Love's True Reply There are many notions of love and perhaps numerous discerning views of the role that courtship plays between a man and women. The fact remains true: love like all emotions is directly tied to time, the passage of time and its effects on the given situation. The idea that the "courtier", most often the active male, and the "courted", or notably the passive female, represents a structure of power so prominent in traditional roles of courtship. This noted relationship between man and woman, can be seen in the poetic exchanges between Christopher Marlowe's, The Passionate Shepard to his Love and Sir Walter Ralegh's, The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd.
In observing their obvious and sometimes parallel connections, it is apparent that love's only true reply is determined through the passage of time. To begin with, the structure and creation of both poems alone are consistent and relative. The success of Ralegh's reply is dependant solely on the requests of the courtier. Without our shepherd pleading for love, the nymph can have no substance to direct her witty replies. Therefore the stanzas in each poem often mirror one another. Simply stated, Ralegh's poem answers the request shepherd.
Marlowe begins with the proposal for the maiden to 'Come live with me and bee my Love' (1). This statement is echoed in some form throughout both poems. His request is simple yet sincere, with 'all (her) pleasures proved' (2) if only she will live with him and be his love. He is claiming to give her everlasting love through his materialistic world. This pastoral notion of love represents the idea that love can be bought at a price. He is almost convinced that by giving her a "cap of flowers" (11) and a "Gone made of the finest wool" (13), surely he cannot be denied.
His greatest fault lies in his inability to realize that true love carries no price tag. Only through the passing of time can the intimate connection of love be established, developed and prosperous. Without this understanding, the shepherd will never win her love. Ralegh's reply to the shepherd proves again that the notion of love before her is ill and tainted. 'In folly ripe, in reason rotten' (16).
The nymph, who is clever with words, uses the seductive claims of the shepherd as ammunition to arm her thoughts and convey her true feeling. Many times, Ralegh's nymph manipulates the diction used to fire away at the shepherd's enticing proposal. 'A honey tongue, a heart of gall/ Is fancy's spring, but sorrow's fall' (12). She draws reference to the changing seasons and its effects on romance.
"But time drives flocks from field to fold/ When rivers rage, and rock grow cold" (5-6). Suddenly, the romantic confessions of the shepherd lose their very foundation. The nymph also contests the gifts brought to her offering in Marlowe's third and fourth stanzas. Verifiably, she knows time too will transform those objects of mere material worth, into vapors of seemingly meaningless talk "Thy gowns thy shoes, thy bed of roses, / Thy cap thy Kirtle, and thy Posies/ Soon break, soon wither, so one forgotten" (13-15). The power of nature is represented here. Materialism can never penetrate the realms of true love.
Remarkably however, Ralegh is able to take all of Marlowe's previous images of love and in turn, show how none are as valuable as previously claimed by the shepherd. She also acknowledges how the passage of time will wither them all invaluable and perhaps wither their love, if ever any, invaluable as well. The notion of love shown in the pastoral representation above proves that material images can paint only a black and white picture. Love is an expression. It is found deep within the heart and not within the depths of one's pocket. Ironically, Ralegh's reply and found conclusion is stated in his first stanza.
'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' (1-4). Since the requests of the shepherd are empty and without worth, so will be her reply. When the world remains young and truth in the only language spoken, the request might be invited. By denying the shepherd of his conceived love, she retains the power to control the situation and gains insight into her own feelings of true love. The 'courtier' has been denied, and the 'courted' has achieved success. This success for the nymph is the knowing that love is everlasting whereas these materials are not.
This is love's only true reply.