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Friday, January 3, 2014

Sir Walter Raleigh and Nympish Playthings




A common man meets a beautiful and exotic woman, an exquisite, free-spirited, flesh-and-blood being of his dreams. The passionate man romantically positions himself to be close to her, woe her, and eventually win her love and companionship. He promises her a lifetime of romance, fulfillment, and passionate love. In essence, he pledges her his heart and soul -- all of him -- in return for her approval.

And yet, everyone knows love is a two-way street. Despite the man's vow of an idyllic life together, the woman must convince herself that her paramour is worthy of her love and true to his word in order to accept him. She is well aware that without equal measures of devotion to each other, their love is doomed to be something far less than either partner anticipates. She fears his promises are beyond acquisition and, perhaps, just pretty words that would imprison her.

What should she do? Field the opportunity or reject his proposal altogether?



Some would say "Carpe Diem," and they would immediately seize the day. They believe "love is love" and the decision of judging eternal love could wait as the couple begins to share the fruits of initial attraction. Who knows what may spark a lasting romance? The passionate acquaintance offers a seemingly golden opportunity.

Others are of the opinion that a promise is a comfort for a fool. They think indecision requires telling a potential lover the truth about their reasonable reservations that may prove true over time. They believe it is better to be safe now than to be sorry later. In fact, many of these people see lust and passion as temporary accessories to a love affair. After all, don't most people, due to fateful circumstances, change over time?

What "turns us on" or "floats our love boat"? The truth may be somewhere inside hiding. Even when we know what we want, we often find acquisition disappointing. It's not hard to speculate that we all look for the world, the moon, and the stars in our love relationships. But, isn't it possible that time and change make it impossible to predict who might provide our deepest desires. And, just maybe ... just maybe ... this thing we call love is a fantasy, not comprised of the stuff employed by poets and dreamers. 



The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd
 

By Sir Walter Raleigh, 1596

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,
The Coral clasps and amber 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.



English poet Christopher Marlowe  published "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love," in 1599 (six years after the poet's death). In addition to being one of the most well-known love poems in the English language, it is considered one of the earliest examples of the pastoral style of British poetry in the late Renaissance period. The pastoral tradition refers to a lineage of creative works that idealize rural life and landscapes. Here are the first and last stanzas of Marlowe's "The Passionate Shepherd":

Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
That valleys, groves, hills, and fields, 
Woods, or steepy mountain yields. 

The shepherds' swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May morning:
If these delights thy mind may move, 
Then live with me and be my love. 

The shepherd does not worry whether his status makes him acceptable to the girl; nor does he appear concerned about money or education. The future will take carry of itself. What matters to him is the moment. The poem implies that if the object of his affection would go a-maying with the shepherd, they would have a perfect life. 

The energy and fanciful nature of youth is evident in “Passionate Shepherd," which has been called “an extended invitation to rustic retirement." It is headlong in its rush of sentiment. Yet, it has a place in most anthologies of love-poetry. 

the pastoral tradition refers to a lineage of creative works that idealize rural life and landscapes - See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/22704#sthash.FQgxsPF4.dpuf
"The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd" by Sir Walter Raleigh became a well-known "answer" to Marlowe's poem. The interplay between the two poems reflects the relationship that Marlowe had with Raleigh. Despite the fact that the two poets were friends,"The Nymph's Reply" is considered one of the most famous anti-pastoral works.
"anti-pastoral" works

One must consider the differences between Marlowe and Raleigh to appreciate the interplay. Marlowe was young, in his late 20s. His poetry was romantic and rhythmic, and in the "Passionate Shepherd" he idealises the love object (the nymph). On the other hand, Raleigh was an old courtier in his mid 40s and an accomplished poet himself. His attitude is more jaded, and in writing "The Nymph's Reply," it is clear that he is rebuking Marlowe for being naive and juvenile in both his writing style and the Shepherd's thoughts about love.

Interestingly enough, Raleigh uses the word “nymph” in the poem instead of a more neutral word like “girl” or a direct counter like “love." The Greek word for nymph, νύμφη, has "bride" and "veiled" among its meanings: hence, the English word nymph came to refer to a marriageable young woman. This allusion may reinforce her response in the poem.


In Greek myths, nymphs,  in the shape of young maidens, were part of the retinue of a god, such as Dionysus, Hermes, or Pan, or of a goddess, generally the huntress Artemis.

Different from goddesses, nymphs were generally regarded as divine spirits who animated nature, and were usually depicted as beautiful, young nubile  maidens who loved to dance and sing; their amorous freedom sets them apart from the restricted and chaste wives and daughters of the Greek polis (city citizenship).

Although the word nymph did mean “girl” in Raleigh’s time, it also had the mythological connotation of this female spirit who would have been adept at warding off satyrs and would-be suitors. Raleigh’s nymph breaks down the shepherd’s love-struck ballad quickly and efficiently; in fact, Raleigh’s poem has a counter for each of Marlowe’s ideas.    

 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.


In the Marlowe poem, the shepherd proposes to his beloved by portraying their ideal future together: a life filled with earthly pleasures in a world of eternal spring. Raleigh’s reply, however, debunks the shepherd’s fanciful vision. While Marlowe’s speaker promises nature’s beauty and a litany of gifts, Raleigh’s nymph responds that such promises could only remain valid “if all the world and love were young.” Thus, she introduces the concepts of time and change.

What renders the shepherd’s vision false, the nymph says, is time: the world and love do not remain young. Of course, her conditions of controlling time and the inevitable changes its passage makes to love are impossible for the shepherd to meet.

Using images and metrics similar to those of Marlowe, Raleigh cleverly presents the nymph’s world-weary response to the shepherd’s new and childlike view of love. Raleigh will have none of Marlowe’s idealism and naivete. Surely, there will be consequences if the nymph gave in to the desires of the shepherd's romantic mind. 

The nymph also doubts the shepherd’s ability to make true his promises; she questions the “truth in every shepherd’s tongue.” She is evidently used to the guile and deception used by those humans who wish to entrap her.

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.
 


The nymph is not impressed by the shepherd's description of an idyllic scene wherein he and his love can roam at their will. The shepherd and the nymph see the world in two very different lights: while the shepherd entreats the nymph to come with him, the nymph’s response is one of sobering mortality. As a natural being, she believes not in complaining of things to come.

For all the shepherd's romantic, pastoral ideas, the nymph knows that it does not matter because eventually “Time drives the flocks from fields to fold” and “flowers fade." She understands that time never ceases, relentlessly pressing on against the pleasures of which Marlowe’s shepherd thinks so highly. Raleigh's nymph takes the stand that although the shepherd's gifts might be desirable, they too are transient.

Where the shepherd’s “birds sing madrigals," or poetic songs, the nymph replies that “Philomel becometh dumb," invoking the mythological story of Philomela, a Greek girl who was transformed into a nightingale.

"Philomel" is synonymous with Philomela in myth. While the myth of Philomela has several variations, the general depiction is that Philomela, a daughter of King Pandion of Athens, was being pursued by Tereus, her sister's husband, with much illicit passion. Tereus schemed and had Philomela sent to him in Thrace. There, he raped Philomela and mulilated her, cutting out her tongue and imprisoned her so that she could tell no one of his crime.

Yet, Philomela wove a tapestry which revealed the facts of the matter to her sister Procne. In order to get revenge, Procne killed Itys, her son by Tereus, and cooked him, so that Tereus ate his own son for dinner. When Tereus discovered the ghastly trick, he pursued the two women, trying to kill them. In desperation, they prayed to the gods to be turned into birds Before the chase could end, all three were transformed into birds--Tereus into a hoopoe, Procne into a swallow, and Philomela into a nightingale. Thus, Philomel became a poetic name for a nightingale.

Because of the violence associated with the myth, the song of the nightingale is often depicted or interpreted as a sorrowful lament. Coincidentally, in nature, the female nightingale is mute and only the male of the species sings.



Although the words of "The Nymph's Reply" still flow because of the regular meter, they are decidedly less romantic than those of Marlowe. Even though the metrics are regular and fall soft on the ear, the subject matter is darker and uses the meter to make fun of Marlowe’s pastoral love poem. Raleigh also uses metric substitution, like his alliteration, to make his poem rougher and less pleasing to the ear than Marlowe’s -- "When Rivers rage and Rocks grow cold."

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,
The Coral clasps and amber studs,
All these in me no means can move
To come to thee and be thy love.


The nymph's opposition to the invitation turns to anger and irritation as she continues to explain to the shepherd that his thoughts of love and paradise are foolhardy and temporary. She understands that time will come and destroy all one day. She states if the shepherd gave her gowns, shoes, beds of roses, and amber studs, that with time these items would be useless.

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.


The poem continues in a tone of absolute refusal until the last stanza. There, the nymph’s reply becomes softer and softer as she evidently begins to feel pity or compassion towards the shepherd.
Raleigh’s nymph concedes that if they were both immortal she might consider joining him, showing a last bit of hope for Marlowe’s poor shepherd.
Her main point is that the shepherd’s plans do not account for the changes that are inevitable over time, and so the future that he foresees will almost certainly not come to pass. Her skepticism is based on the fact that she understands his hopeful vision, but that she also sees that he does not understand the world well enough to make an accurate prediction. - See more at: http://www.enotes.com/topics/nymphs-reply/themes#sthash.RgF4597G.dpuf

The nymph's point is that the shepherd’s plans do not account for the changes that are inevitable over time, and so the future that he foresees will almost certainly not come to pass. Her skepticism is based on the fact that she understands his hopeful vision, but that she also sees that he does not understand the world well enough to make an accurate prediction. She fears she may be seduced and eventually abandoned.

The nymph proposes "Had joys no date, nor age no need," she might live with the shepherd and be his love.Yet, in this comment, she admits no responsibility. Wild child that she is, she will never change, but certainly the shepherd will. Her natural freedom is what completes her existence, and if the shepherd took this from her, she likely would rebel. His love would be not his dream, but his lasting nightmare.


In mythology, although a nymph would never die of old age nor illness. Her bewitching beauty and bold character could vex humans and cause them pain and suffering. As the shepherd ages and joys diminish, the nymph could hardly be called upon to aid her doting yet more fragile lover. Perhaps, the real message for the shepherd is: "Be careful what you wish for."

Sir Walter Raleigh was a realist who questioned fickle emotion. A pastoral setting may be enticing in theory and hell in practice. The same may be said of bonding with a nymph. Her refusal to accept a promising romantic proposal from a mere mortal who cannot stop time or insure happiness can be viewed as an act of kindness -- just as loving and even more insightful than Marlowe's passionate shepherd's promises of utopia.

But, you know Raleigh's speaker is a nymph, and her suitor is a shepherd. One born and living as an uninhibited natural creation, and the other plying his trade in the fields while lovestruck by the dream of living an idyllic life with this beautiful, young, bewitching maiden. He plays his role of courtship with inflated, flowery words and baseless dreams while she doubts that a pastoral existence guarantees eternal happiness and love. She is likely beyond the control of "civilization." I believe he never stood a chance to fulfill his desire.

However, nymphs do show up from time to time as the wives of heroes and (often spurned) lovers of gods and self-proclaimed demigods. They are still said to males as they employ their ethereal qualities. These nymphs, as living legends of eternal beauty and grace, they are the image of the ideal woman in the fiery imagination of mortals.




Sir Walter Raleigh 

Just as a footnote to the blog today, it is imperative to highlight the incredible life of Sir Walter Raleigh. The accomplishments of the man are amazing. Here is a brief bio:

"Sir Walter Raleigh led an incredibly adventurous life. He was a man of many things; he was a British explorer, a poet, a politician, a soldier, a sailor, and a historian. 

"He attended Oxford University for some time; however in 1569 he joined the Huguenot Army in France. In 1580 he served in Queen Elizabeth’s army in Ireland and helped put down the Irish rebellion by distinguishing himself and his ruthlessness at the siege of Semerwick and by the plantation of English and Scots Protestants in Munster. 

"Walter Raleigh was a hardworking servant of the crown and was elected a Member of Parliament for Devon; and was appointed as Vice Admiral of the West, Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall and Lord Warden of the Stanneries. 

"On March 25 1584, Walter Raleigh received the patent to explore and settle in North America, where in June he established the Virginia colony of Roanoke Island. Shortly after he became the Queen’s favorite he was knighted and then appointed captain of the Queen’s Guard in 1587. 

"Over the course of this lifetime, he fought alongside in the Huguenot army in France, explored the New World in attempt to find the city of El Dorado, and he established the first British colony in North America."

Explore Sir Walter by clicking here: http://raleighandhisfriends.wordpress.com/


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