I have chosen to compare ‘The Passionate Shepherd to his love” and “Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd’ because of the close relationship between the two poems and the stark contrast of the treatment of an identical theme, that of love within the framework of pastoral life. I intend to look at each poem separately to interpret the poet’s intentions and then discuss their techniques and how the chosen techniques affect the portal of an identical theme.
The poem The Passionate Shepherd to His Love appears to be about the Elizabethan courtly ideal of living with the barest necessities, like a shepherd, in the country. “We will all the pleasures prove that hills and valleys, dales and fields’ Or woods or steppy mountains yields.” Why Marlowe writes this poem is difficult to understand fully. Perhaps it is a reaction against the life he has lived so far in the courts of London. On the other hand, maybe it is a genuine love poem to his mistress, a sort of offer of a way of life. Both concepts, though, underline the simplistic romanticism of the poem. ” Come live with me and be my love.”
Any stanza of a poem would suggest that the poem was about love, but here Marlowe chooses to start and end the poem with the same line. This suggests two things that this was the reason for writing the poem, to woo his love. Or maybe is the line was not meant to be taken literally, just really to prove that what he says really does mean something and to emphasize the subject and the romanticism of the poem. I intend to discuss the concept of the love poem first. Then, Marlowe paints a picture of the romantic dream of love. The scene is pastoral and idyllic, of the simple shepherd surrounded by his sheep in a beautiful rural paradise. The weather is usually perfect, but there is the cave and the warm fire when it is not.
“The shepherd swains shall dance and sing; For thy delight, each may take morning.” This, Marlowe implies, is the perfect environment of love. It is an environment where love will neither change nor end but remain pristine and perfect. The poem is the language of love, the moment leading to seduction, but it is not the language of realism. I believe that when Marlowe was writing the poem, he knew that what is was writing was improbable fantasy, but he is not the object of the poem to be real, to seduce his “love.” So he writes about every Elizabethan dream and makes it better yet by including all the riches of a wealthy person’s life. “Fair-lined slippers for the cold, With buckles of the purest gold.”
The other, and perhaps more complex, interpretation of the poem reflects a response to Marlowe’s life so far and his reaction to it. The poem is written as a love poem but if you look more deeply is more complicated. The idyll the Elizabethan court dreamed of was that of “the simple life,” as such. The romanticized concept of the shepherd epitomizes this, living in the cycle of the seasons, particularly spring, a season of rebirth, vitality and virility. This is in direct contrast to the life in which historical evidence suggests that Marlowe led and is, perhaps, a poem and a dream and an escape from reality. The Nymphs Reply to the Shepard tells how love will not and cannot last based on false and unrealistic romanticism. Raleigh takes the opposite view to the one expressed by Marlowe, although it is likely that the opinion that Marlowe states are not his true one.
Instead, one that he thinks would impress and woo his “love.” Raleigh clearly states that idealism is a false premise to base love on and that life and love should be seen in a realistic context. Although Marlowe appears to belive in Romanism, Raleigh believes this to be an idealistic, narrow-minded, naivety. He shows this by writing a mimic to Marlowe’s poem. The first stanza tells us that if the world was not affected by time, the promise of pastoral love might be achievable, but as the world is subject to the passage of time, the promises are empty and unobtainable. Raleigh suggests that the object of the poem’s promises realizes that the promises are unattainable, and she is unimpressed. The Nymph is a pragmatic but arguably realistic view of love compared to the idealistic and simple view. Throughout the poem, one main point discussed is that love cannot be based on idealistic fancies or fickle nature.
Within the poem, imagery portrays powerful feelings, not of love but a strong feeling about love. In the Second stanza, the line is used to convey the passage of time. “The rest complains of cares to come”/ The “rest” means spring where everything is in bloom and growing the season of reproduction, food is not scarce, But the worry will soon return in winter. This is a direct response to how Marlowe portrays life: “All the pleasures prove……….steeply mountain yields.” he only talks about life in the context of spring. This is not a realistic portrayal of life which is the comment that Raleigh makes throughout. The seasons’ effect on life cannot be changed, nor can the seasons stop or be changed. As in any poem, the endless description cannot be used; Marlowe used personification instead: “Melodious birds sing madrigals.”
Raleigh wanted to offer an alternative to the view of life and love that Marlowe presents in his poem. He uses the same rhythm and rhyme scheme in parallel with Marlowe’s poem to enhance the different approaches to love and life. The layout of the two poems may run parallel, but the imagery used by the two poets is starkly contrasting. Raleigh’s “Rivers Rage” and the turmoil of a river in spate are both fierce but also brief, again reflecting the brief passion and the process of change and the passage of time. In contrast, Marlowe writes about repose “By shallow rivers” a peaceful and tranquil image. The same river is used by Raleigh to challenge Marlowe to show that the same object can have a different effect depending on the way it is presented., It also is an image of time. Perhaps, just as the torrent will inevitably diminish, so will passion, as it can only last a certain amount of time because we know nothing can last forever as life is not eternal.
The poem The Nymphs Reply to the Shepard is set out in six stanzas, each of four lines of similar length. This is a mimic of the layout used by Marlowe; here, this gives prominence to the similarity of the two poems. Added to this, both poems have a similar rhyme scheme and rhythm: ” Come live with me and be my love ” and the rhyme scheme of AABB running through both poems and effecting the reader’s opinion and interpretation. I enjoyed reading both poems, which were interesting in the contrasting views of both poets. Whilst Raleigh’s view of love is, I would guess, the more realistic, as a young girl, I feel that Marlowe’s poem is much more romantic and exciting. Perhaps old age will change my opinion.