Written only a year apart, Christopher Marlowe's The Passionate Shepherd to His Love (1599) and its seemingly-contradictory retort, Sir Walter Raleigh's The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd (1600), collectively set a fascinating scene. During my first read through of each of the poems, the plot seemed fairly clear to me. My ignorance allowed me to believe that Marlowe's poem was simply about a confession of love in an eloquent fashion and that Sir Walter Raleigh's reply was merely a rejection of that very confession. I was even entertained by the conviction of The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd in that every line of The Passionate Shepherd to His Love was individually countered and shut down. For example, "...we will sit upon the rocks," and "See the shepherds feed their flocks" being replied to with "Time drives the flocks from field to fold, when rivers rage and rocks grow cold;" which I interpreted as "the birds flew away and the rocks are going to get cold because I'm not going to sit with you". I can honestly say that my initial reaction was relating this to the Elizabethan Era equivalent of a modern day "internet troll" on an online blog where someone rejects every word another says just for the heck of it. After committing to the poems and deciphering some of the actual meanings of the lines, I was not only able to come to the realization that there is significantly more value within each poem, but that I was possibly even wrong about the nymph's reply being a rejection.
When reading these two poems, even someone as full of ignorance as myself can realize that the two drastically different tones. The Passionate Shepherd to His Love describes everything with most optimistic, paint a happy picture in your head sort of way, while The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd leaves you feeling cold and lonely (which goes to show without saying that the imagery of both poems is compelling). Both poems are written with the same AABB rhyming scheme with quatrains and closed form. The second matching the first most likely being done to make it clear that it was a response to the first, as if the title wouldn't be enough. The use of rhetorical devices occurs throughout each poem as well, such as the alliteration "Time drives the flocks from field to fold," found in the reply. After going through this closer examination of the poems, I came to the realization that Sir Walter Raleigh's poem may not have been a rejection to the first after all. Despite the entire poem leading up to seem as it were that way, the last stanza reads:
"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."
and after reading over this more carefully, I began to interpret this as the Nymph putting everything else mentioned aside and the "delights" of being able "to live with thee and be thy love" would be enough to change her mind. This effect seemed to take the role of a...