Sir Walter Raleigh was an English Aristocrat and poet, who wrote a poem called “The Nymphs Reply to the Shepherd”. In that poem written in 1596, the nymph rejects the shepherd’s offer to become his love and explains why she cannot accept his offer. Raleigh illustrates how time changes everything the shepherd offered her and makes it impossible for her to become his love. The poet does this by using metaphor of pastoral life, imagery of the seasons, contrast of expensive apparels (manmade) and nature (non-manmade), as well as the nymph realization that both her youthful days and love are not eternal.
One way in which Raleigh depicts how time changes everything and makes their love impossible is through a metaphor of pastoral life. For instance, when the shepherd offered to spend time with her upon the rocks and watch sheep’s being fed, the nymph stated that, “time drives the flocks from field to fold” (5). Even though the shepherd offer is romantic, the nymph knows that the flocks are not always in the field. Moreover, as times passes by and sunset approaches, the flocks leave the field and go back to the barn for protection. The nymph points out that even that romantic gesture will not last because of the influence of time. Time changes everything. In essence, the nymph wants something that last forever. Since time makes it impossible for them to always watch the sheep being fed in the field, the nymphs cannot become the shepherd’s love.
Another way the poet show how time makes it impossible for the nymph to be the shepherd’s love is through the imagery of the seasons and how the seasons change. Even though the shepherd tried to use the beauty of nature (spring time) to convince the nymph to be his love, the nymph responded saying “The flowers do fade and wanton fields /To wayward winter reckoning yields” (9-10). This imagery shows that while the beauty of the flowers in the spring time is magnificent, the flowers do not stay beautiful nor last forever. In fact, as time passes by and winter comes they fade away and the fields are affected too. Time caused this beauty of nature that the shepherd offered to be only temporary. Hence the beauty of these flowers is only for a short season. Likewise, the nymph is letting the shepherd know that his love, like the seasons, will not last. The shepherd love is only temporary, as the seasons changes, his love will also change. The nymph wants a love that never fades, or affected with time. Hence, she cannot accept the proposal to come live the shepherd and be his love because time changes everything.
Furthermore, the poet also uses the contrast of expensive clothing and nature to show how time prevent the nymph from becoming the shepherd’s love. For example, when the shepherd offered to give the nymph expensive clothing and then a bed made of roses, she responded saying “thy gowns, thy shoes, thy beds of roses” will “soon break, soon withered, soon forgotten” (13,15). When a person buys a garment, shoes or flowers, it does not last forever. In fact, as the years go by, the garment and shoes become worn out and damaged. The flowers can even be withered a few hours after it has been removed from the soil. Therefore, both manmade and non-manmade things will fade away with time no matter what. Similarly, the nymph is pointing out that with time, the shepherd’s love will fade away too and become only a memory. Hence, time caused the shepherd’s love to be only temporary, which is the opposite of what the nymph wants. As such, time itself makes it impossible for her to become the shepherd’s love.
Finally, Raleigh also uses the nymph realization that both her youthful days and love are not eternal, to depict that time makes it impossible for her to become the shepherd’s love. For instance, after the shepherd offered the nymph all pleasures of nature and luxurious apparels, she responded “but could youth last, and love still breed /nor age no need” (21-22), then she would become his love. Evidently, with time people get older and lose their beauty. The nymph is stating that the shepherd would only love her if she stays young and beautiful all the days of her life and never aged. If that was possible the nymph would be the shepherd’s love. However, since time caused everyone to get older and the nymph to lose her beauty, this will not occur. Moreover, the shepherd love is shallow, as he would only love the nymph as long as she is young and beautiful. The shepherd’s love is only temporary and that is not the type of love the nymph wants. The nymph wants love to last; since this is not possible because of time, she cannot become his love.
In essence, Walter Raleigh has achieved his purpose of illustrating that time makes it impossible for the nymph to become the shepherds love. The poet does this by using metaphor of pastoral life, imagery of the seasons, and the contrast of expensive apparels (manmade) versus nature (non-manmade). Together, these devices underscore the nymph’s realization that both her youthful days and love are not eternal.
Shmoop Editorial Team. “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd Poem Text.” Shmoop. Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 19 Apr. 2018.