The nymph’s reply to the shepherd

The nymph’s reply to the shepherd

The life of Sir Walter Raleigh (1554 – 1618) shows that you can combine exploration with writing (poetry). Raleigh was the one who was in charge of the colonisation of Virginia (US) and wrote poems such as “The nymph’s reply to the shepherd.”


In April 2017 a publication appeared on the website. It was about the poem “The nymph’s reply to the shepherd” by Sir Walter Raleigh. Since then a lot has changed in this world. The way we now look at people who made their mark on history has changed. Raleigh lived in an age where it was impossible to talk about freedom based on races.

Black Lives Matter

In these days where Black Lives Matter, it’s hard not to discuss the controversies that are related to those who made their mark on history. Raleigh was one of the many that lived in a time where people were held as slaves. He also was given the royal patent to explore Virginia by Queen Elizabeth I. A funny fact, but this American state is named after Elizabeth. Well, her nickname: “The Virgin Queen.”

The colonisation was followed by a tragic period in history, where native Americans lost their lands. Although the Black Lives Matter movement focusses on the emancipation of Afro-Americans and African descents in other countries, the way the native Americans were treated is something that we must not forget. Raleigh was one of the first to take the land. But there is one thing you must know about this. This attempt wasn’t successful.

It’s been part of the stories of many television series and even movies. The story of the Lost Colony of Roanoke. A group of 107 colonists were supposed to build a new settlement. Although Roanoke is nowadays part of North Carolina, at the time this settlement started (1585), it was part of Virginia.

Many of the colonists decided to go back to England with another famous explorer: Francis Drake. He visited the colony in 1586. Fifteen of them stayed behind. After two unsuccessful attempts by Raleigh to reach the colony, he finally arrived in 1587. The fifteen colonists who stayed behind had all died. A new settlement was build and Raleigh left.

It wasn’t until 1590 that the colony was visited again. The colony was abandoned. There was but one clue about the faith of the colonists. The word “Croatan” was carved into a tree. It’s now believed that the colonists left the colony and joined the Croatan tribe. This was a tribe of native Americans.

This Croatan-link is often discussed in relationship with the life of Raleigh. That’s because there isn’t much to tell about his life. Yes, it’s possible to discuss his military successes, the fact that he spied for Elizabeth and the fact that Elizabeth’s successor, Jacob I made sure he was imprisoned. He was later beheaded because the Spanish king demanded this. Raleigh played an important role in the war with Spain. This war came to an end, once Elizabeth died. Raleigh was executed on 29 October 1618.


When you consider all this, you can conclude that Sir Walter Raleigh was involved in the colonisation of North-America. He was also active in South-America (Guyana, Trinidad), where he did his best to chase out the Spanish troops.

His attempts to colonise the Americas had great consequences for those who originally lived there. You can ask the question of why the poem “The nymph’s reply to the shepherd” should even be on this website.

To be honest, because it’s a contradiction. The real-life versus the written life. Also, it’s a good example of poetry that was written in the sixteenth and seventeenth century.

By granting Sir Walter Raleigh the royal patent to explore Virginia, he made the way for the English colonisation of North America. He is most known for his military career, but there is so much more. Including poetry. Nymph’s reply to the shepherd is a fine sample of sixteen and seventeen-century poetry.

Furthermore, it’s a good moment to think about those who made history.

About the poem

About this poem

If you don’t know who this wrote, you might think it’s a poem from the Renaissance. The influence of this time on this poem is great. There is one point you have to take into consideration: it’s not that unique. The poem is based on The passionate shepherd” by Christoper Marlowe. Consider this as a reply to that poem.

The nymph’s reply to the shepherd

The nymph’s reply to the shepherd

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.

The 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,
Thy 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.

— Sir Walter Raleigh

Name used

In this article the name Sir Walter Raleigh is used. The following names are also used: Rawley, Ralegh, Rawleigh and Rawlye. He used the name Ralegh, but nowadays the name Raleigh is used.

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