Amber Nymph Izaak Walton Brewhouse

Cooper, Helen. Oxford Guides to Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996. Howard, Donald. The Idea of the Canterbury Tales. Berkeley:

University of California Press, 1976. Pearsall, Derek, ed. A Variorum Edition of the Works of Geoffrey Chaucer. Part II: The Canterbury Tales. Part Nine: The Nun's Priest's Tale. Norman, Okla.: Pilgrim Books, 1983.

Elizabeth Scala and Michelle M. Sauer

"NYMPH'S REPLY TO THE SHEPHERD, THE" Sir Walter Raleigh (1599) This poem is a response to Christopher Marlowe's "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love." Out of the many answers and imitations Marlowe's poem provoked, "The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd" is the most celebrated, the two poems appearing together from their earliest printings. The full texts of both poems were first published in the collection England's Helicon (1599), where "The Nymph's Reply" was signed "Ignoto," or anonymous. Not until more than half a century later do we find an attribution to Sir Walter Raleigh, in The Compleat Angler by Izaak Walton (1653). We do not know what evidence Walton was using, and some scholars see no compelling reason to assume Raleigh wrote the poem, grouping it instead with the many lyrics spuriously credited to the famous courtier during and after his lifetime.

other readers hear in the nymph's voice a distinctive blend of feisty wit and dark realism characteristic of Raleigh's poetry. This nymph, or maiden, is no easy mark for the shepherd's attempts to persuade her to "live with [him], and be [his] love." She counters his pretty promises with clear-eyed reason, exposing their fragility in a world where time passes and objects, bodies, and feelings decay. The delightful garments and "beds of Roses" the shepherd offers "Soone breake, soone wither," and are "soone forgotten" in such a world (l. 15). The nymph meticulously takes up and dismisses each detail of the shepherd's golden vision, from the rocks he imagines them relaxing on, which in her world "grow cold," to the "Melodious byrds" singing "Madrigalls," here replaced by "dombe," tragic "Philomell" and other songbirds who "[complaine] of cares to come" (ll. 7-8). The nymph's lines track the shepherd's every move, wittily echoing the language, sound effects, and form of Marlowe's verse.

The poem's most thorough critic, S. K. Heninger, notes that until the shepherd's final lines, he focuses on sensual pleasures, only belatedly questioning whether these will "move" the nymph's "minde." The nymph, by contrast, dwells on abstract issues of time, love, and truth. Where he is literal and concrete, she is figurative and philosophical. In her poem, his homely shepherd becomes a figure for Time, driving "the flocks from field to fold" as the world grows chill (l. 5). Several of her stanzas culminate in what sound like moral epigrams. Beyond remarking the transience of the shepherd's offerings, she declares them "In follie ripe, in reason rotten" (l. 16). She likewise condemns the shepherd's deceptions: "A honny tongue, a hart of gall, / Is fancies spring, but sorrowes fall" (ll. 11-12). Both judgments employ the imagery of passing seasons that dominates the poem. In denouncing the shepherd's "honny tongue," the nymph may also be criticizing poetry whose fictions idealize harsh truths. The "poesies" that wither with the rest of his fleeting enticements are both posies, or flowers, and poesies, poems.

Critics disagree about the tone of the nymph's critique. She appears to end up where she began, describing the impossible conditions under which she would succumb to the shepherd's seductions. If she and the shepherd and love and the world's delights were young, and could stay fresh and vital, then, she concedes, his offerings might move her. Somewhere between the first stanza and the last, however, her insistence on "truth" seems to fade. Although the two stanzas are almost alike, in the last, the line disparaging the truth of the shepherd's tongue is replaced by details of the utopia she envisions. Is she parodying the shepherd's fantasies, or implicitly granting the worth of imagination? Perhaps both, at once mocking and wistful.

Ambivalence toward an imaginary rural ideal often attends the pastoral mode, in which complex philosophical and social questions are explored under the guise of the simple life of shepherds. Heninger and others observe that even Marlowe's poem betrays ambivalence, with sophisticated details like gold buckles and amber studs revealing the unavoidable contamination of the pastoral ideal by the worldly. Defiantly, the so-called shepherd insists on the ideal regardless. His self-conscious strain in maintaining the illusion suggests that he is less naive than the skeptical nymph implies. Their shared awareness of the ideal's vulnerability complicates the relationship between their poems.

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