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Poetry Explication Essay

Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618) was called a “silver poet of his time because of the way he did not conform to the poet writing style of the Renaissance era. He became fairly popular with Queen Elizabeth I and was knighted in 1585. But he fell out of her good graces when he secretly married ladies without her permission.

The queen locked him in the Tower of London for some time, and while he was locked up he was writing poetry. He was ultimately arrested and executed in 1618 to appease the Spanish government for some ransacking that his men did on one of their voyages through America. His works are everything from plain to somber and that is one of the main things that made him a great poet.

The Nymph’s Reply “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd” by Sir Walter Raleigh has many themes and interpretations. The poem describes love and time, but the most important thing that I think it describes is “Carpe Diem” or seizing the day. The poem is a response to Christopher Marlowe’s “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love”.

Marlowe’s poem describes a shepherd trying to win over the one he loves by promising her all of these earthly things, but Raleigh’s poem is the woman seemingly denying the shepherd’s advances and saying that all of the earthly things that he promised will all eventually pass away and be forgotten. The Nymph says that the only way we can be together is if youth lasted forever and their passionate love knew no time. I believe that the theme of this poem is carpe diem and the poetic elements that support that are alliteration, visual imagery, and situational irony.

The first element that helps describes Carpe Diem is in the poem is alliteration. Raleigh’s use of alliteration really helps get his points across to the reader and helps the transactions be smoother. Like in the line, “These pretty pleasures might me move” (1224), Raleigh uses alliteration to almost mock the shepherd’s advances on the nymph. And also in the line, “Time drives the flocks from field to fold” (1224), Raleigh uses alliteration to help to say that time changes everything.

That is the reason why alliteration supports the theme of Carpe Diem. The only way the Nymph will accept the shepherd’s love is if they forever live in the present where they are young and passionate. The nymph does not want earthly things that will wither or sour throughout time, but rather she wants things to be eternal and stay fresh. These examples are a perfect form of Carpe Diem, and that is why alliteration helps get the main point across to the reader.

The next poetic element that helps represent Carpe Diem in the poem is the imagery, more specifically the visual imagery. Raleigh uses imagery to help support Carpe Diem by showing the disadvantages of time. He shows the readers how moods change with the seasons, flowers will wither, and things grow old all through imagery.

Like in the lines, “Thy cap, thy kirtle, and thy posies Soon break, soon wither, soon forgotten” (1224-1225), Raleigh helps the reader see the flowers withering through time. He even does so well as to put images in the reader’s mind of things fading away and being forgotten. When Raleigh uses imagery to diminish time he is also using it to uplift Carpe Diem at the same time. And that is how imagery helps support the theme of Carpe Diem.

The final poetic element that helps support the theme of Carpe Diem is irony. And the specific irony used in the poem is situational irony. The sense of helplessness by the shepherd is apparent throughout the poem. The shepherd has to listen to the nymph deny all the things he promised her, and tell him that the only way that they can be together forever is if they can stay young forever.

This is why it is situational irony because there is nothing the shepherd can do so that he and the nymph can live young forever. The best he can give her is Carpe Diem and try to live in the now while the passion is still fresh, but ultimately they could never be together forever. This sense of situational irony is why it is a perfect example of Carpe Diem.

In conclusion the poem itself really displayed strong cultural values of its time period. It showed that during the time of romanticism Carpe Diem was a big thing back then. It was a great poem with many key points and I enjoyed reading it.


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