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The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd -- Sir Walter Raleigh

(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.
-- Sir Walter Raleigh
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



"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

54 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

gerry.rowe said...

Line 18, from memory, is incorrectly rendered. I think it should be:

Thy coral *clasps* and *amber* studs...

I prefer Christopher Marlowe's poem. He had the head start and set the
agenda which Raleigh tracks from entrance to exit like a sniper in the
gallery. Marlowe takes a wound or two but survives pretty well in my view.

Richard Burton delivered these poems in sequence in his personal anthology
- a treasure chest of great readings. He caught the contrast between gentle
affection, new-sprung love on one hand and weary cynicism on the other most
effectively. All done with the voice. Superb.

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