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The poems “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” (Marlowe), “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd” (Raleigh), and “Song” (Lewis ) all focus on the same basic plot and characters but vary considerably in point of view and theme. This difference comes primarily through the difference in the poems’ speakers. A poor shepherd is the voice of both “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love,” and “Song.” However, the shepherds of the two poems feature almost opposite attitudes.
The shepherd in “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love,” the original poem of the series, is a romantic idealist who paints beautiful pictures for the girl he loves of “beds of roses” and riches. In contrast, the shepherd in “Song” seems almost pessimistic. He too paints a picture for the girl he loves, but his is of hardship, toil, and bitterness, not beauty and love. This difference in attitude completely changes the light in which each of the poems is viewed. Because of the light-hearted, romantic tones of “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love,” the reader experiences a similar dreamy, faraway mood. The reader of “Song”, however, feels only sadness and perhaps longing for a world of greater possibilities than the grim one the speaker describes in the poem.
The speaker of “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd” shines yet another light on the general plot of the poems. In this poem, we see a possible reply of the woman to the original “Passionate Shepherd” in the Christopher Marlowe poem. Unimpressed by the shepherds extravagant promises, she practically answers that such material things will fade and the only things valuable are the passionate and pure feelings of love in youth. If her shepherd could make these last, she might be moved to be his love. This poem evokes in the reader both feelings of romance (the nymph does seem as though she may care about the eloquent shepherd and want to be his love) and those of sadness (the nymph seems to want something more than what the shepherd may be able to offer her).
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These three separate speakers, whose attitudes and characters are revealed through their response to the standard plot of the poem (the shepherd requesting the love of a lady), pass on their respective attitudes to the reader of the poems. In Marlowe’s original piece, it is romance, in Raleigh’s response it is a bittersweet thoughtfulness, and in Lewis’s almost satirical rendition, it is despair. Whatever the attitude, though, the speaker of the poem remains crucial to the feelings the reader takes away from the poem.