Raleigh’s Views of Life

English IV

February 1, 2004

Sir Walter Raleigh has shown himself to be one of the greatest figures of a very great age in literature. Raleigh lived a life of luxury and more or less represented himself as an arrogant man. During Raleigh’s lifetime, he never thought of himself as a writer. Only about thirty-five of his poems have actually survived in fragments because of the passing of time. The worst part of Raleigh ’s poems, is that they exist only in bits and pieces, but those pieces contain amazing views of life that only Raleigh seemed to have found. Raleigh often wrote very influential, outspoken, and even blunt poetry. He wrote with a courage that shows a man willing to take whatever life threw his way. “The focus with [his] style is primarily on Shakespeare\'s sonnets. He developed his own style of an English sonnet[,] which came to be known as a Shakespearian sonnet. Each sonnet is divided into three quatrains and a rhyming couplet.” ( One famous quote from him represents his way of thinking. "A man must first govern himself ere he is fit to govern a family; and his family ere he be fit to bear the government of the commonwealth." (Sir Walter Raleigh). Two of his greatest literary works “Where is Our Life?” and “The Nymphs Reply to the Shepard” both show how Raleigh views life as a comedy that good things don’t last forever.

The poem “Where Is Our Life?” compares life to a play. The speaker questions life at the beginning and goes on to answer himself throughout the poem. The first line of the poem not only asks the question but also presents a title. This in turn opens the reader’s mind to question his own life and continue on to read the poem. From the question the speaker goes on into the rest of the poem to show that life to him is like a comedy to the crowd.

The speaker presents the idea that “our mother’s wombs” become the place that we get ready to take on the world. He compares the womb to the “tiring house.” A tiring house acts as a place for the actors and actresses during this period of time to get dressed and ready for the play. Raleigh says that life presents a “short comedy.” Emphasizing the word “short,” Raleigh gives the view that life is shorter than we think and the comedy behind it is that mankind hasn’t figured out what life is really about. He then goes on to say that Heaven represents the audience for this “short comedy” known as life.

Raleigh uses personification in this poem to give the reader a sense of life. A good example of personification is, “graves that hide us”. The graves represent the death that faces everyone and he compares it to a drawn curtain. When the curtain draws and the play ends, we die, and become buried in our graves. The speaker then goes on to speak that the players, or in another words all mankind, continue to act out their life until their death, which in turn becomes the only serious part of life. Raleigh presents the idea that people do not view life as seriously as they view death. He uses the extended metaphor of comparing life to a play to allow the reader to gain a different view of life. Life represents a comedy, whereas death becomes the only aspect of life not humorous. Through this poem Raleigh has presented the fact that all men follow the same path through life never truly understanding the foolishness of it all and how all men can relate to the seriousness of death.

“The Nymphs Reply to the Shepard” is also another view of Raleigh’s realistic view of life. This poem is a look into the difference between the ideas of a realistic person to the ideas of an idealistic person. This poem was written in response to Christopher Marlowe’s “The Passionate Shepard to His Love” where he writes of all the dreams he has of being with the one he loves. Raleigh writes a realistic reply to each line of Marlowe’s poem.

The poem “The Nymph’s Reply to the