd to His Love -- Christopher Marlowe Poem #354, (an excerpt from) The Waste Land -- T. S. Eliot Poem #858, (another excerpt from) The Waste Land -- T. S. Eliot Poem #859, Waste Land Limericks -- Wendy Cope